Two hundred years ago tomorrow, the British rolled into Washington D.C. and burned the White House along with a number of other public buildings. This was retaliation for an American raid on Port Dover on the northern shore of Lake Erie, which was in turn a retaliation for the British burning American settlements in Chesapeake Bay and Buffalo.
You might be saying to yourself, "I'm here to justify all my unwarranted hate for the ATS coupe, not get a history lesson!" Take a deep breath and put the keyboard down; it's all going to be ok. You'll get your chance to do some good 'ol badge bashing in the comments but hopefully by the time you're done reading this, you'll reconsider.
So what does the war of 1812 have to do with the 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe? Well, traditionally we here in the United States of America love coupes, just so long as they're imported from a little place called Germany. Over the past twenty years we've become particularly fond of coupes built by Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW for those of you that don't sprechen sie deutsch) and, more recently, those built by a company who is in no way affiliated with the Olympic Games, though their logo would suggest otherwise.
In August of 2010, 196 years after the burning of Washingon D.C., Cadillac released upon the world the all new CTS Coupe. It was a bold design and by bold I mean spectacularly awful to anyone with an eye for good design. It took the digestible proportions of the CTS sedan and CTS Sport Wagon, smushed 'em, pulled 'em and turned up the ugly to 11. The first time I saw one was at an outdoor mall where it was on display between a Louis Vuitton store and a Juicy Couture store. They were building a pretty damn cool wagon but as far as I was concerned Cadillac was still catering to a demographic for which I had no love and no understanding.
Then came the ATS and the redesigned CTS. They looked good, refined, svelte and they had commercials that oozed confidence. Not that "Hey bro did I mention I'm doing two-a-days now and I've reduced my BMI to .5%" kind of confidence that American brands are so often guilty of. No, this was the kind of confidence only exhibited when you've taken note of the negative shit people are saying about you, processed it like an adult and gone back to the drawing board to improve, and oh how they had improved.
Odds are that your favorite automotive journalist loves the ATS sedan; they won't rank it above a 3 Series, for that would imperil their livelihood and trust me, they do NOT want to miss out on the free shimp I'm told is available at press lunches. Instead they praise the ATS for being good, like really, really good, but not quite on the level of the best thing to ever roll on 4 wheels mobile that always takes home the title.
I haven't driven an ATS sedan so I'm not able to say whether it's better than the 3 Series. I have, however, sat in one and compared to a comparably priced Bimmer, I'd take the Cadillac based solely on the fit and finish. You should know that I'm a big fan of BMW. I drive a '06 S4 and I generally like German cars more than American ones. The thing is that we're living in crazy times, times where an American company can build a better German car than Germany can, which brings me to the War Of 1812.
We fought the War Of 1812 because America and Great Britain didn't get it all out during the revolution. The British were still pissed that they'd lost their shiny toy across the sea to a bunch of farmers and to be fair Americans have been walking around with an inflated sense of self worth for the past 29 years. Great Britain figured that if they kept on trying to undermine the new country by blocking trade with France and making alliances with the indigenous peoples, they'd eventually break us and bring the colonies back into the fold. What the British failed to realize was that though James Madison may have been an awful president, America was for real. Sure the colonies had their issues but the flag waving, chest thumping patriotism that we all know today had already taken root. America was just hitting puberty in nation years and we were ready to start partying like a 6th year college student.
This is basically what happened with American automakers and German automakers. Germany stole the hearts and minds of Americans with their pretty little coupes. Then 30 years later Cadillac tried to get them back but the attempt was halfhearted and was a mild success. However, mildly succeeding is still succeeding and the seed was planted in the minds of American car buyers. All it would take is for Germany to slip up and for Cadillac to absolutely nail it.
BMW is currently offering the first ever 4 series, a car whose front end looks like it got sat on by an elephant and has a tablet crudely jammed into the dashboard.
The ATS Coupe is a carefully thought out, well proportioned, beauty of an automobile. Cadillac's design team and engineering team appear to achieved a perfect synergy when building this car. It is just the right amount of aggressive on the outside and relaxing on the inside. On the way up to our lunch destination I drove the 3.6 with all wheel drive and ZF automatic transmission.
The Dark Adriatic Blue Metallic exterior is one of the best looking paints options on the market today. Photos truly cannot do it justice; you have got to see it in person to fully understand how good it is, especially when paired with the Light Platinum Leather like my tester. I'm typically not a fan of lighter interiors but in this instance it just worked like bacon, cucumber and cream cheese on a bagel (try it, thank me later).
With this color combo, all wheel drive and bigger motor, I couldn't help but think I was driving the direct competitor for an S5 or 435 X-Drive. The S5 is a car that was once very dear to me but when they dropped that glorious V8 for the 3.0 six, it lost its appeal. I haven't driven a 4 series yet but I should get a chance to do so in a couple of weeks at the Ultimate BMW Experience. I have driven the current generation S5 I can say that I would 100% rather have the ATS. It's just such a damn pleasant place to be.
