2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe 2.0L Turbo AWD Premium

2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe 2.0L Turbo AWD Premium

How would you rate Cadillac amongst luxury brands? Would you consider it Tier 1, Tier 2 or Tier 3 in your personal pecking order?

You may find this an odd question because most people just like what they like and don’t even consider anything new, or in Cadillac’s case, something old. I jest because Cadillac has some of the newest most advanced product on today’s premium market, but the brand itself is very, very old, actually dating all the way back to 1902.

Mercedes-Benz, despite what its clever marketing tries to portray, is 24 years younger than the crested wreath brand (Karl Benz might have built the first self-propelled automobile, but after producing his first Benz Patent Motorwagen in 1885 in his thriving new motor manufacturing business Benz & Cie, and then receiving the famed patent in 1886 before making the motorized carriage available for sale in 1988 and turning his ingenuity into the world’s largest automobile manufacturer during the 1890s ahead of his death in 1900, he didn’t even know Gottlieb Daimler or Wilhelm Maybach who created the first Mercedes model two years after Benz died, which resulted in a successful line of cars that would eventually form into the Mercedes-Benz brand in 1926 when the two automakers would join forces). That was the same year Lincoln started building cars, by the way, already under Henry Ford’s umbrella, while BMW might be older by a decade yet didn’t start building cars until 1928, and these were only rebadged Austin 7s (hardly the luxury image it enjoys now; it was airplane engines and motorcycles before that). Sweden’s Volvo actually entered the car business a year prior, whereas Germany’s Audi, founded in 1910, is older than all of the above, except Cadillac. Even Buick, while three years older than Cadillac on paper, didn’t start building cars until 1903. Jaguar is technically one of the younger brands with the former company S.S. renaming itself after the big leaping cat in 1945, although it’s reasonable to consider the Swallow Sidecar Company’s first cars, built in 1935, Jaguars in spirit. What about the ultra-luxury marques? Legendary Rolls-Royce is a freshman compared to Cadillac, beginning life four years later, whereas Bentley was formed in 1919. I could bore you more by pulling Acura (1986), Lexus (1989), Infiniti (1989), Tesla (its first customer cars in 2007) and Genesis (2016) into this monolog too, but comparatively they’re still wet behind their collective ears while the latter doesn’t even have fully developed nubs yet, so we’ll just leave these aside when it comes to automotive heritage. As it is, Cadillac is the oldest automotive brand currently producing cars. How’s that for street cred? So, does this make it a Tier 1 brand?

Oh, sigh.. back to that question again? Yes, because as interesting (or not) as this automotive history lesson might have been it won’t make one lot of difference when it comes time to purchase your next car. The fact is, facts, and logic, have very little to do with the way most people purchase luxury goods. It’s 99.9 percent emotion, driven by our egos, as Dr. Eckhart Tolle would have us believe. I’ve orchestrated a few blind taste tests in my time, lining up as yet unseen preproduction vehicles for my wealthy friends to drive (with badges removed) and witnessed them saying things like, “This is much nicer than my Lexus/Mercedes/etc..” later to be found crimson-faced while choking on their words as a stylized “H” gets unveiled on the grille and rear deck lid, their astonishment playing witness that they’ve been falling head over heals for a Hyundai. Hyundai, incidentally, along with volume brands that build near premium vehicles like the Korean brand’s Genesis sedan, are what I would call Tier 3 luxury cars, the brands themselves still swimming in the mainstream, so in reality there are only Tier 1 and Tier 2 luxury brands.

2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Still, there are many new car buyers that pride themselves in making the (as they see it) intelligent choice of purchasing all the luxury, much of if not more performance, and next to zero prestige for a lot less money, and live quite happily with their Chrysler 300s, Nissan Maximas, Toyota Avalons, Kia Cadenza/K900s and yes, Hyundai Genesis/Equus sedans. They literally drive a bargain. For just a little more, however, they could buy ownership into a Tier 2 luxury brand such as Acura, Infiniti, Lincoln, Volvo, and, I hate to admit it after that lengthy introduction (that I hate to admit even more is not quite over), Cadillac.

There are a lot of parameters that qualify Tier 1 and Tier 2 brands, but unfortunately Cadillac doesn’t offer a full range of models (especially important is a true full-size flagship), doesn’t sell its cars in ritzy standalone dealerships with cappuccino bars (which are more often cappuccino machines that are out of order), and in the end doesn’t sell enough vehicles overall, so the once deservedly self-proclaimed “Standard Of The World” luxury brand, Car & Driver Magazine even giving its de Ville series second place behind the Mercedes-Benz 600 for best luxury car in the world in the mid-’60s no less, and when in its early years bantered about in the same sentences with Rolls-Royce et al, doesn’t measure up. Audi is considered by some to be a Tier 2 brand as well, which will come as a shock to many except those (like me) who owned a 100LS in the ’70s, while Lexus is Tier 1 due to fabulous new designs and solid sales numbers, whereas Jaguar and its Land Rover sidekick win Tier 1 status based on pedigree and prestige alone (certainly not by sales).

