Cadillac ATS Review: American Hero or Wannabe German?

Allow me to set the scene. I was sitting in the kitchen on a lovely summer afternoon, admiring the sunshine as I snacked on a sweet, tasty Belgian waffle. As I relaxed and enjoyed the lazy moment, I couldn't think of many things I'd rather be doing. I was comfortable, I had no responsibilities, and a wonderful baked good was gracing my taste buds. So when an old friend rang my doorbell and presented me with the opportunity to drive his new Cadillac, a few thoughts popped into my mind. The first was excitement, as I'm always eager to drive cars I've never previously experienced, and the second was hope. Hope that I wasn't disappointed. Hope that the car was good. Hope that I enjoyed the car more than I was enjoying my Belgian waffle.

As I opened the door and stepped into the driver's seat of the ATS, I thought about the enormous challenge the car faces. As Cadillac's answer to  BMW's 3-Series, Mercedes' C-Class and Audi's A4, it needs to be a pretty good car in order to have a hope of stealing buyers away from its German rivals. It needs to drive with the finesse of its competition, while also possessing all the usual luxuries and creature comforts that buyers expect, all for a reasonable price. Now that my lofty expectations had been set, I started the engine, shifted into drive and set off to see if the ATS could live up to them.

As I gently cruised out of my neighborhood, the ATS was already off to a good start. The driving position was great and I immediately noticed the premium feel of the interior. Many of the surfaces were wrapped in soft, welcoming leather, including the very nicely-proportioned steering wheel. The seat was very comfortable, and, despite the small-ish nature of the car, the driver's seat felt very spacious. Overall, saying the interior was a pleasant place to be would be an accurate statement.

As I arrived at a red light, I pulled the gearshift over into manual mode and prepared to test the ATS' straight-line acceleration. This car in particular was the mid-range model, powered by a 2 liter inline 4-cylinder that, with the help of a turbocharger, produces 272 horsepower and 295 lb ft of torque. This power is sent to all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. So how did it feel off the line? In a word, fun. As the light turned green and my right foot hit the floor, I couldn't help but smile as the car surged through the intersection. As the revs built up, I found myself impressed not only by the way the car felt, but also by how it sounded. I've never driven a 4-cylinder car that sounds as good as this did. At low speeds, if I listened closely, I could hear a little bit of turbo whistle over the sound of the engine, which added even more to the experience. Now, by no means is the ATS a rocket ship in terms of speed (that's what the ATS-V is for), but for a mid-range sedan it pulls very nicely. Judging from my experience driving cars in this segment, I can confidently say that this car's straight line performance is more than competitive with its rivals.

After thoroughly testing the small Caddy's acceleration (within the legal limits of course), I was beyond eager to see how the ATS handled some corners. Being a college kid with no access to any sort of private test track, I couldn't exactly throw it around a figure eight like the guys at Motor Trend, but I still managed to get a good feel for how the car behaves. And oh, does it behave. No matter what corner I threw at the ATS, it always felt planted and eager to do whatever the situation demanded. The combination of four-wheel drive, a nicely rigid chassis and a very clever suspension setup meant that the car gripped well, even as I got more excited with the throttle. Experimenting with the car's cornering abilities was one of the highlights of my week, as the ATS managed to be both capable and entertaining. The more I pushed the car, the better it felt to drive, and the more I smiled as I hit the gas and powered out of a bend.

So, as you can probably tell by now, I like this car quite a bit, and I wasn't at all let down by my decision to ditch the Belgian waffle and jump into the driver's seat. It's good-looking, comfortable, reasonably quick, it rides well and it handles beautifully. Is it the perfect car? No, the brakes felt grabby (which took some getting used to and eventually showed some improvement), the back seats don't have enough head room for passengers anywhere above 6', and the shifting inputs in manual mode should be reversed, but honestly those are pretty minor complaints. Overall, the ATS really is a car that could make you reconsider buying something German, which is a massive accomplishment for Cadillac. Now if only I could get my hands on an ATS-V to see if that's giving the Germans as much of a headache...

Lastly, thank you to my old friend for providing his car and giving me the opportunity to finally write a proper car review!