First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Longer, lower and wider, Cadillac’s new compact coupe makes the cut

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

WELLINGTON, ON – What's next, a convertible? Cadillac isn’t promising anything – not even hinting at one, really. But most competitors have a drop-top, so now that Cadillac has taken the first logical step in growing the portfolio of its BMW-beating compact, the question looms large.

Still, we’ll deal with a convertible if and when it happens. The 2015 ATS Coupe is here and now, and it deserves our undivided attention.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe.JPGUnlike some of its peers, the ATS two-door rides on the same wheelbase as its sedan sibling. It is, however, 35 mm wider, 30 mm lower, and (surprisingly) 20 mm longer. The track is wider at both ends, too. The roof, doors, fenders, trunk lid and front fascia are all unique to the coupe, while it shares a re-sculpted grille with the 2015 sedan. All coupes get the staggered-size 18-inch wheels that are optional on the sedan, with 225/40 front rubber and squat 255/35s out back.

Visually, the look is pleasing, if less eye-grabbing than the dramatic coupe version of the last-generation Cadillac CTS.

Despite the slightly larger body dimensions the rear-seat count drops from three to two. Rear legroom is unchanged – enough for the average male adult – but headroom takes a 70-mm hit.

Two engine choices

The sedan’s base 2.5-litre engine didn’t make the cut for the coupe, while the 272-horsepower 2.0T four-cylinder turbo gets a torque boost, from 260 to 295 lb-ft, in both body styles. Cadillac's 321-horsepower 3.6-litre V-6 is also available.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe.JPGOutputs for rivals’ equivalent engines range from 201 horsepower (Mercedes C250) to 241 horsepower (BMW 428i) among four-cylinder models and from 300 horsepower (BMW 435i) to 333 horsepower (Audi S5) for the six-pots. So Cadillac is right in the game there, and with a car that weighs less than any rivals.

Like the sedan the ATS coupe offers a choice between rear- and all-wheel-drive. A six-speed automatic is standard, but a six-speed manual is offered on the 2.0T RWD for the tiny minority of hard-core driving enthusiasts. Cadillac officials say AWD accounts for 75-80% of ATS sedan sales; the stick-shift take rate is less than 5%.

Interior Enhancements

Along with the ’15 sedan the coupe receives enhancements to the CUE driver interface that is optional on base and standard on other trims. New features include Text-to-Voice-Text for suitably equipped smartphones; and OnStar 4G LTE connectivity with a Wi-Fi hotspot. OnStar data plans start from $15 per month and there are no roaming fees in the U.S.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe.JPGA Bose premium audio with Active Noise Cancelation is standard while an available surround-sound upgrade includes engine-music enhancement technology exclusive to ATS Coupe. The safety portfolio includes available packages that add varying levels of warnings (e.g. Lane Departure), assistance (e.g. Lane Keep Assist) and fully automated driving (e.g. Full-Speed-Range Adaptive Cruise Control).

Line-up echoes the sedan’s

Starting at $41,240 (about $3,300 more than the equivalent sedan) the base 2.0T coupe includes the aforementioned OnStar/4G LTE/Wi-Fi package and a back-up camera but not a heck of a lot more. Graduating to the Luxury "collection" (Cadillac speak for trim grade) adds CUE with 8-inch touch-screen, enhanced Bluetooth, ultrasonic park assist and a wireless charging mat.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe.JPGThe next-up Performance collection adds forged polished wheels, audio upgrade, driver awareness package and advanced security package. But despite the tag, the Performance collection does not include the athletically enhanced FE3 suspension package with its summer performance tires. For that you have to go the whole hog to the Premium collection that also adds navigation, head-up display and a power-adjustable steering column.

Independent of trim level, AWD and/or the V-6 can be added for $2,200 apiece. That rounds out the top sticker (not including any stand-alone options) to about $55K for a Premium AWD V-6.