CUE is much improved (no, seriously you guys, it is) which was a huge drawback on other Cadillacs I've driven recently. It did struggle when asked to play music via Bluetooth after giving directions through Waze/Google Maps but I've run into that issue with just about every infotainment system I've used. It's worth noting that the BOSE system is one of the best I've heard and is probably aided by all the sound dampening they've done. As much fun as it was to blast the new Spoon album with the windows down, it was just as much fun to drive in silence with the windows up. Of course I had to continuously break the silence by matting the pedal to the floor because the V6 sounds awesome.
The rear seats (child storage area) are well bolstered so any shorter friends or young'uns should enjoy their time back there. I'm 5'11 on a good day and I wouldn't say I felt imprisoned but I certainly had flashbacks to high school riding in a friend's Eagle Talon, not a good thing. I know some of you will cry foul but if the lack of a sizeable back seat is something that upsets you, then you shouldn't be looking at sport coupes in the first place.
Other notable details, the doors are substantial, close with a satisfying thud. They're wide enough at the top for one to rest one's arm, assuming that they've not been on the juice and have Mark McGwire circa '97 forearms. There is a great field of view from the drivers seat. The only piece of sheetmetal shared by the ATS sedan and the coupe is the hood but with the more aggressively raked windshield on the coupe, it appears lower. For me this translated to feeling like I could see the road better. whether that is actually the case or not I do not know.
Rear visibility is about par for the course, which isn't great. I did a fair amount of lane changing and did so with confidence, partially because I have 20/20 vision and partially because of the active safety features. B pillars on coupes always suck, we all know this, we all want the glass but safety this, restrictions that, blah, blah, blah. I was able to look over my left shoulder and see if there was a car hiding in my blind spot; so as long as I can do that, I'm good with the design.
After a very satisfying lunch at the Ojai Valley Inn it was time to swap cars. I needed to maintain credibility as a Jalop, so I opted for the 2.0T with 3 pedals. Keep in mind that I am a child of the 80's, a manual transmission in a Cadillac coupe is a complete anomaly to me. I had to remind myself that there are also Buicks that have turbochargers and manuals, a brave new world indeed.
In many ways building the ATS 2.0T and making a 6spd available is the best way Cadillac could prove that they are for real. Gone are the days of catering to the Louis Vuitton/Juicy Couture crowd. This sprightly coupe deserves to live in an enthusiast's garage. 20 years from now I wonder if stripped down ATS coupes will be the object of the next generation's affection as the E30 is to this one.
"DID HE JUST COMPARE THE E30 TO A DETROIT BUILT LUXURY COUPE?! BLASPHEMER! GATHER YOUR TORCHES AND PITCHFORKS, WE'VE GOT A MONSTER ON OUR HANDS!"
Ok, calm down, stop breakin' shit in your parent's basement; it's going to be ok. I'm not comparing the two cars, I'm simply curious as to what this first generation's legacy will be. I went into the day expecting to love the 3.6 and like the 2.0T simply because it exists. Much to my surprise, when the day was over I found myself wanting more highway pulls in the 2.0T, more chances to heel toe in the twisties, more, more more! The turbocharged 4 cylinder puts out 275hp/296 lb-ft of torque that is seemingly available at all times. I dropped the thing into 5th on an uphill left hand sweeper, put my foot in it and even at 2000rpm's I felt a substantial shove before reaching peak between 3000-4600rpm. That constant "go baby go" feeling may have something to do with the ATS Coupe being the lightest in its segment, weighing in at just 3,418 lbs compared to the 4 series' 3,470. Maybe it's the lack of b.s. engine noise that makes the Caddy lighter, who knows.
The 2.0 was also equipped with Cadillac's award winning MRC suspension which comes standard as part of the Premium Collection. The ZF rack-mounted electric steering is light but not too light in Touring mode and weights up nicely when in Sport mode. I know this because after finishing one of my favorite canyon roads I happened to look down at the dashboard and notice that there was no little green S there. What this meant was that I'd just flogged the car through some of the tightest curves in Southern California in Touring mode.
As surprised as I was, my passenger and Cadillac representative was even more so. I'd gotten so caught up in talking to him that I'd forgotten to put the car in Sport mode before heading up the canyon. I swear this is true, it's not fluff or a marketing gimmick. Though I was thoroughly impressed I was a little bummed because this meant I didn't drive the car to its full potential and there was no time to go for another lap. You can be damn sure that when I get one for a full review, I'll be going back to that same road and pushing it to the limit (LIMITTTTTT!) and walking along the razor's edge.
As I arrived back at the hotel and reflected on the day, a wave of joy washed over me when I came to a beautiful realization. These are just the regular ATS coupes. An ATS V coupe is coming and if these cars are any indicator, it's going to be phenomenal. When asked what they could tell me about the ATS-V the Cadillac reps smiled coyly and replied, "The guesses are not far off".
What that means is there will more than likely be the Twin Turbo 3.6 V6 found in the CTS-V Sport which is a total hoot to drive. I can only imagine how insanely fun it would be to have that motor in a lightweight coupe with a manual transmission. Hopefully I won't have to use my imagination too much longer.
Germany may have burned our "automotive Washington" but we've remained steadfast, clung to our independence dearly and we will win the Car War of 2015.
God Bless Detroit.