It just took a while for them to catch up to the catchphrase.
Maybe you recall.
It was the late ’90s and Cadillac was trying to shed the AARP Aura that had enveloped the brand like a sickly fog since at least the late 1970s.
GM’s luxury line had been slick and cool and most of all, young … back in its Mad Men-era heyday in the late 1960s. But atherosclerosis set in as the years rolled by. By the Disco era, only old men and young pimps were interested in Cadillacs. BMWs and Benzes became the in cars for those not close to being on their way out.
A white-walled (and vinyl roofed) Sedan deVille it wasn’t.
But it also wasn’t a BMW 3, either.
Still, a step in the right direction.
The next step was even better – the CTS sedan. Cue Led Zeppelin soundtrack.
Those with a pulse (and without a pacemaker) began to notice. Some began to buy.
Today – 18 years after the first tentative steps at changing course, Cadillac has come full circle and is once again a happening brand rather than a past-it brand.
Check this new ATS sport sedan, for instance.
You will love it … but your grampa will not grok it.
Which is as it ought to be.
The ATS is Cadillac’s entry-level model, in the same class as compact-sized, luxury-sport sedans like the Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3 and Lexus IS.
Like them, it is based on a rear-wheel-drive layout (with AWD available optionally) and offers several engine choices, including a non-turbocharged four-cylinder in the base trims, a turbocharged four in mid-trim models and a powerful six in top-of-the-line trims.
You can also get a manual transmission in the thing – an example of “zig.”
Base price is $33,215 for the sedan with the standard-issue 2.5 liter (non-turbo) four cylinder engine, eight-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive.
From there, you can upgrade to Performance, Luxury and Premium trims, with either the 2.0 turbo engine or a 3.6 liter V6 and in either RWD or AWD form.
A top of the line Premium with the V6 and AWD lists for $48,715.
There is also a coupe version of the ATS as well as a high-performance “V” version – but these are effectively separate models and will be reviewed separately.
The ATS’ top-of-the-line 3.6 liter V6 is heavily revised; new block and heads, revised fuel injection system and a number of other internal changes. Output is upped to 335 hp (up from 321 last year) while fuel economy increases by about 9 percent vs. last year’s V6.
There’s also a new eight-speed automatic, replacing the six-speed automatic used last year. It’s standard with the V6 and the base 2.5 liter four (which are both automatic-only) and available with the mid-trim 2.0 liter turbo four (which can also be ordered with a six-speed manual transmission).
The CUE touchscreen interface has been updated as well and 4G Wi-Fi capability is standard equipment in all trims.
335 hp V6 engine is a gnarly and snarly beast when called on; it’s the strongest engine in this class. And you can get it with burnout-friendly RWD (Benz C-class with top-dog V6 comes only with AWD).
Eight-speed automatic shifts like a well-oiled switchblade.
Manual transmission in a Cadillac.
Finely crafted interior.
Manual is only available with base 2.5 liter engine.
AWD is only available with the mid-trim 2.0 turbo engine or the top-of-the-line V6.
Back seat is tight; less leg and headroom than several rivals.
CUE will drive grampa into the ICU.
UNDER THE HOOD
You’ve got three options – each of them very different in focus and demeanor.
The base engine is a 202 hp 2.5 liter four, which is paired only with the new eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel-drive.
Cadillac won’t sell you AWD with this engine – or a manual transmission.
You’d think the manual would be the go-to box with this engine, which is the ATS’ economy engine. But it’s not offered because the new eight-speed automatic returns better MPGs than the manual six-speed. This (mileage) is also probably why the 2.5 engine is only sold in the RWD configuration.
With AWD – and the less-economical six-speed manual – the ATS’ advertised EPA numbers would likely be unacceptably low. Not necessarily for buyers, but for the government. The Fed’s CAFE fuel economy fatwas are really putting the squeeze on car companies. The rear-drive/autoamtic ATS’ mileage (21 city, 33 highway) just barely cuts the mustard. With AWD and the less efficient (by about 5 percent, according to Cadillac) manual, the highway number might slip into the high 20s – and that’s doubleplusungood these days.
So, to get AWD – and a manual, if you want that – you will have to move up to the optional 2.0 liter turbo four. It makes 272 hp under 18 psi of boost and also 295 ft.-lbs of torque (upped last year from 260 ft.-lbs.).
