2014 Cadillac ATS Premium: Who needs a V8 anyway?

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2014 Cadillac ATS PremiumEntry Price: $33,065

Price as Tested: $49,115

Greg’s view

This week, we’re driving Cadillac’s popular and ever improving compact luxury sedan, the 2014 ATS 3.6L Premium Collection. Motivated by a powerful V6 engine and exterior looks that fit right in with siblings XTS (full size) and CTS (mid-size), the little ATS is a far cry from past Cadillac compact car efforts and deserves a good look if shopping the luxury sport sedan compact market.

Cadillac’s storied history of innovation dates back to 1902 when it released its first two automobiles. The brand was acquired by GM in 1906, and since then has been an innovator at developing performance, ground-breaking design and pioneering technology. From developing the world’s first electric self-starting engine and incorporating the integration of computer technology into vehicles (remember the V8-6-4?), modern Cadillacs are not only technological wonders, they are amongst the fastest production cars in the world. This latter reputation comes thanks to its CTS-V family of wagons, sedans and coupes powered by Corvette style V8 engines.

Granted, there were some glitches along the way, ala Cadillac’s first venture into compact cars with its Cimarron back in 1982. Today, however, every Cadillac is a work of automotive art, and they impact both domestic and European markets as do the other masters of the game, namely Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Infiniti, Lexus, Acura, Jaguar and Lincoln.

Yes. The heavy hitters. This is where Cadillac contends.

Respected worldwide for its “still autonomous” General Motors car building platforms, our tester ATS Premium Collection delivers a special compact car experience with the expected Cadillac opulence. From the impressive and sculptured exterior to the inviting leather interior, there’s really nothing compact about the car but its EPA classification. Riding on a near 110-inch wheelbase, there’s 321-horses awaiting your direction all coupled together to meet the road thanks to a six-speed automatic transmission and 18-inch all season tires.

Notable features for 2014 include vertical lighting with LEDs in the front; Cadillac User Experience (CUE) which controls settings and connectivity with full Navigation on an eight-inch full color display; push button start; race-bred Brembo front brakes and even available AWD, which ours was not, However, t thanks to the great traction control, we still got through a pretty bad snowstorm.

ATS also has one of the lightest curb weight compact sport sedans in its segment thanks to the use of lightweight yet very strong alloys and materials throughout. The result? Lightweight, high horsepower and excellent transmission gearing means lots of torque and go power, like in zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds.

On the safety side, a high-tech four wheel discs ABS system is standard as are all the air bags on all ATS models. The Premium Collection adds things like a rear view camera, handcrafted leather seating, every power imaginable, the aforementioned CUE, and magnesium paddle shifters, the latter which allows the transmission to shift manually. There are also sport alloy pedals that give the ATS an added bit of performance motif.

In addition to those 321 ponies, the V6 delivers 275 lb. ft. of torque yet still delivers a stout 28-MPH highway EPA numbers with 18 the city number. If you opt for a different engine, you’re in luck. The entry ATS features a 2.5-liter four that develops 202 horses, 171 pounds of torque and EPA numbers of 22 city and 33 highway. There’s also a turbocharged four, namely a 2.0-liter that develops 272 horses and near V6’s torque at 270. As for EPA, the turbo delivers 31 highway and 21 city, so the choice is yours. Your Cadillac dealer will explain the benefits of each.

It’s on the road, however, where this Cadillac responds. Thanks to a perfect 50/50 front to rear weight ratio, a lower center of gravity and the powerful V6 engine, our ATS is one of the best compacts we’re driven to date. It’s nimble, hugs the curves, is easy to park and accelerates with authority when asked.

Granted, the back seat doesn’t offer the legroom a “normal” Cadillac does, but if that’s one of just a few drawbacks, I expect ATS for 2014 to be a most popular attraction at Cadillac showrooms.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 109.3 inches; 3,461 lb. curb weight, 10.4 cu. ft. of cargo space and a 16-gallon fuel tank.

Likes: Looks, power, technology, Cadillac legend, build quality

Dislikes: Rear seat leg room a bit tight, city fuel mileage suspect.

Tim’s view

Cadillac hit a home run with the ATS. Next to the potent CTS-V, ATS is proving itself to be a viable and much less expensive alternative to the high horsepower monster.

When first glancing over the build sheet for our 2014 model, I had reservations about the V6 power plant under the hood.

These reservations, however, disappeared when the pedal hit the floorboard.

Greg hit the nail on the head when he referenced the spot-on transmission gearing ATS offers with an extremely preppy 3.6L 6-cylinder engine. It is one of the first V6s in a sport luxury vehicle that holds the capability of bringing a smile to even the most experienced of gear heads.

On the side of handling, ATS inspires confidence at every level. Slow turns, high speed sweeping curves and everything in between, ATS handles it like a balanced and predictable champion.

ATS even performed decent in the snow, thanks to a dedicated snow mode which can be selected from the driver’s seat. A rear wheel drive vehicle with summer tires is not supposed to be able to perform as well as ATS did, but regardless we would only recommend it with the AWD version. We at Test Drive only felt comfortable traveling about 40 mph with an inch of snow on the ground, and made sure to maintain a very safe distance from the car in front of us.

The interior controls did leave some room for improvement. Temperature of the climate system is selected through pressure sensitive locations on the dashboard, which do not operate nearly as well as a simple dial would. There is a reason modern aircraft are filled with dials and switches and not touch screens – because they operate faster and more precisely.

Automatic high beams are certainly appreciated in the premium edition of the ATS. We at test drive first noticed this innovation only about a year ago, and now the technology is available from numerous manufacturers. The same goes for heated steering wheels, which during the very cold Northeastern Pennsylvania winters is much appreciated if gloves are not an option.

ATS enters the market at a price of just $33,065, but the premium version demands near $50,000. The extra bells, whistles and added technology is nice, but for almost $17,000 extra, we have our doubts. The engine, however, may make the upgrade worth it – it’s truly an enjoyable experience.

(Greg and Tim Zyla write weekly for BestRide.com)

Greg Zyla

Greg Zyla