First drive: 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Cadillac is in the midst of a big push to “Expand and Elevate” the brand. And the ATS Coupe is the latest example of the effort to embiggen the brand.

Accordingly, the ATS Coupe is both wider and lower – by one inch, to be exact – than the sedan. This makes the car look even more dynamic and sporty than before. It’s also made it heavier … but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Due to this rejiggered stature, the only body panel shared between the two ATS models is the hood. All the other sheet metal is distinctive to the Coupe. Amazingly, where I once found the Sedan to be the pinnacle of the Cadillac “Arts and Sciences” design language, when side-by-side to the sumptuous Coupe, the sedan almost looks a bit pedestrian.

For example, the Coupe boasts frameless doors and a chrome trim line around the greenhouse that is now included in the body, rather than the doors. This means that when occupants open the doors, the lovely chrome highlight isn’t broken apart.

In the back, the Coupe further distinguishes it self from the Sedan. The rear trunk lip, which on the Sedan is formed from the rear brake light, is all metal on the Coupe. Instead, the chevron-shaped brake light has been incorporated just below the lip.  The changes may be small but they give the Coupe a far more upscale and elegant look.

Powertrains

Before we get to driving impressions, let’s talk powertrains. Compared to the ATS Sedan’s three engine options, the Coupe only offers two: either a four- or a six-cylinder.

The four is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque (up 40 torques over the same 2.0 in the Sedan), which can be mated to either the six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual with either rear- or all-wheel drive. Cadillac quotes the 0-to-60 run for the 2.0 at 5.6 seconds.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe engine 2

The V6 is a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter producing 321 hp and 275 lb-ft. Just like the four, the six can, too, be paired with an auto or the manual and either rear- or all-wheel drive. It, though, is rated at a 5.5-second 0 to 60 time, which strikes me as a surprisingly small improvement for fifty more horses.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the road.

Two should be better than four

When a luxury automaker like BMW makes a coupe variant of one of its cars, it – understandably – becomes more spirited and zestful. Take the transformation from 3 Series to 4 Series, for example. The 3 is full of vim and vigor, but the 4 is more so. BMW successfully took a great car, removed two doors, and made it better.

This, as one might expect, is what I anticipated Cadillac to have done when it made the ATS Coupe; I hoped it would be the more spirited, sporty version of its four-door brother. In some ways, it is.

As I mentioned above, it is both wider and squattier than the Sedan, which makes it look more energetic … and it offers 40 more torques. This is where the Coupe’s dominance over the Sedan ends, I’m afraid.

Don’t get me wrong; the ATS Coupe is very fun to drive … for a Cadillac. But comparing it to its brand mates isn’t really the point. For it to stand as a serious contender it has to – just as its early forefathers did in the 1940s – defeat the Germans.

Behind the wheel

On the highways and back roads of Connecticut, I was immediately struck with the serenity of the ATS Coupe’s interior. Even at over 75 mph, the cabin was incredibly quiet. The ride was also very comfortable, especially when fitted with Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control – the fastest-reacting suspension system in the industry.

Turning off the highway, however, my impressions changed. I found the very expensive steering rack to have almost no on-center feel. I could jiggle it several degrees both left and right without any movement at the wheels. Even though the steering weighted up in the twisty bits of the road, it never communicated much to my hands. Yes, the car handled very keenly – on par with the handling capabilities of the Corvette C6 – but I lacked connection.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe front grill

As for acceleration, both the turbo four and the V6 offered ample power. Where the V6 was peppy at any rev range, the four preferred to be in the mid-level rpms. This was a problem, though, for the six-speed auto, which switches gears as quickly as possible.

This forced me to hammer the throttle a lot, which sent the four-cylinder into a bit of a tizzy. To my dismay, the 2.0-liter sounded more like a very sporty, buzzy blender rather than a capable luxury coupe. And unfortunately, on cars fitted with the six-speed manual, that buzz was transferred into my left foot through the clutch pedal, like I had put my foot on a particularly happy cat.

Perhaps the most satisfying bit of the ATS Coupe was its braking abilities. Standard on every ATS Coupe is a front set of four-piston Brembo brakes. They gripped hard and never gave any feeling of premature overheating or fade.

The rest of the ATS Coupe’s performance was ordinary. Yes, the interior is nicer than that of the BMW 4 Series, but the ATS lacked the Bimmer’s sprightliness and enthusiasm. The ATS Coupe felt heavy … and there’s good reason for that. Amazingly, the ATS Coupe is 99 pounds heavier than the Sedan.

Interior

Although the ATS Coupe might have a better interior than the BMW 4 Series, that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

Cadillac designers insist that when buyers see a material in the ATS Coupe interior, it’s real. The leather is real leather. The wood is real wood. The carbon fiber is real carbon fiber.
The soft touch dash, though? It’s rubber. The overly abundant piano back trim? It is plastic … and it won’t stay piano black for very long. The thing about shiny black plastic is that when it’s touched, it shows fingerprints brilliantly. And occupants will have to touch it a lot because the higher trim levels of the ATS Coupe still include the problematic Cadillac CUE infotainment system.

I will give Cadillac credit for creating a system that looks good and is relatively easy to use, especially compared to the baroque nightmare that is Mercedes’ latest COMAND system. Plus, CUE’s proximity recognition is just plain cool. As a user’s hand gets near the screen, option bars pop up from the bottom of the display. Aside from that, though, CUE is still problematic.

First off, it’s ridiculously slow. If its snail’s pace reaction time weren’t enough, everything is touch based; it has no actual buttons. Cadillac tried to include haptic feedback – in the form of a light vibration and “bonk” sound from the dash – but that, too, is slow to react.

Then we have the piano black, well, everything. Pushing nonexistent buttons is one thing. Pushing them and then immediately dirtying up the clean center console is another thing altogether. Cadillac includes a cleaning cloth to wipe down the dash. But that’s like including a severe burn-treatment kit with a new stove. It says, “we know we didn’t do this right, so here’s the simplest solution for our vast oversight.”

Saving the tech story slightly is the inclusion of the new 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot from OnStar. For a nominal monthly subscription, owners will be able to pair as many as seven devices to the car’s hotspot, which puts the ATS Coupe inline with new Audis in terms of tech-friendliness.

2015-Cadillac-ATS-Coupe-drivers-2

If that weren’t enough, occupants can pop open the center CUE panel to find a storage cubby complete with inductive, wireless charging. That means when your smartphone is placed on the pad, and it’s capable of receiving an inductive charge, it’ll start charging instantly when the ATS Coupe ignition is on.

Plus, if your iPhone is Bluetoothed to the ATS Coupe, you can control CUE through either the CUE voice recognition system or chat with Siri. It’s the driver’s choice.

Conclusion

Yes, the ATS Coupe might be one of the best Cadillacs ever made, but that, as I discussed earlier, isn’t enough. The ATS Coupe has to best the Germans, and it just hasn’t – in terms of driving dynamics.

Based upon the outstanding looks of the ATS Coupe and my admiration for the Sedan, I expected the Coupe to be a knockout. To my dismay, however, I found it wasn’t. Though, I recognize more than just a few hours with the ATS Coupe could well change my mind, and I look forward to spending more time behind the wheel.

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