A word in your ear, Cadillac: it doesn’t make sense that only those who splurge on the max-lux trim get the hard-core FE3 chassis set-up. If anything, it should be standard on the built-for-drivers 2.0T stick-shift. Or make it a stand-alone option on all the trims. We’ll check in with you next year to see if you’ve been listening.

Stick to the automatic

Meanwhile, I begin the first-drive in a 2.0T with manual transmission. And shockingly, despite a life-long devotion to stick-stirring, it doesn’t take long to realise the manual is not the version I would choose.

It’s not just that the shifter itself is somewhat ponderous. There’s also the very long-travel clutch, which requires moving the seat further forward than I’d otherwise like. And the shift-lever location high on the centre tunnel compels me to crank my arm high to avoid elbowing the centre armrest.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe.JPGAfter trading the stick-shift car for a 2.0T automatic, it also becomes evident that the engine sounds and feels sweeter when paired with the automatic. Or should I say even sweeter: in any form, this is one of autodom’s velvetiest four-cylinder engines.

On paper the 2-litre’s torque boost for 2015 has shifted the arrival of peak-torque from 1,700 rpm last year to 3,000 rpm now. But on pavement the engine’s boost delivery doesn’t reflect that change; effective thrust develops linearly from below 2,000 rpm, with the big surge arriving between 2,500 and 3,000 rpm. As before, the heart of the power band is hearty indeed, but it’s also short-lived. The engine runs out of puff well before the 7,000-rpm red line.

Despite its greater thirst, the V-6 is still my pick. Its effective power band is wide and deep, and if not the most genteel-sounding sixers, its robust sound-track suits its style of performance. Cadillac claims, incidentally, 0-96 km/h times of 5.6 seconds for the 2.0T and 5.5 for the V-6, both measures based on RWD automatics. Said automatic may be down a ratio or two on the opposition but it smoothly and willingly makes effective use of the six it has.

Dumbed down steering?

Company officials don’t claim any major differentiation in chassis tuning between the new coupe and the sedan, so I suspect there have been running changes to the sedan since it was launched. I rated ride quality as merely "reasonable" last time I drove one two years ago, while the coupe (on Continental tires) rides with cushioned aplomb. The car still turns with terrific balance and composure, but the pin-sharp, almost delicate clarity of the steering on the original sedan has been dulled; perhaps previously it was too sensitive for less-engaged drivers?

I finish the program in an AWD 2.0T Premium – the trim that has the FE3 chassis – and now it all comes back. True, the stiffer ride sets me bobbing on the seat, yet even on summer performance tires (Bridgestone RE-050s) there’s little impact harshness. And the sublime steering is back to what I remember from the earlier cars. If Cadillac is still committed to its original "quick, nimble and fun to drive" development mandate, that’s all the more reason to make the FE3 chassis more widely available.

If the decision to buy a coupe is all about appearances, you’ll have to let your own eyes guide that choice. Equally personal is whether you’ll actually fit: the ATS Coupe has 56 mm less front headroom than a BMW 4 Series Coupe, for example. But if it passes those tests, you owe it to yourself to include this sweet-driving, comfortable and richly furnished coupe on your shopping short-list. And, starting at $41,120, the price is right.2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Base price: From $41,240

Type of vehicle: Compact RWD/AWD sport-luxury coupe

Engines:

2.0-litre,16V, DOHC, DI, Turbocharged L4

3.6-litre 24V, DOHC, DI V-6

Power/Torque:

2.0T: 272 horsepower/295 lb-ft

3.6: 321 horsepower/275 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual or automatic

Acceleration (0-96 km/h): 5.6/5.5 seconds (2.0T/3.6, RWD 6AT)

Fuel consumption (city/hwy):

2.0 6MT: 12.2/7.9 L/100 km

2.0 6AT: 11.1/7.9 L/100 km

2.0 6AT AWD: 11.5/8.5

3.6 6AT: 12.8/8.4

Competition: Audi A5, BMW 4 Series, Infiniti Q60 coupe, Lexus RC, Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe

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