2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Rather than take your individual answers to the now oft asked question of whether you considered Cadillac to be a Tier 1 or Tier 2 brand, I’ll tally up your votes by 2015 calendar year sales numbers and leave you alone to question why you’re driving one of the more popular luxury brands, Mercedes having sold 372,977 vehicles across the nation last year, BMW the runner up with 346,023 units down the road, Lexus dangerously close in third with 344,601, Buick fourth with 223,055, Audi fifth with 202,202, Acura sixth with 177,165, and Cadillac seventh with 175,267. Behind the crested wreath brand was Infiniti with 133,498 sales, Lincoln with 101,227, Land Rover with 70,582, Volvo with 70,047, Porsche with 51,756 (albeit with much higher profits than any of the above), Tesla with 26,608, and Jaguar with 14,466. I bet you didn’t realize how unpopular Jaguar was, and possibly you also didn’t appreciate how far Cadillac has moved up its game in recent years.

Cadillac’s sales have been all over the map during the past decade, comfortably over the 200,000 threshold through much of the first part of the aughts until dreaded 2008 when they tumbled to 161,159 units and then 2009 when rock bottom arrived, that year’s 109,092 deliveries without doubt a direct result of GM’s Chapter 11 reorganization (it’s hard to portray a successful image when pleading for taxpayer funding in order to stay alive), but to its credit the Cadillac brand has mostly grown year after year since slipping a bit in recent years. I won’t for a moment burst that bubble by mentioning that BMW came close to reaching total Cadillac sales with 140,609 3 Series/4 Series model sales alone (oops, slipped), these lines (encompassing six body styles in total, albeit only three that sell in any serious volume) going up against Cadillac’s bestselling car, the ATS, which I might add only managed to find 26,873 American buyers last year, a fraction of which would have purchased the ATS Coupe driven, photographed and covered in this review.

Review? Oh, yes, I was getting to that. It’s a fabulous car. You should put it up high on your shopping list. Done.

2016 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Seriously though, considering BMW sold 46,082 4 Series, Audi some 12,934 A5s, and Infiniti 3,949 Q60s, I’ll hazard to guess the 5,000 or so ATS Coupe customers (Cadillac doesn’t separate sedan to coupe buyers in its monthly sales figures so I’m left estimating) are more than happy with their daily drivers. I only spent a week in a fully featured ATS Coupe 2.0L Turbo AWD Premium and it kept me completely entertained while suitably pampered, easily as much as any German or Japanese rival I’ve driven this year, or at least those not dressed up with AMG, M, RS or F badges. That said Cadillac has an ATS-V Coupe with your name on it if you get the urge for 3.8-second sprints to 60 via a 464 horsepower twin-turbo V6. While such would no doubt wipe the cobwebs from the eyes during the morning commute, my reality is slightly south of $62k, the car I tested starting at a much more approachable $37,995 plus freight and dealer fees.

That’s the price of ATS Coupe entry, mind you, my all-wheel drive Premium tester adding a heap of features to an already well endowed standard model along with a $11,715 “premium”, so to speak, for an as-tested total of $49,710 before tacking on $995 for its gorgeous Red Obsession Tintcoat paint, $850 for its upgraded polished aluminum alloys, and $1,050 for a powered glass sunroof, or an extra $2,895 for a new total of $51,610. Think that’s a lot? Try pricing out one of the Germans with similar equipment.

I promised myself not to turn this review into a brochure so I’ll refrain from listing off all that comes with this model, but suffice to say the Premium gets a particularly satisfying sounding 12-speaker Bose audio upgrade (I can’t remember the last time I cranked Earth, Wind and Fire’s September louder; RIP Maurice White, you’re already missed), navigation, a color head-up display, auto high beams, rain-sensing wipers, a heatable steering wheel, heatable seats, forward collision alert, side blind zone alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert (my tester also upgraded to include a safety alert seat and lane change alert), advanced security, not to mention illumination for the best looking door handles in the business, and more over the $42-something Luxury trim, with that latter trim adding adaptive HID headlights, an auto-dimming driver-side mirror, front and rear parking sonar, universal remote, leather upholstery, 12-way powered driver’s seat with memory and 10-way powered passenger’s seat, eight-inch CUE infotainment with navigation, wireless charging, and more over the base model’s usual allotment of powered most everything, proximity-sensing keyless access with pushbutton ignition, ambient LED lighting, dual-zone auto HVAC, rearview camera with active guidelines, OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot capability, etcetera, etcetera.

