2017 Cadillac ATS 3.6 Performance – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis

Drive this Cadillac and you’ll never want an Electric Vehicle.

Ever.

We’ve been having this discussion lately. While some of our friends are having eye-watering fantasies about driving the new Tesla to 60 mph in under 3 seconds, we’re rather meh on the whole deal.

And you can blame this Cadillac ATS for that. The Caddy doesn’t try to redefine the sport sedan segment – and it doesn’t need to. What the ATS does is remind you about everything a great sport sedan brings to the table, lays it out in front of you, and invites you to dig in.

The exterior is nothing to get too excited about. The ATS remains the same handsome sedan it was when introduced in 2013, and refreshed in 2015. The styling has aged exceptionally well, though, Caddy’s sharp edged design language seems well polished and balanced here. And the Phantom Gray Metallic reinforces the low-key, tailored look.

A couple giveaways on our tester will capture the attentive eye. Behind the front wheels are a V-sport Red-brake Caliper Slotted Rotor and Pad upgrade. Out back, a fat pair of dual exhausts hint at the Performance Exhaust Kit nestled underneath. Thanks to a Sport Suspension Upgrade Package, the whole car sits just a little lower, hinting at a little extra menace. It’s subtle, but when you know where to look, it just adds that little bit of spice that makes you smile.

The interior is a bit less covert, thanks in part to the Morello Red, aniline leather interior. And when you get inside, you’re hugged by one of the best sport seats we’ve ever had the pleasure to park ourselves in. The support is outstanding – not too soft, not too hard –and it’s 12-way power adjustable, so it’s easy to tailor to your frame. Best of all, you can drive long hours and never find yourself fidgeting around.

It’s an admirable perch to enjoy a fusion of upscale materials, including leather, carbon fiber and faux suede, tastefully and stylishly doled out. When the original CUE infotainment system and haptic touch controls for the climate control debuted on the ATS, we weren’t fans. But upgrades to the software and familiarity have made it much more palatable. We’d still like an old-fashioned volume knob, though. There’s even a cool hidden compartment with USB port in the center of the dash to amaze your friends.

More importantly to the task of driving, the gauges are traditional, large and clear, and the fat leather wrapped wheel feels good in the hands. Combined with the excellent seats, this is a driver’s cockpit.

Well, it’s also pretty nice for the passenger up front. The snug exterior dimensions take their toll on the rear seats though, with limited legroom for adults. So it’s probably best for short trips, or kids.

Don’t go there. Stay in the driver’s seat. You’ll thank us.

When the ATS came out, it was positioned as a BMW 3-series fighter. And in the all-important driving dynamics it doesn’t just compete – it kicks the Bavarian’s butt.

It starts with the powerful V6. Now the second generation of V6 for the ATS, it’s still a 3.6-liter, but now enjoys 335 horses (up 14) and 285 lb.-ft. of torque (up 10). Actually, with the optional Performance Exhaust kit, it might be even more.

And this $1,650 option is vital to the experience – it’s simply one of the lushest, exotic, and nuanced exhausts we’ve experienced. If you distilled a BMW’s M4 rortiness into a more tasteful, everyday livable package, this is what you would get. It sounds superb from burble at idle to mid-range growl to wail at higher RPM. Completely addicting.

Caddy gives you more ways to enjoy those sweet pipes through the powerband with a new 8-speed automatic that snaps off the shifts quickly and precisely. The combination gives you strong performance, but it’s not so fast you can’t enjoy it on the street.

That’s important too – an M4-owning friend recently lamented that there’s nowhere on the street he can stretch the legs of that beast without going superlegal and attracting unwanted attention. The Caddy finds a nice middle ground in that respect.

The steering feel and precision is another area where the Bavarian 3-series takes it in the lederhosen. Although BMW is constantly fettling to improve steering feel, it’s still a distant (and distant-feeling) second to the perfectly-weighted ATS.

 

We were concerned that the optional Sport Suspension Package would lose the fluidity of the stock ATS, but it is actually quite subtle, perhaps snugging the ride a little here, reducing the body roll a little there, but overall a wonderfully supple, controlled experience. The few opportunities we had to stomp on the optional upgraded brakes showed them to be exceptionally strong and fade free.

Like most of its European competition, the ATS is a product of your restraint – or reckless abandon – with the option sheet. Your most basic model starts at $35,590, and offers some street cred with a 272-hp turbo four-cylinder, standard ZF premium steering and Brembo front brakes. We’d pop for the V-sport Performance package that serves up 18-inch alloys with summer compound tires and a performance suspension. We’d also be tempted by the available 6-speed manual transmission that comes with a limited slip rear diff

Our tester was at the other end of the spectrum, as a full-boat, 3.6-liter Premium Performance model. For your $46,995, along with that lovely V6 and 8-speed automatic, you get Magnetic Ride control adaptive suspension, limited slip diff, 18-inch wheels, HID headlamps and LED running lights, sunroof, those fantastic performance seats and magnesium paddle shifters.

Safety isn’t overlooked, with Forward collision alert, lane keep assist with departure warning, blind spot alert and rear cross traffic alert. All the goods we’ve come to expect in a vehicle in this class.

The unexpected on our tester included V-sport Red Brake Caliper, Slotted Rotor and Pad Upgrade Package – dealer installed ($1,945), Performance Exhaust Kit ($1,695), Morello Red semi-aniline leather seating with suede microfiber seatbacks and jet black accents ($1,295), Sport Suspension Upgrade – also dealer installed ($945), and Phantom Gray metallic paint ($495)

All totaled, including $995 for destination, $54,320. For comparison, BMW’s 340i starts at a reasonable $48,895, but loaded like our ATS, easily eclipsed $58,000.

So, truthfully, most EV buyers are probably not going to drive an ATS with Performance Exhaust. But plenty of BMW 3-series, Audi A4, and Mercedes C-Class buyers will, and they’re going to find an immensely capable, enjoyable, and lust-worthy competitor.

And those EV buyers?  They can go plug themselves.

 

About The Author

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round -- whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, or learning to surf.