LITCHFIELD COUNTY, Connecticut--Of all the luxury nameplates, Cadillac appears most determined to carve out an identity as the brand offering the liveliest driving experience. (We’re strictly talking passenger cars, of course—the new Escalade doesn’t exactly beg to be taken to the Tail of the Dragon.) Following the ATS sedan and the recent CTS is the 2015 Cadillac ATS coupe, where Cadillac’s new persona is more appropriate than ever.
Riding on the sedan’s 109.0-inch wheelbase, the coupe is fractionally longer, 1.4 inches wider, and 1.1 inches lower. Whereas the CTS coupe was radically shaped, the two-door 2015 Cadillac ATS adopts a rather restrained version of Cadillac’s angular design language, despite the opportunity afforded by all new sheetmetal (only the hood is shared with the sedan). See it on the road, though, and you come to notice its wider, lower, less chunky form, particularly from the rear. Still, we wonder if the styling will prove too muted to motivate coupe buyers.
Underhood motivation is provided by a 2.0-liter turbo or a 3.6-liter V-6. The ATS coupe doesn’t bother with the sedan’s 202-hp, 2.5-liter base engine, and we don’t miss it. For the turbo four, torque is up by 35 lb-ft (in the sedan, too), for a total of 295 lb-ft along with 272 hp. That edges the V-6’s 275 lb-ft, but the V-6 still holds the upper hand in power with 321 hp. Both engines can be had with all-wheel drive, so critical in the Northeastern states such as Connecticut where we had our first drive opportunity. We also dipped into Massachusetts and New York on a route of mostly rural two-lanes in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains.
We started in the 2.0-liter ATS coupe with the six-speed manual. The stick shift is available only with this engine, and only with rear-wheel drive, but on any of the four trim levels. Since its introduction in the sedan, the six-speed has been revised for better shift action, and it moves nicely though the gears. The clutch take-up is springy but agreeable. More agreeable is the acceleration, as the ATS zips to 60 mph in a factory-measured 5.6 seconds. Like the sedan, the ATS coupe is admirably light (more svelte than even the BMW 4 Series), which helps put a spring in its step. The lively response is mirrored in the chassis, which provides snappy turn-in, and a taut suspension that still delivers decent ride quality. A short freeway stint, however, revealed plenty of road noise.
A second Cadillac ATS coupe, which paired the 2.0-liter with an automatic gearbox, showed that the latter does little to diminish performance. This example had the optional semi-aniline leather and suede interior, which gives the cut-and-sewn-style interior trim more credibility. On this leg, we spent more time interacting with CUE, which is standard on all but the base model. It seems a bit more responsive, but CUE is still not a good interface, even if a tech-savvy owner might get used to it. We do like Cadillac’s large nav screen with its sharp-looking graphics, and the ATS coupe further burnishes its tech cred with Powermat wireless charging of compatible devices, located in a hidden cubby behind the motorized CUE panel. In other tech news, the ATS coupe introduces OnStar with 4G LTE connectivity (via AT&T), which spreads to all Cadillacs for 2015; it also can be a wireless hot spot.
For the last stretch, we hopped into a top-spec Premium with the 3.6-liter V-6. The engine sounds good and its 321 hp is impressive, but it’s not appreciably quicker than the turbo four. The powertrain’s weak spot is the six-speed automatic. Now that we’ve been spoiled by eight-speed automatics—like the one in the 4 Series, for example—you really notice how far apart the ratios in a six-speed can sometimes feel, particularly in sudden calls for moderate-to-heavy acceleration. A couple more gears presumably would also aid fuel economy, an area where the ATS trails all three of its German competitors, both four- and six-cylinder variants.
This was the most challenging section, with decreasing-radius corners and steep hills, and we loved the firm pedal and precise modulation of the Brembo brakes, which are standard on all ATS coupes. The top-spec, rear-wheel-drive model gets an exclusive, uprated, FE3 suspension with Magnetic Ride Control and summer performance tires. (The FE3-equipped car is also the only variant to offer a mechanical limited-slip rear differential and a competition mode for the stability control.) All ATS coupes offer tour and sport driving modes for steering effort and automatic transmission mapping, but here they affect damping as well. The difference is mostly in ride quality, with sport mode more faithfully transmitting road surface irregularities while the tour mode smothers smaller disturbances. Still, harshness is notably absent. In all cases, you get a tightly coiled suspension that loves to dive through curves—much like the standard setup. The lack of a wide variation in tuning illustrates how Cadillac is giving this car a real focus rather than trying to be all things to all people.
Like its sedan sibling, the 2015 Cadillac ATS coupe is a trim, tight package that prioritizes driving dynamics. Coupe buyers, however, should be more receptive to its message, meaning that Cadillac’s emerging persona may have found its best home yet—at least until the ATS-V comes along.
2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe Specifications
|On sale||Late summer|
|Base price range||$38,990-$49,200|
|Engine||2.0-liter I-4 turbo|
|Power||272 hp @ 5500|
|Torque||295 lb-ft @ 3000-4600 rpm|
|Power||321 hp @ 6800|
|Torque||275 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic|
|Drive||Rear- or all-wheel|
|Wheels||18 x 8, 18 x 9 in (front, rear)|
|Tires||225/40R18 front, 255/35R18 rear|
|Curb weight||3398-3674 lbs|
|Fuel economy||19-21/29-30 mpg (2.0L); 18/26-28 mpg (3.6L) (city/highway)|
|Cargo capacity||10.4 cu ft|