2014 Cadillac ATS Walk Around

Exterior styling on the ATS sedan is bold, continuing Cadillac's Art and Science design language that's been in use for a decade. The design stems from early sketches that came out of GM's London studio, with the bulk of the exterior and interior refined and finished by designers from both the Michigan and California studios. The ATS is built at GM's Lansing Grand River Assembly Plant in Michigan.

Lines are cleaner and certain features are less over-the-top than those on other cars in this class, and are more proportionate to (and appropriate for) its smaller size. But the ATS is still unmistakably a Cadillac, which will please brand loyalists and appeal to those who are looking for something unique in a sea of sameness. On the other hand, that could prove a tough sell for European-luxury car enthusiasts who prefer sultry swoops to Caddy's sharp geometric shapes.

Headlamps on the ATS use Cadillac's signature vertical shape, with long, tapering tails that stretch up alongside the hood line. Vertical foglamps underneath accentuate the upright look of the front fascia. The front grille and air intakes are large, but not gratuitous, and are separated, in Cadillac style, by a sharp, three-dimensional angular crease. The front end is not only aesthetic, but functional: Inside the front grille are shutters that automatically close at certain highway speeds to reduce aerodynamic drag and help fuel economy.

From the side, the ATS appears squared-off, but not as wedge-shaped as the CTS. A rising character line along the bottom is evident, but not overdone. The roofline slopes gently past the C-pillar, and isn't as steeply raked as some sporty compact cars, presumably for the sake of rear passenger headroom. Chrome accents on window surrounds and door handles, as well as polished 17-inch wheels (with optional 18s), convey a look that's more luxurious over sporty. In addition, the Brembo performance brakes that come on some ATS models use a special Ferritic Nitro-Carburizing (FNC) coating, which helps to prevent corrosion and keeps them looking shiny.

In back, the vertical lines are repeated in the tail lamps. A long, thin horizontal LED brake doubles as a rear spoiler. The license plate is framed in shapes that would make Euclid (the father of geometry) proud. The rear bumper echoes the front with its sharp center crease.

Interior

As with other Cadillac interiors, materials on the ATS are high-quality and luxurious. Front seats make the driver and passenger feel like each is in her own compartment, flanked by an armrest at one hand, and a high center console on the other. The interior design echoes the lines and shapes of the outside, with sharp angles and rising lines that wrap around and create a seamless flow from the center instrument panel to the doors.

The ATS features extra touches like handcrafted cut-and-sewn leather upholstery on upper trim levels. A number of interior color and trim packages are available, but we weren't crazy about some of the options. Aluminum trim inserts, for example, sport etched rectangular patterns evocative of a 1980s Duran Duran album. And while we liked a different model's red-flecked carbon fiber accents on doors and vent surrounds, we were disappointed to learn they were only available as a package with red leather upholstery. A Cadillac exec told us we could order the carbon fiber inserts separately, but we'd have to change them out ourselves (and perhaps try to recoup our losses by selling the original trim on eBay).

Base versions of the ATS include a 4.2-inch color information display, which we weren't able to see in person, presumably because Cadillac was pushing its CUE system, a voice-activated proprietary interface with an iPad-like 8-inch touchscreen. While past Cadillac models were fraught with an overwhelming number of buttons on the center stack, CUE drastically cuts down the number of controls to just a handful. It controls audio and telephone functions, as well as directions and map information on cars equipped with navigation.

Unlike many luxury vehicles with proprietary interfaces (like the BMW iDrive and Mercedes Benz's COMAND system), there is no control knob on the center console. All functions are performed either through voice or via the touchscreen. However, CUE doesn't appear on the base model, and navigation costs extra on all but the most expensive trim levels.

CUE's home menu is configurable so you can access your favorite functions easily. It also uses proximity sensing, which saves extra steps and keeps your attention better focused on the road. When driving, CUE will display full-screen maps or audio information; but when your hand is nearby, it automatically brings up menu options related to the current function on the screen.

We were pleasantly surprised by the navigation and voice activation. Voice recognition systems can be painfully inaccurate (just ask anyone with the latest iPhone), but CUE's is impressive. It understands natural voice commands, meaning you don't need to use pre-canned terms to get it to do something. Even better, it can correctly identify difficult names from an address book, although it will most likely butcher the pronunciation when repeating it back to you.

While CUE is mostly user-friendly, there are still a few oddities. One of these is that it uses physical buttons on the center stack, located below the screen, for the climate control's fan speed and temperature. However, if you want to change vent mode, you have to go into the CUE menu. Another thing that annoyed us was the barrage of fingerprints that appeared on the screen after just a few minutes of use. The ATS does come with a microfiber cleaning cloth, but it's not an elegant solution.

Front seats are comfortable and offer a good range of adjustability, from petite to tall. Because it's a smaller, sporty car, bolsters hug the driver and front passenger tighter than in other Cadillac models, which is a good thing when navigating winding roads. On cars equipped with the optional Driver Awareness Package, the driver's seat will vibrate when the lane departure warning or forward collision alert is activated. If a vibrating seat isn't your style, you can change the warning to an audible tone. As for us, we think the vibrators should have a manual on/off switch and be repurposed as seat massagers.

In back, legroom is on the tight side, but comparable for a car of this class. It offers about the same as the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, but about an inch and a half less than the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series sedan. It's a similar story with rear headroom; the ATS is comparable to the Mercedes, but falls about an inch short when compared to the Audi and BMW. This is especially curious considering the overall length of the ATS is two inches longer than the C-Class, and practically three inches longer than the A4.

Trunk space in the ATS falls short of that of the Audi A4 and Mercedes C250, which offer 12.4 cubic feet of cargo space, and the BMW 328i, which offers a roomy 13 cubic feet.

Request More Info