You can remotely start its engine too, something I used more than once during my cold winter’s test week, the result being a warm car with toasty hot seat heaters when I got outside to climb inside, complete disregard for the environment being the only cost. Ultimately comfortable, all of the goodies noted come in a cabin that’s fit for a king; well.. the king of carpets, king of donairs or whatever “king” franchise is popular in your town (real kings don’t drive Cadillacs anymore, such prestige limited to Tier 1 – sigh – or ultra-premium brands).

I have to say they’re missing out, as the ATS Coupe’s interior is better than most contemporaries, besting the Germans in some respects, such as padded soft touch surfaces on the lower portions of the instrument panel and glove box lid, down the sides of the center stack and edges of the lower console. Strange then that they didn’t do likewise to the bottom of the door panels like the 4 Series, but then again we’ll need to look at both after five years of wear and tear to see which are less cut up from wayward boots. Other niceties include stitched leather atop the dash and real metal inlays throughout, while all of the switchgear and digital displays are superbly executed. I could even fit into the comfortable rear seats with ease. Truly, I had zero complaints until opening the trunk, which is quite large and coated in silky carpets yet isn’t finished as nicely as most rivals due to cheap plastics in key areas. That might be a bit of downer when showing off your new ride while pulling out your clubs at the driving range, but whatever. Read “A New Earth” (The Power of Now 101) and get over yourself.

My favorite interior feature was the wonderfully grippy leather-wrapped steering wheel that was not only comfortably warm all-round but also connected to a brilliantly reactive ZF-sourced variable effort rack-and-pinion steering system. I can’t decide whether I enjoyed the way it responded to turn-in more than the surgically precise feel of the paddle shifters behind its spokes, or maybe it was the combination of both along with the way each shift of the hyper-quick eight-speed autobox released more speed from the bundle of joy ahead of the firewall.

My tester boasted the base engine, a 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four with loads more output than any of its German challengers at 272 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Ramping up to posted speeds and beyond was hardly a problem, and neither was getting hard on the standard Brembos in order to reel in the fun; it’s all in a days work. Unfortunately so is pumping premium back into the tank, although I must point out that the pricier fuel is only recommended for top performance, not required as with the Europeans.


Active aero shutters help fuel economy, as did an auto start-stop system that shuts the engine down when it would otherwise be idling, allowing an impressive 22 mpg city, 30 highway and 25 combined as tested. That’s a have your cake and eat it moment if there ever was one.

And what about negatives? Believe it or not, even with my near loaded example an electromechanical parking brake is optional, requiring an upgrade to a Driver Assist Package that also includes adaptive cruise control. The upgrade also includes auto seatbelt tightening plus front and rear auto braking, all of which would’ve been nice, but charging more to get me away from a dreaded foot operated parking brake borders on an unforgivable sin. Something about this antiquated foot technology and my grandpa’s Cadillac (just a coined reference as he actually drove a VW) puts a sour taste in my mouth (hmmm.. foot in mouth?), but I liked the car so much I could even get over this for another week behind the wheel, or month, or longer.

Yes, the cat is out of the bag. I really like the ATS Coupe, this four-cylinder model even more than the 335 horsepower V6. True. Sure the V6 was faster, but the last one I drove used the old six-speed automatic, so maybe I should hold off saying anything more until I get into the new one that’s been updated with this much more advanced eight-speed gearbox. Either way, my test car was just about perfect, a refined, fun-to-drive, feature packed modern-day miracle from the oldest car company currently alive. And to think you can even get it in rear-drive with a six-speed manual, sportier continuously variable real-time magnetic-ride suspension, etc? Now there’s a car I’d like to drive. Let’s hope Cadillac keeps on ticking for another 114 years, and even more importantly that they keep adding new models to their lineup, improve their retail experience (although my local dealer couldn’t be friendlier), find many more buyers and all the other things required to return it to Tier 1 status.

Yup, you knew I was going to get back to that question again, didn’t you? So what’s your answer? I know how I feel. No matter how the analytical mumbo jumbo defines the term, the crested wreath brand is once again building cars, crossovers and SUVs that are worthy of comparison to the best from Europe and Japan. Do yourself a favor and drive the new ATS in two- or four-door guise and I’m sure you’ll become a believer. Now, styling aside, the ATS Coupe certainly more conservatively penned than most of its rivals, the question as to what you end up buying might come down to your personal need for prestige. If you still find yourself leaning towards a three-pointed star or blue and white roundel, Dr. Tolle has yet more books you may want to read.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann,  American Auto Press; Photo credits: Trevor Hofmann and Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.

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