As far as entry-level luxury coupes go, there’s nothing amiss inside the 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe. Inevitably, if you try one when they get to dealers by September, you’ll be asked “But why not a [BMW/Mercedes/Audi/Infiniti]?” That’s for good reason. Cadillac has never built a true competitor to the popular 3-Series coupe, and after all this time, it’s figured out the luxury-sport formula that BMW has perfected.
The previous CTS Coupe was, essentially, a concept car brought to life. The extreme rake of the short decklid, the tall doors and hard, blunt-nosed styling limited the appeal to older Cadillac fans and people who wanted you to see them, weird angles of the car be damned. It didn’t particularly handle or drive that amazing to match those looks, except when it came in V trim with suede on the steering wheel and 556 horsepower under the hood. That car, dressed in all black, was so gangster that it compelled me and my polo-collared friends to try playing three-dice cee-lo — the street betting game — with the CTS-V Coupe’s piercing headlamps illuminating the match. Granted, appearances like this never last, and the final 500 CTS Coupes rolling off the line this year are all Vs.
The 2015 ATS Coupe, based on the ATS sedan that debuted for 2013, is more in line (as in conservative) with the latest coupes from Germany and Japan. It’s more than 300 pounds lighter than the CTS Coupe and shares only the hood with the ATS sedan. (On that hood is Cadillac’s new wreath logo, minus the crest. It’s worn proudly.) The 1.5-inch width increase is immediately noticeable, especially from behind where Cadillac’s signature vertical LED taillamps allow plenty of “white space” for the car’s clean, handsome profile. Everything is here: rear- or all-wheel drive, turbo-four or natural V6, pretty two-tone interiors, all the latest electronics, crisp handling and sprightly acceleration. And the back seat is surprisingly roomy enough to not make your family antagonize you for buying a two-door car.
On my short drive through Virginia outside the nation’s capital, I found both four-cylinder and V-6 models to be quite pleasant. Steering, like in the CTS, is near-perfect and more responsive to changes and road surfaces than the BMW 428i. The 2.0-liter four moans like a food processor at high rpm, but its reward is 295 lb-ft of torque, most of which is on tap at 2,100 revs. The 3.6-liter V-6, with 321 horsepower, is the smoother choice all around. The six-speed automatic, despite being down two cogs against most of the competition, is quite adept at subtle gear changes and reasonably quick to respond. Ditto for the brakes. Ride comfort, with or without the optional magnetic shocks, is moderately firm and not too coddling, which is a tough balance to achieve. A six-speed manual (!) is available on rear-wheel drive four-cylinder trims.
The interior, with its attractive color schemes, sometimes tries too hard at surface detailing (on a loaded example, I found suede, carbon fiber, two types of leather and stitching all vying for the same space). The leather covering the dash isn’t actually leather, at least from what I can tell, and material quality is good but not exemplary. It’s the exact same you’d find in the competition. The touch-sensitive dash, despite how Cadillac dealers will try convincing you of its superiority, is terrible as on all Cadillacs. There are no physical knobs or buttons to control climate, radio or other basic functions, save for those on the steering wheel. All you get is a giant black board that vibrates when you touch a selection, which then takes time to think about what you just pressed and eventually switches on that heated seat to maximum. Or low. It never quite works the way you’d expect. I’m 28 years old and write on the Internet for a living. But I hate this system.
That’s almost a deal breaker if the ATS didn’t drive so nicely. But in the few hours I had behind the wheel, I’m not convinced the ATS Coupe will bring Cadillac the recognition it deserves. The car hits and even exceeds the dynamic marks that make $40,000 coupes worth their money, but you get the sense Cadillac restrained itself too much to focus on price. It feels only moderately special, and I may be saying this only because I’m thinking of buying a Jaguar F-Type Coupe, which admittedly is leagues beyond what you’ll find in this segment. I’d like some more passion from what is supposed to be a very passionate, very proud brand. Put a more thrilling powertrain like from the CTS Vsport sedan and improve the material quality, and then you’ll get a better reason to not take the same grey Audi that everyone else drives.