A coupe coup: The Cadillac ATS Coupe dazzles

Henry Payne

I love economy of line.

A few strokes from caricaturist Al Hirshfeld’s pen could magically capture a Broadway celebrity’s face.

The bold curves of architect Eero Saarinen’s Dulles Airport transform a massive flight terminal into a soaring sculpture.

And the shrewd lines of the 2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe mark it as a future classic.

The luxury maker’s long-awaited coupe comes with high expectations. After Caddy’s BMW 3 series-fighting ATS sedan debuted to rave reviews in 2012, could the two-door match the high style bar set by the German marque’s 4-series? Could the coupe smooth out the sedan’s rough edges? Or would it stumble as the CTS coupe — an ambitious but flawed sculpture — did before it?

The ATS coupe scores on all fronts — starting with an elegant chrome line that runs the length of the car’s front lip. At times I’ve found it difficult to look at the ATS sedan head on. With its raked hood and sculpted body, the four-door was a lovely interpretation of Caddy’s Art & Science design architecture.

But oh, that face.

The sedan’s large pentagon grille was split in two by a front bumper line. It looked like a mouth stifled by a giant strip of masking tape. The headlamps bulged. The chin strained. Mmmahmmmahmmm. Please, someone, the ATS seemed to be saying, can you remove the #@!!** adhesive?

Ahhhhhh. Thank you, Cadillac designer Bob Boniface. The veteran artisan has worked the same magic on the coupe that he brought to the CTS sedan, The Detroit News’ 2013 Car of the Year. In extending the lower lip line and giving the mouth a chance to breathe, the coupe’s face (coming to the sedan, too) has been transformed. The grille dominates the front, its full, chrome lips smile, the headlamps twinkle. Hello, gorgeous.

Oh, but Boniface’s pen is just getting warmed up. Walk around the coupe’s flanks and a single, arching sill line connects hood to windows to tail. Immediately below it, the ATS sedan’s elegant shoulder line has been dropped, bisecting the car’s big rear quarters and knitting everything into proportion. It’s the trickiest space in auto design. The Audi A5 has it right. The creaseless CTS coupe, not so much. Its hindquarters look as naked as Homer Simpson’s forehead.

Not the ATS. Like its sister CTS, you want to take something this beautiful onto the dance floor. Then the ATS really shows its moves.

Like the sedan, the coupe is equal — dare I say superior? — to its German competitors. The steering is perfectly weighted, the chassis taut (aided by a 38 percent stiffening in high strength steel and extensive adhesive bonding), the balance — nearly 50-50 front to rear — is exquisite. Mindful that its nemeses have porked up, the Caddy has slimmed down. Its dimensions match those of the superb BMW E46 chassis of a generation ago, tipping the scales 53 pounds lighter (267 pounds less than an AWD Audi A5).

Bounding like a retriever after a fox over the equestrian hills and valleys of northern Connecticut, the ATS coupe felt small in my hands. With a multi-link front suspension and independent rear, this Labrador is relentlessly sure-footed. Strap on magnetic shocks and it gets even better.

Like the wings of Hermes on all four heels, magnetic shocks make this hound fly. Caddy’s magnetic shocks are suspension steroids. And they’re legal. Heck, put them on a Cadillac Escalade (they do) and the lumbering offensive lineman thinks it’s Adrian Peterson.

Recognizing the coupe’s natural beauty and athleticism, Caddy’s product planners have appropriately fed it plenty of drivetrain meat. Skipping right over the sedan’s 2.4 liter, four-cylinder starter salad, the base coupe goes straight for the sirloin — a turbocharged 2.0-liter four with 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Bigger chops? GM’s trusty 3.6-liter V-6 is protein-fed with 321 horsepower and roars like a bull when poked.

But as satisfying as the V-6 pipes are, the quieter turbo packs plenty of punch. Consider the numbers. While the V-6 sprints from 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds, the turbo 4 is right on its hip at 5.6 seconds. And it drinks 3 mpg less to get there. Tucked up under the four’s exhaust manifold, the dual scroll turbo is a compact dynamo, giving the little engine a wicked kick in the glutes from 2,000 revs all the way to the 6,500 redline. Mated to a silky smooth, 6-speed automatic or manual box, the turbo shifts effortlessly, even in fast downshifts as the car’s six-pot Brembo anchors haul it back to earth.

Inside, the Caddy’s interior strives to match the drama outside.

The ATS is the first Caddy to offer GM’s 4G connectivity for the Internet starved (um, like your trusty scribe lost on Connecticut back roads). Paddle shifters the size of boat cleats anchor either sides of the steering wheel, allowing for ease of use even as the coupe explores its .93-g envelope. Comfortable, bolstered seats tempt you to stay in the saddle for hours.

The rest of the quiet interior is familiar Caddy territory. The haptic-touch, smartphone-like center screen requires a tutorial, but at least it’s all right in front of you. BMW, Audi and now Lexus consoles are stacked shelves of high-placed screens and low-mounted dials. If Europeans had designed the etch-a-sketch, the nobs would have come with a separate console.

Befitting a coupe, the rear seats are not for the claustrophobic. Still, the designers have thoughtfully located redundant fore and aft switches at the top and bottom of the seats so the rear passenger can move the seat to get out. Very clever.

The ATS coupe is Caddy’s sixth product in three years as the veteran tries to reestablish itself as a premier luxury brand. And ATS will bring a V-series coupe performance droid to the fight next year to take on the mighty BMW M4. But as good as the ATS products are, its competition isn’t standing still. While the ATS is Caddy’s gateway to the under-35 set, BMW — to use just one example — has added a 2-series as well as small utes to its lineup.

Will Caddy ever catch up? Maybe not. But the ATS sedan and coupe are proof that Cadillac is capable of making some of the finest small lux cars in the world. The cars grip like glue. The engines pull like Clydesdales. The interior warms like a ski cabin.

And like a Hirschfeld drawing, the ATS coupe just needs a few simple lines to make you recognize true beauty.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe

Vehicle type:

Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger sports coupe


$38,990 base ($49,685 turbo-4 as tested)

Power plant:

2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder; 3.6-liter direct injection V-6


272 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 321 horsepower, 275 pound-feet of torque (V-6)


Six-speed automatic


0-60 mph, 5.6 seconds (turbo-4); 5.5 seconds (V-6). Source: Cadillac


3,418 pounds

Fuel economy:

EPA 21 mpg city/31 mpg highway (turbo-4); 18 mpg city/28 mpg highway (V-6)

Report card


Sleek styling; nimble handling


Claustrophobic rear seats


★ ★ ★ ★

Grading scale

Excellent ★ ★ ★ ★

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Poor ★