The Cadillac ATS is a prime example of how the American automaker is looking to the past for inspiration.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6
Power: 335 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 19 city, 28 highway, 22 combined (AWD)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 12.2 city, 8.5 highway, 10.5 combined (AWD)
Price (USD): $47,330
Price (CAD): $56,790
Cadillac’s sport sedan is a reminder of a time when luxury cars could be fun and nimble rather than large and gadget-laden. It’s a throwback of sorts, specifically to the impressive BMW 3 Series from late ‘90s to early 2000s. Why would Cadillac look back to a 15-year-old BMW for inspiration? Because that generation of BMW helped give the brand legs. A loyal following of owners lived with their E46 3 Series sedans and then moved up into other, larger BMW vehicles after becoming so smitten with the driving dynamics of the entry-level luxury vehicle.
Cadillac has picked up BMW’s old gameplan and is making fun-to-drive cars in almost all segments. The ATS is a great car for those looking for a premium driving experience, especially at its $34,210 price point, but an upgraded model with the new 3.6-liter V6 engine ups the ante.
The Winning Formula
What makes the ATS so much fun to drive? It starts with weight, the enemy of enjoyment and efficiency. Tipping the scales of 3,629 lbs at its heaviest (with the V6 and AWD), the Cadillac is lighter than the comparable C450 AMG 4Matic and BMW 335i xDrive. This low weight features a nearly perfect 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution and the American luxury brand says the sport sedan has a low center of gravity as well.
These traits are easily apparent in the way the ATS drives and enhanced by the car’s excellent suspension setup. Although a bit stiff on broken pavement, the ATS handles very well and is engaging in every way. Not only does the five-link rear independent suspension setup ensure that the car stays flat while cornering, but the steering is extremely communicative and well weighted.
Drivetrain Ups and Downs
Paired to this excellent lightweight chassis is a selection of engines. While the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine sucks most of that capable ride out the tailpipe, the 2.0-liter turbo and V6 are plenty powerful for this car. The V6 is all new, making 335 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque, representing a 14 hp and 10 lb-ft of torque increase over the old engine. It’s smoother and quieter than the last engine and comes with active cylinder deactivation and automatic engine start/stop, which is said to improve fuel consumption by about 9 percent.
While the engine is much improved, the new eight-speed automatic transmission seems to be less enthusiastic about its job. All new with a focus on improving fuel economy, the eight-speed is never eager to downshift or hold a gear for more than a few seconds before swapping into the next highest gear possible. As a result, there’s a lot of hesitant gear changing and the car never seems to be in the right gear. To help alleviate this, Cadillac offers both a sport mode and a manual mode, but both are less frugal with fuel. Improved shift logic should be next on the agenda for the ATS. Also paired to the V6 in our test model is all-wheel drive, which is automatic and on-demand.
A special nod goes to the ATS’s brakes, which are Brembo-branded stoppers that not only look special but are as responsive as the rest of the handling dynamics of the car. The light weight also helps ensure that the ATS stops quickly and easily.
Interior and Value
While the driving dynamics of the ATS are top notch, the interior is just adequate for the class. Besides the monolithic all-black center stack, the interior seems a bit out of date in 2016, not just in comparison to Cadillac’s competition, but even when you look at the beautifully crafted interior of the newer CT6 and XT5. The CUE infotainment system has been upgraded for better touch response, and it’s an effective change. CUE used to be frustratingly slow but is now up to par with the rest of the industry. As usual, Cadillac offers in-car WiFi with a 4G LTE internet connection, which is a unique and handy feature.
ALSO SEE: 2017 Cadillac XT5 Review
Interior space is the ATS’s biggest problem. Rear seat passengers who aren’t on the latest fad diet may find themselves comfy, but everyone else of average size may find it a bit tight. Headroom is also a bit of a disappointment and although the cargo area is useable, the trunk opening is a bit small.
Starting at $34,210 for the base, rear-wheel-drive ATS with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, our tester featured the V6 and a base price of $42,335. All-wheel drive added another $2,000. Additional options include the $600 Winter Package with heated seats and steering wheel, the $1,345 CUE and Navigation package and the $1,050 power sunroof. Total cost doesn’t break the bank at $47,330.
The Verdict: 2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Review
Those quibbles wouldn’t be a real issue, except the small sport sedan segment has seen huge leaps in quality lately, which leaves the ATS feeling a bit left behind. The new Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 are now larger, have gorgeous interiors and are more luxurious than they used to be, especially since the introduction of new, smaller entry-level vehicles like the Mercedes CLA and Audi A3. And BMW has the 2 Series that allowed the 3 Series to evolve into a softer, less driver-oriented car.
The ATS competes with what this segment used to represent. It’s still a blast to drive and among the top of the class in terms of driving dynamics, but it’s old-school approach to the segment hurts its value over the competition.