The 2018 Cadillac ATS represents the sixth year of the brand’s bold experiment to sell something completely different. Despite being known as the maker of large luxury sedans and brash SUVs, the ATS is a small sport sedan engineered to be more athletic than the best from Europe. It was even tuned on Germany’s famous Nurburgring race track. BMW’s Roundel badge might as well have been a target at which the ATS was fired.
Well, six years on, and we must say that the goal to make a sharp sport sedan (and coupe) with world-class handling was successful. It really is a hoot to drive, especially with the manual transmission or V6 engine. The wild ATS-V is several rungs above “hoot.” The trouble is, the ATS continues to fall short of many of the other areas satisfied by its more-rounded competitors. Its cabin is far too small for starters, with materials and build quality that just don’t cut it. Its base turbocharged engine is also unrefined and incapable of disguising the fact that it only has four cylinders under its hood (rivals manage it quite nicely). Ride quality is also a bit rough without the optional magnetic suspension and not really becoming of the Cadillac name.
So although the ATS will certainly hit the bullseye for those looking for an American sport sedan with world-class handling, we think there are ultimately more-complete packages worth a look.
What’s New for 2018?
The CUE electronics interface has been upgraded and renamed the “Cadillac user experience,” which seems a bit silly since that’s actually what “CUE” stood for. Oh well, it’s better now. Apple Watch integration is also now available.
What We Like
Genuinely sporty handling; signature Cadillac styling; wild ATS-V model
What We Don’t
Limited rear legroom; tight trunk; unrefined turbocharged engine
The ATS comes standard with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder (dubbed 2.0T) that produces 272 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0T is offered with rear- or all-wheel drive and with a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission. With the automatic and rear-wheel drive, fuel economy is 22 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in combined driving. It returns essentially the same with all-wheel drive, but the manual knocks off 2 mpg combined.
Interestingly, opting for the 3.6-liter V6, which produces 333 hp and 285 lb-ft, doesn’t come with a substantial fuel economy penalty, instead returning 20 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/24 mpg combined with rear-wheel drive and the 8-speed automatic. Optional all-wheel drive lowers estimates to 19 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined. A manual is not available with the V6.
Topping the ATS range is the high-performance ATS-V, which offers a twin-turbocharged version of that 3.6-liter V6 making 464 hp and 445 lb-ft of torque. While the ATS-V can only be had with rear-wheel drive, it’s offered with a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic transmission. The manual returns 16 mpg city/23 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined, while the automatic reaches 17 mpg city/25 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined.
Standard Features & Options
The 2018 Cadillac ATS sedan and coupe are available in four trim levels: the base ATS, Luxury, Premium Luxury and Premium Performance. The high-performance ATS-V is effectively a fifth trim level.
Base-level ATS models ($35,500 sedan; $38,500 coupe) offer 17-inch wheels, a rearview camera, keyless start, dual-zone automatic climate control, 6-way power front seats, leatherette vinyl upholstery, OnStar with 4G LTE Wi-Fi, three USB ports, an 8-in touchscreen interface, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a 12-speaker Bose sound system with satellite radio.
Stepping up to the ATS Luxury ($39,300 sedan; $42,300 coupe) adds navigation functionality to CUE plus leather upholstery, heated 10-way power front seats with memory settings and more-aggressive side bolsters, a heated steering wheel and a split-folding back seat.
The Premium Luxury ($44,900; $47,900 coupe) gains the standard V6 engine, LED running/accent lights, a sunroof, automatic wipers, xenon headlights, sport seats and a suite of accident-avoidance tech (forward-collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and rear cross-traffic warning systems).
The Premium Performance ($47,900 sedan; $50,400) adds 18-in wheels and tires, a magnetically controlled adaptive suspension, a limited-slip differential, a power-adjustable steering wheel and a head-up display. It is the only ATS, apart from the V, to not offer all-wheel drive as an option.
The ATS-V ($61,600 sedan; $63,800 coupe) is for the most part equipped like a base ATS, though it does offer an abundance of performance-enhancing elements, a standard magnetically controlled suspension, parking sensors, leather upholstery, heated power sport seats and power-adjustable wheels. Other optional equipment is available through option packages along with a variety of further performance-enhancing features. Indeed, most of the nonperformance content found in upper ATS trim levels is available on lower ones.
The 2018 Cadillac ATS comes with stability control, a rearview camera, 4-wheel antilock brakes with an available Brembo performance upgrade, and eight standard airbags (front, front side, front knee and full-length side curtain). Rear-side airbags are optional.
The Safety and Security package (optional on Luxury, standard on all those above) includes forward-collision warning, emergency automatic braking, lane-keeping assist, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning, automatic wipers, GM’s Safety Alert Seat and a variety of enhanced security system measures.
In government crash testing, the ATS sedan earned perfect 5-star ratings in every category (the ATS-V got a lower 4-star for overall and frontal protection). The ATS Coupe was not tested. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave its available crash-prevention tech a score of Superior.
Behind the Wheel
From behind the wheel, there’s just not a bad apple in this barrel now that the old naturally aspirated base engine has been put out to pasture. Every 2018 ATS was designed from the ground up to handle like a sports car. Steering response is crisp and direct, while body control is remarkably precise. The manual-transmission ATS 2.0T with its standard limited-slip differential is a real hoot, especially with the optional magnetically controlled adaptive suspension aboard. And although the V6-powered ATS is available only with an automatic, it nevertheless ups the driving fun further.
At the same time, ride quality is pretty good — especially with those magnetic dampers — but it’s not as supple as what you’d get in rival luxury sedans. The ATS definitely skews toward the sporty side of the spectrum, which might not be to everyone’s liking. The 2.0T engine is also a bit coarse and unrefined in feeling and sound, lacking the sophistication demonstrated by most competitors. Of course, you can get the ATS with a V6, which corrects that problem.
As for the ATS-V, we’ve only had the chance to take a short drive. But it feels — and sounds — absolutely ferocious, providing a clear alternative to high-performance rivals such as the Mercedes C63 AMG and BMW’s M3 and M4.
Other Cars to Consider
2018 BMW 3 Series — The 3 Series still has a leg up on Cadillac in the powertrain department, and it’s also offered as a wagon, a coupe or a convertible (the latter two of which are known as the 4 Series). But we think the two go toe-to-toe in most major areas.
2018 Jaguar XE — Like the ATS, the XE is a great choice for those who put “fun to drive” at the top of their priority list. With its terrific steering and suspension tuning, plus a thrilling supercharged V6, it’s a great performance choice.
2018 Kia Stinger — For considerably less money, you can get a car that has more power, a larger and (arguably) more luxurious interior and a genuinely engaging driving experience to rival the ATS. That it’s a Kia shouldn’t put you off.
Used Cadillac CTS — If you like the ATS’s looks, performance and interior but need more space, consider the larger CTS. Prices are higher, though, so you may have to consider a used model.
We think most ATS shoppers will be happiest with the turbocharged ATS. It’s powerful, fuel-efficient and available in numerous configurations. Plus, it’s cheaper than adding the V6. As for trim level, we actually think the base model is now well-enough equipped to meet the needs and wants of most buyers — although the Luxury trim’s added leather heated seats may make the step up worth it.