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2015 Cadillac ATS coupe review: Cadillac ATS Coupe makes a strong showing against BMW, Audi

With well-heeled, youthful buyers in the ATS Coupe's cross hairs, Cadillac aims to rejuvenate its appeal with this new entry-level sport.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
6 min read

Los Angeles sees more than its fair share of exotic and ostentatious cars, so I was surprised when a bystander called out the 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe for its looks. In truth, the ATS Coupe cuts a unique figure, with strong lines, a broad rear cabin pillar and a cool front lighting treatment using vertical LED running lights. As I drove a downtown LA street, I realized how this car stood out among the more common Bentleys, Lamborghinis and Ferraris plying the roads of tinseltown.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

2015 Cadillac ATS coupe

The Good

Cadillac wrings big power out of the 2015 ATS Coupe's small engine, while maintaining reasonable fuel economy. Strong lines give the ATS Coupe striking looks and good balance means nimble handling. Siri Eyes-free gives iPhone users unfettered phone access.

The Bad

The navigation system starts up slow, making for a tedious wait to enter destinations, and there is no online destination search integrated with the navigation interface. The suspension delivers some hard jolts, likely due to the run-flat tires.

The Bottom Line

Although lacking well-integrated connected features, the 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe makes a worthy rival to its European competition, and should be a top consideration for anyone interested in a sport-luxury coupe.

The new ATS Coupe is the two-door version of the ATS model Cadillac launched a couple of years ago as a new entry point to the brand. The company built the ATS from the ground up to compete with the likes of BMW's and Audi's smaller sedans and coupes. Against those stalwarts, the ATS Coupe has a lot to offer, although it suffers from a lack of refinement and Cadillac's own somewhat stodgy reputation.

At $38,990, the ATS Coupe runs about $5,000 more than the ATS sedan in base configurations. The example I drove came with Cadillac's Performance trim and all-wheel drive, bumping the price considerably to $47,930 before options. In the UK, the ATS Coupe goes for a base price of £42,297 at the single Cadillac dealer in the country. The ATS model range has not yet found its way to Australia.

Cadillac ATS Coupe's design gives it the edge (pictures)

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Cue up the tech

Front and center in the dashboard sits the CUE, a touchscreen showing the Cadillac User Experience. The graphic treatment on the screen looks good, and I like the icon-based layout, familiar from smartphone and tablet interface design. When I first used CUE in the Cadillac XTS , it was frustratingly slow, a problem that has largely been fixed in the ATS Coupe. Touching the icons for different tech features yields quick results.

Except the navigation system shows considerable slowness on startup. When I jumped into the car and tried to enter a destination, I had to wait far too long for the menu to come up. I would touch the different destination input options then watch the seconds tick away before something actually happened on screen.

Navigation is optional in the ATS Coupe, although you still get the CUE touchscreen interface. Josh Miller/CNET

The navigation system's maps show good detail. Live traffic data, received over satellite radio, only covers major freeway and highways, lacking the more comprehensive traffic coverage from other automakers' systems. I like that the car proactively alerts you to traffic problems on the road ahead, useful if you haven't programmed in a destination.

While CUE comes standard in the ATS Coupe, the navigation system is optional software. I found that the car's Siri Eyes-free feature, which let me activate Siri on my iPhone from a long press of the voice-command button, could substitute for navigation. Of course, I merely got voice prompts from my phone, amplified through the car's stereo, with no visual element.

For Bluetooth music streaming from my phone, the ATS Coupe only shows track information, and didn't let me choose music on CUE. But here I could also use the Siri Eyes-free to specify what music I wanted to hear.

The ATS Coupe is well set up for digital music, offering three USB ports and an SD card slot. One USB port, hidden behind the climate-control panel, is perfectly situated for plugging in a phone or USB drive. A big Pandora icon on CUE's main screen indicates the presence of that music service, although the Pandora app also has to be running on your phone for this integration to work.

The ATS Coupe looks as good as any European sport coupe. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

As with many other new GM cars, the ATS Coupe features a built-in 4G data connection as part of OnStar. That service can be used for emergency services, stolen vehicle recovery and remote control of some car features through the associated OnStar app. Unfortunately, Cadillac hasn't truly integrated this data connection with CUE, so the car lacks an online destination search feature and other app integration. The main benefit of the 4G connection for passengers is the car's Wi-Fi hotspot.

Safety first

In Performance trim, Cadillac includes a collision-alert feature that uses a forward-facing sensor to warn about stopped traffic or other obstacles ahead. When I first began driving the car, the alert, a red light projected on the windshield proved hyperactive, flashing whenever any cars were stopped ahead. At the push of a button I was able to reduce its range so it gave me fewer false alerts.