With the manual and AWD, this engine dips into the high teens (19 MPG) in the city and just barely gets out of the 20s on the highway (30 MPG). The same engine with the eight-speed and RWD manages 21 city, 30 highway. Almost politically correct.
Performance is snappy, too: Zero to 60 in just over six seconds.
The big Kahuna in the ATS is the 3.6 liter V6, pumped up to 335 hp for 2016. You can go RWD or AWD – but this engine comes only with the eight-speed automatic. Which is a damned shame (blame Uncle) because it is a killer. Mid-fives to 60 and the capability to almost bury the 160 MPH speedo on top.
Don’t ask how I know.
It’s not even all that thirsty, either: 18 city/28 highway with RWD and 18/26 with the optional AWD. This is actually slightly better than last year, when the V6 was less strong (and came paired with a six-speed automatic). Credit for the mileage uptick goes to the new eight-speed box and cylinder deactivation technology, which is seamless. Under light load conditions, such as steady state cruising on the highway, the engine’s computer tells two of the V6’s cylinders to go to sleep, reactivating them as necessary when more scoot is wanted. The only way you’ll know this is happening is by taking note of the small LCD display in the main gauge cluster. “V6” – or “V4” – will illuminate.
Less seamless is the stop-start system that’s now included (want it or not) with both the V6 and the 2.0 turbo four. Unless you manually disable the system by pushing a button near the gear shifter, the engine will cut off when the car is stationary, as when you roll up to a red light. It will automatically re-start when you take your foot off the brake.
It’s not obnoxious, but you do notice the on-off transitions and one wonders whether there will be any long-haul repercussions (post warranty) that crop up from this constant cycling on and off of the engine, such as earlier-than-usual problems with the starter motor.
This is not just a Cadillac Thing. Every major car company has added a similar system to their vehicles for the sake of 1/2 a MPG here, perhaps 1/4 of a MPG there.
Once again, send fan mail to Uncle.
The V6, by the way, is designed to burn regular unleaded – not premium. The top-dog engines in rivals like the BMW 3 and Benz C demand premium.
Send fan mail to Cadillac.
If anything, the ATS may be a touch too youthful.
It’s a car that makes 14-year-olds grin when the automatic seatbelts cinch tight as you drift them through a corner posted 35 at 60, the Caddy’s rear tires smearing the asphalt with molten rubber. In Sport mode, the eight-speed automatic behaves as belligerently as Donald Trump on a Red Bull bender, keeping the engine’s revs up in the curves and waiting until it bounces off the limiter (7,000 RPM for the V6) before conceding a begrudged upshift to the next gear.
God bless Cadillac for letting you buy the 335 hp V6 without AWD. And for programming the traction control system so that it goes off when you push the button on the center console.
Did I mention burnouts?
And yes, we are talking about a Cadillac.
This Cadillac will make grampa fill his Depends. He’ll want out. But you’ll want in. There’s no AARP sticker on the back bumper of this one; no pop-on wire wheel covers that fly off in the curves, either.
The tested Performance trim (available with the V6 or the 2.0 turbo engine) comes with staggered-size Bridgestone Potenza eighteen-inch low-profile sport tires (225/40s on 18×8 rims up front, 255/35s on 18×9 rims out back) that have no sidewalls to speak of and absolutely will not lean.
The downside is a ride that’s pretty stiff; you’ll want to be sure you can live with it before you commit.
You can raise the stakes even higher by stepping up a notch to the deceptively innocuous-sounding Premium trim, which adds a heavy duty 8.6 inch rear axle (standard issue is 7.67) with mechanical (not electric) limited slip.
As Iron Sheik would say, it’s the real deal.
The LSD really ought to be standard in a car this powerful that’s got all that power going to just two wheels… the rear wheels.
The Premium also gets you auto-adjustable shock damping and run-flat Potenzas on those eighteen-inch rims. In addition, there’s a heads-up display (HUD) that projects your speed (and the speed limit on the road you’re on) in your line of sight, holographically – so it’s not necessary to glance down at the gauges to scan that info.
Cadillac will even sell you a Track package (RWD versions only) on top of all that. It includes a high-performance Brembo brake package and heavy-duty cooling. Nineteen-inch wheels can be dealer-installed, if you really want a Caddy that zigs.
