Seat Time: 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

December 10th, 2014 at 8:00pm

Cadillac ATS Coupe

Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.

Reviewer: Ben Sanders
Manufacturer: General Motors
Make: Cadillac
Model: ATS Coupe
Type: Coupe
Competitors: BMW 428i Coupe, Audi A5, Mercedes-Benz C250 Coupe
Price: Base: $44,935. As Tested: $50,100.
Made in: Lansing, Michigan
Drivetrain: 2.0L Turbocharged 4-Cyl.; 6-Speed Automatic; 272 Horsepower; 295 lb.-ft. Torque
EPA Ratings: 21 MPG City, 30 MPG Highway, 24 MPG Combined. 24.5 MPG Observed.

Final Impression:
Cadillac ATS Coupe InteriorIf there was one phrase that kept dancing through my head as I drove GM’s latest coupe it was, “Junior’s First Cadillac.” Of course, at a price tag of $50K that would be Junior Executive, thank you very much, nevertheless this is a not-quite-grown-up car. The rear-wheel drive ATS Coupe equipped with the 2.0L four banger is pleasantly petite and just enough fun without getting you into too much trouble, but it’s unmistakeably a luxury vehicle.

The first thing you notice about the ATS is its more humble stance. As a notchier notchback it forgoes the fastback profile of its bigger (and longer in tooth) brother, the CTS Coupe. Happily, the Kardashian-sized bedonkedonk is out too, and we’re left with contours more akin to an Audi A5. But it doesn’t stop there.

Cadillac ATS Coupe

See, 18-inch wheels are the only size available on the ATS Coupe; those are hardly tiny rims and yet roomy cat throws (designers’ cheeky term for the gaps around the wheel) make them look, well, modest by Cadillac standards. If the CTS aspires to supermodel styling, then the ATS is elegantly subdued.

Cadillac BadgeThat may be the way to describe the badge that adorns the grille too. Stripped of its on again, off again laurels and widened, Cadillac’s new logo is clean and modern. It’s the central piece of jewelry on a freshened front clip that proves to be a nice improvement over the ATS sedan.

Inside, our tester was swathed in a Morello Red/Jet Black interior that looks to be worth every penny of the $1,300 option it is. Multiple surfaces and textures, all of them premium materials – suede, carbon fiber, leather, magnesium – complement and combine with a level of grace that threatens to put every staid BMW interior to shame.

Cadillac ATS Coupe Interior Materials

Cadillac ATS Coupe interior

It wasn’t until a few days in that I realized the carbon fiber trim actually contains subtle flecks of scarlet that perfectly match the upholstery.

That’s not to say it was to everyone’s liking. A colleague test driving the Coupe was taken aback by the garish red interior and annoyed by the droning power seat motors. The back seats can accommodate two normal-sized adults with relative ease, although ingress and egress is just as clumsy as you’d imagine despite a convenient slider switch that’s positioned atop the front buckets. But, you don’t drive a coupe if you’re not prepared to make compromises. Mr. and Ms. Junior Executive aren’t interested in a people hauler.

Cadillac ATS Coupe CUESpeaking of compromise: CUE. Like capturing smoke in a butterfly net, getting infotainment right continues to elude most auto manufacturers. CUE stands for Cadillac User Experience, and it all revolves around a completely buttonless center console. In the post-smart phone era where touch is king, it’s a gorgeous-looking, piano black solution. Knobs and rocker switches are replaced by capacitive surfaces accessorized in bits of chrome attempting guide your finger in for a safe landing. To adjust the volume, for instance, slide your finger above a central metallic strip and the radio gets louder. Light haptic feedback in the form of vibration lets you know something’s happening, though the pulsing clunk noise of the little motor inside is more noticeable than the vibration itself. That noise happens to be rather reminiscent of the single-serve coffee maker in our break room, which doesn’t win it any points. In my testing, pokes and prods seemed to be effective about 80 percent of the time, although my aiming abilities improved with use.

You can imagine what a challenge a buttonless interface is to use while rolling down the road. Talk about distracted driving. It wasn’t long before I learned to favor the real, honest-to-goodness clicky buttons on the steering wheel whenever possible. Adjusting the heated seats proved particularly challenging as the controls require multiple taps to fine tune and don’t even have the benefit of a chrome strip. Voice commands are another way around this problem. I was able to tune the radio to a non-preset station on the first try, but to get there I had to wait through an uncomfortably long silence as I wondered whether the car had heard anything at all. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Every time I used the system for voice dialing I felt I was staring into the void.

Although it was acceptable, the interface on the 8-inch touchscreen doesn’t feel particularly befitting of a Cadillac. Design is subjective, but I’d argue it doesn’t do justice to the clean graphic look of the physical interface. Other usability quibbles abound. Why is it so hard to figure out how to switch between AM, FM and Satellite? When using Bluetooth audio there’s a very familiar progress slider, but no way to scrub forward or backward. Random warning chimes (a passenger seat belt false positive?) ding without any icons to identify their source. The four-way controls on the steering wheel are unintuitive. The resolution of the backup camera, day or night, is abysmal. And, locking the car from the door handle lacks any sort of beep or loud “ka-chunk” to let you know it’s secure.

Cadillac ATS Coupe CUE

On the more positive side, I very much liked the three-pane, widgetized interface on the instrument panel. Once you figure out the steering controls, setting up your preferred views in each of the boxes proves to be a breeze. Storing your cell phone out of the way is an equally seamless affair, so seamless in fact that I never noticed the hidden door behind the HVAC controls where it could be stowed. My colleague did suss it out, however, and really enjoyed the stealthy feature. He also appreciated the remote start button on the key fob as cold winds started to blow in Michigan. Likewise I was quite taken with the ability to get the car warmed up from the comfort of my smart phone via the OnStar RemoteLink app.

Oh, and driving it? That’s a pleasure too. I’ll admit, I expected something different from a Cadillac coupe; I thought it would whoosh me out onto the road at the slightest suggestion. Not with this powertrain configuration. After returning from a short errand in the car, another Autoline staffer commented that it was heavy, which is a perception issue, because it really is not. In fact, it bests all of its competitors at Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, weighing in as much as 172 pounds less. That turbocharged four cylinder is just a little reticent to leave the launchpad. No, it will hardly push you back in your seat, but neither are you left wanting for the power a day-to-day driver ought to provide. As with its styling, it’s capable and sensible in equal measure.

Cadillac ATS Coupe

Handling is fairly crisp and the ride is appropriately taut – a fellow tester thought overly so, despite magnetic ride control suspension, at least around town. As for the automatic transmission, it mostly shifts when you’d expect it to – I only fooled it once when taking a turn overly quick and immediately slowing down. In real world testing, the average fuel economy seems to be more or less on point, though its ratings lag behind competitors in this area. It just comes up a little short on the fun-to-drive scale. Put it into Sport mode, turn off the traction control and you can start to get there, but you’ll have to push it. If you really must have a darty coupe you may want to eke out a bit more fun with a manual transmission, opt for the V6 at a $7,000+ upcharge or hold out for the 2016 ATS-V Coupe, which is sure to put your wallet to the test.

Cadillac ATS Coupe

It has the looks, it certainly has the luxury appointments. Some will struggle with CUE, but most will adjust quickly after a week in the car. Don’t be surprised if knobs make a comeback in the next generation. As for the powertrain, it’s good to know you have options, but you’re not likely to be disappointed unless you were planning to take it to the track. If this is in fact Junior’s first Caddy, well, it’s not a bad start.

Additional reporting by Sean McElroy and Carmen Erickson.

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