Cadillac aims to take on the best of Germany with its new ATS coupé, but despite being a satisfying car to drive it's likely to be a rare sight on UK roads

What is it?

A coupé version of Cadillac’s premium executive ATS saloon, launched in the US in 2012 to challenge the BMW 3-series, Mercedes-Benz C-class and Audi A4

Cadillac’s challenging the best of Germany might sound laughable when you recall the wheeled shortfall that was the Saab 9-3-based BLS. This sorry reskin was the brand’s last serious effort to build a car to tempt Europeans, its key class-beating feature a depreciation curve resembling a Himalayan scree-slope. But you can’t accuse Cadillac of giving up.

True, you can now only buy left-hookers from long-time official importer Bauer Millet, but the company still harbours a late-decade plan to return with right-hand drive models. 

In the meantime, there’s this 4-series-rivalling ATS coupé. While America’s most prestigious car brand is a near silent player in Britain, in the US it has doggedly continued with its rehabilitation as a premium sporting brand. 

The ultra-rare, ultra-fast and hugely entertaining CTS-V proves that this mission is not so fanciful, and the ATS saloon has surprised plenty with its capabilities too.

The ATS coupé gets off to a decent start with its subtly chiseled, subtly wedged style, its dynamic ambitions underlined by a promisingly athletic wheel-to-arch stance.

Your hopes rise higher when you step inside, a tasteful mix of double-stitched leather, Alcantara, open-pored wood (call it textured) contrasting with piano black inserts and satin chrome highlights. It looks classy, and a little different too. 

Mechanically, this Cadillac could almost be European, which is less surprising when programme engineer Waqar Hashim tells you of its 4-series and Audi A5 targets. 

Up front there’s a downsized 2.0-litre turbo yielding 272bhp and a 295lb ft , and though you can only have it with a six-speed automatic, its ratios can be shuffled via elegant magnesium paddles. 

Better yet, the four pot drives the rear wheels located by a five-arm multilink axle, the front end suspended by geometrically superior double-jointed struts. And on the two-wheel drive ATS you get magneto-rheological (MR) dampers. 

There’s also an all-wheel drive ATS with conventional shockers among a six-model range starting at £34,395. Besides striving for an idealized suspension architecture, Cadillac has worked to provide excellent steering feel.

It has also chased a rigid, low-mass body structure, says Hashim. Among the body shell’s various high strength metals is a press hardened steel so strong that it can only be stamped when it’s heated and more malleable.

It allows for a usefully lighter B pillar, roof and side impact structure that complies with the assorted roof-crush and rollover tests, Cadillac eager to reduce the ATS coupé’s upper body weight in the interests of handling. The roofline sits 20mm lower than the saloon’s for the same reason. 

On a comparable specification basis, Hashim claims that the ATS is lighter than its three German coupé rivals, too.

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What's it like?

Getting comfortable is easy, your driving mission enhanced by a clear head-up display, a conveniently located (and heavily featured) infotainment system and an excellent driving position. 

The ATS feels decently brisk from step-off, and refined too, but your overriding impression will be of a robustly constructed car of quiet sophistication. It rides well, the steering swivels with satisfyingly liquid precision and the Caddy noses into bends with authority. 

On the autobahn, Cadillac’s efforts to configure a near 50:50 weight distribution and evenly matched front-to-rear lift coefficients are rewarded with reassuring high-speed stability. There’s some wind noise, but on the motorway things are still pretty relaxed.

So is the spearing of bends, the ATS is a measured attacker and a grippy one too, the reduced weight of its roof structure doubtless contributing to modest body roll. 

Its abilities soon have you pushing it hard enough to trigger the surprise intervention of some over-keen seat-belt tensioners. 

A recalibration is planned, and needs to be. The chassis would be more enjoyable if the six-speed gearbox was an eight-speeder (coming, eventually), an upgrade that should diminish its kickdown thumps. It’s not the speediest shifter either. 

The 2.0-litre turbo motor is more convincing with its strong mid-range pull, but its spirited high-rev pulses border on the harsh, its rev-limit isn’t very high and you’ll uncover a distinct low-rev torque-hole when you’re paddle-shifting.

More practically, the comfortable rear seats are marred by limited headroom and the absurd manoeuvres required to clear the badly arranged front belts. A neat feature is an air-con control panel in the centre console stack that lifts to reveal a wireless phone-charger pad and some extra storage. A shame, though, that the touch-sensitive switches of the air-con panel itself aren’t more intuitive to use. 

Should I buy one?

The ATS is a quietly satisfying car that scores high for its interior, aura of quality, a more than capable chassis and its individuality. Drive one of these, and the chances of seeing one coming the other way are close to nil.

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That fact will need to be a major purchase motivation, because this Cadillac is left-hand drive only (as they all are now) and it’s only available from one Manchester-based dealer. Plus, while it’s competitive, it doesn’t best a BMW 428i. But if you like the left-field, this subtly charming car is worth a thought. 

Cadillac ATS coupé 2.0L Premium Collection

Price £42,297; 0-62mph 6.2sec; Top speed 149mph; Economy 34.0mpg; CO2 193g/km; Kerb weight 1606kg; Engine 4cyls, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 272bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 295lb ft between 3000-4500rpm; Gearbox 6-speed automatic

Add a comment…
scotty5 2 October 2014

Same old

£42 grand? That's made up of £12 grand for the car and £30 grand for the retro instrument binnacle they picked up from the Antique Roadshow. Never seen a cluster like that since early 90's.
Gerhard 30 September 2014

Cadillac may not understand

Cadillac may not understand the European market very well, but the BLS was not half as bad as 'journalists' claimed. Having tried both the original and revised versions, they were comfortable and refined, the revised version even having a fairly taut handling setup. The styling was a well-executed re-panelling of the 9-3, with the tourer version being particularly smart. Has anyone else driven them? As far as this product goes, it is clearly an equal to the A5 and only wants for a diesel engine -Cadillac's perennial problem. Get a diesel, Cadillac!
Chris576 29 September 2014

But you can’t accuse Cadillac of giving up.

Oh yes I can. They've made a series of attempts on the European market, starting (as far back as I can remember) with the Seville in the 1970s and every single time they've given up after little more than months.

They're serial quitters. It's the only thing they can be sure of. Every time they quit, only to reappear after a few years telling us that this time it's for good.

If Cadillac is ever to mean anything on this side of the atlantic, they need a decent dealer chain, some commitment and some staying power. They show no sign of every having any of those things.