Put that in your Sedan DeVille and smoke it.
Or, go with the Luxury trim, which rides on more forgiving 17-inch wheels and all-season tires. You can still get the V6 and all 335 hp, though – so acceleration is the same. The handling’s a bit less Grand Theft Auto, but the car is much more everyday agreeable.
Regardless, the car’s a runner – and a cornerer. Near-perfect 50-50 weight split. Compact dimensions; fairly light (3,319 lbs. vs. 3,340 for the BMW 3 and 3,417 for the Benz C) a shorter wheelbase than others in this class, quick (but not too light) steering) and the availability of a six that outguns pretty much anything in its class make this car a comer.
And, a goer.
One of the lesser miracles of our age is that car designers have figured out how to give small – and entry level – luxury cars the presence they used to invariably lack. Examples of the former include the Catera of the late ’90s and, of course, the infamous early-edition Benz 190s …which still get laughs today.
The ATS has the upper-class ambiance essential to success in this class today. The slit-eyed/swept-back (fully horizontal as they bleed back onto the fenders) headlight assemblies, a very distinctive lattice grille treatment and body panels that suggest billet rather than plastic – formed into jaunty angles (a theme cribbed from the mid-sized CTS) – give the ATS a modern Mad Men vodka martini and unfiltered Marlboros mien.
Cadillac did a fine job inside, too. “Cut and sewn” panel pieces, crushed suede and wood trim inlays, real metal (not plastic made to look like metal) for the paddle shifters, a “configurable three window” LCD main gauge cluster and a tablet/smartphone-style secondary LCD CUE (Cadillac User Experience) touchscreen (and pinch-screen) display in the center stack do not disappoint. The look/feel and function are very similar to what you’d find in a higher-end model like the CTS or the XTS.
For instance, the available collision mitigation system, (automatic braking) works in reverse, as well as when you’re moving forward. If you don’t happen to see a car behind you while you’re backing up, the ATS will automatically apply the brakes in time to avoid a collision. Other cars in this class are forward-crash avoidance-only.
The chief difference between an ATS and a CTS or an XTS is size.
Speaking of which:
The ATS is a somewhat more compact car than other compacts in this segment.
Here we come to the Caddy’s biggest deficit relative to rivals: its more confined cabin.
The back seat has 33.5 inches of legroom – and 36.8 inches of headroom. As compared with 35.2 inches of legroom (and 37.1 inches of legroom) in the Benz C sedan and 35.1 inches of legroom (and 37.7 inches of headroom) in the back seat area of the BMW 3.
The Caddy fires back with more front seat legroom (42.5 inches vs. 42 in the 3 and 41.7 in the C) but the ATS’ interior designers probably should have shaved off an inch up front for the sake of the backseaters. The front-rear real estate disparity in this car is similar to what you’d find in a Benz CLA “coupe” (it’s also a sedan) but that car sacrifices back seat viability for the sake of swoopy two-door-with four-doors styling.
It’s a liability in a straight-up sedan like the ATS.
The Caddy’s trunk is also very small – just 10.4 cubic feet (vs. 13 cubic feet for the BMW 3 and 12.6 for the Benz C).
Still, it’s a small gripe given the overall goodness of the thing.
Some reviewers have kvetched about Cadillac’s CUE interface, with its swipe/touch inputs and “haptic” feedback (you’ll feel a pulse emanating from the surfaces as you swipe/touch them). But the system – with its large icons for the main menu items – is (my opinion here) easier to use than some other systems, which have tiny icons and require multiple steps to get the thing to do what you want. The chief functional issue with the CUE flat-panel is that its sometimes hard to touch the exact spot on the thing while the car’s moving. If you miss, you might launch an app you didn’t want – or change from Sirius to FM when all you wanted to do was change the station. Stuff like that. There are secondary controls for some key functions (volume, for instance) but the inherent ergonomic flaw of a flat screen in a moving car remains.
Other than that, what’s not to like?
And if you need more power, there’s always the ATS-V.
Go out and hurt you a BMW M3. Old school. Put him in the camel clutch, make him humble.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The smell of Noxzema has been replaced by a much more appealing smell. The smell of burning rubber.
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