A lane-keeping assist system twisted the wheel when I drifted across lane lines, putting me back on course. That feature would have paired well with adaptive cruise control, but that feature comes in a different package, one not present on my tester.

This instrument cluster graphic shows how you can adjust the sensitivity of the forward collision alert. Josh Miller/CNET

For power, this ATS Coupe came with a 2-liter four-cylinder engine using direct injection and a turbocharger, a pretty common formula these days for efficiency and power. Stepping out of the mainstream, however, Cadillac cranks 272 horsepower and a whopping 295 pound-feet of torque from this engine. A direct-injection 3.6-liter V-6 is also available for the ATS Coupe.

With a majority of drive time spent on the freeway, the ATS Coupe achieved an average of 25.4 mpg fuel economy, near the middle of its 21 mpg city and 30 mpg highway range.

I didn't feel turbo lag from this engine under acceleration, but neither did it smack me in the back on a fast start. My impression was that the six-speed automatic masked any power surges from the 18 PSI turbocharger but also dulled the acceleration somewhat. Cadillac also offers the ATS Coupe with a six-speed manual, which would be more revealing about the power delivery.

A mode button on the console took me through Touring, Sport and Snow settings, although the differences between each driving program were not dramatic. In Sport mode, I could engage the transmission's sport program with heavy pedal work, making it hold lower gears and higher revs. The car's Bose audio system, featuring 12 speakers, actually amplifies the engine sound in the cabin when it isn't using its active noise canceling to mute road noise. I didn't find the engine sound particularly exciting so the amplification was lost on me.

I could also put the shifter in its manual gate and use the steering wheel-mounted paddles to choose my gears, but this torque converter automatic lacked the snappiness of a dual clutch transmission. The shifts were just a little too soft for fast gear changes on a winding road or track.

Sport coupes may not be the most practical, but they make perfect weekend roadtrip transportation. Josh Miller/CNET

Handling, as with the ATS sedan, was excellent, due in part to the ATS Coupe's 50:50 weight distribution and the optional all-wheel-drive system on this example. The steering had a comfortable amount of heft and good, precise turn-in. Taking it through a series of tight turns, I could feel the wheels scrambling for grip, while the traction control allowed a little back-end wag. It wasn't quite as good as the Audi S5 I tested last week, but I still found driving the ATS Coupe fast and very enjoyable in the turns.

Cadillac gives the ATS Coupe a sport-tuned suspension in Performance trim, which helps handling by keeping the car nice and flat in the turns. And in general this suspension is reasonable for everyday driving. However, going over larger bumps or potholes I experienced a nasty jolt, partially attributable to the Continental run-flat tires wrapped around the 18-inch rims. Cadillac's excellent magnetic ride suspension is available on the ATS Coupe, but only with the V-6 engine option and in its highest trim.

Coupe competition

The 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe is aimed squarely at the Audi A5/S5 and BMW 4-series, striving for the same sport-luxury formula. The design of the ATS Coupe will likely be the starting, and ending, point for many potential buyers. The strong lines evoke a love/hate response, but the interior comfort is every bit as good, if not slightly better, than the European competition.

With the built-in 4G connection, I find the ATS Coupe's cabin electronics have too much unrealized potential. The CUE interface works as a good platform for cabin features such as navigation and audio, but it could be so much more with integrated data-driven features, and there is no bigger lack in the ATS Coupe than online destination search. OnStar takes up some of that slack, but I would rather be able to search directly from the touchscreen.

Siri Eyes-free will be a welcome feature for iPhone users, as it greatly enhances interaction with a Bluetooth-paired phone.

I was blown away by the engine specs, but not so much by the actual acceleration. Chalk that up to the six-speed automatic, often a weak link in sport-intended cars. If you want an ATS Coupe for track days, get the manual transmission option. Handling was very good, certainly competitive with BMW and Audi, and that makes the ATS Coupe a good start, but not the end of the story for Cadillac's European rivalry.

Tech specs

Model 2015 Cadillac ATS
Trim Performance AWD
Powertrain Turbocharged direct injection 2-liter four cylinder engine, six speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 21 mpg city/30 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 25.4 mpg
Navigation Optional with live traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Internet streaming, onboard hard drive, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, SD card, HD radio, satellite radio
Audio system Bose 12-speaker system
Driver aids Collision warning, lane keeping assist, rear view camera
Base price $38,990
Price as tested $50,255
2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

2015 Cadillac ATS coupe

Score Breakdown

Performance 8Features 7Design 8Media 6