It’s worth supporting for the home side, no matter how tough the past has been. Just ask any true Chicago Cubs fan. Like the Cubs, the long-standing American institution Cadillac also had a somewhat dark period, but has done some really cool things over the past 20 years. Caddy grabbed everyone’s attention when it came out with the CTS in 2003, proving 10 years later that it truly could boast the best that Europe and Japan had to offer when it debuted its smaller sibling, the ATS.
The compact luxury Cadillac ATS was sold as new in model years 2013-2019 and came in a variety of trims and body styles, including the BMW-M3/M4 yacht ATS-V. But even the non-V ATS was a monumental move by General Motors (GM) and eventually gave the Detroit brand a real competitor against the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class, Lexus IS and Alfa Romeo Giulia, especially at the height of the badge between 2017 and 2019. It had chops in its chassis, engine performance and luxury appointments, and was even fitted with a manual transmission. This is why the right spec at the right price could be a solid used buy against its class rivals.
The Cadillac ATS was based on GM’s Alpha platform which is shared with the CTS, Chevy Camaro, as well as the newer Cadillac CT5 and Cadillac CT4. When it debuted, Caddy boasted that it featured excellent overall chassis stiffness, a sporty MacPherson front wheel and fully independent multi-link rear suspension, performance-braking front brakes from Brembo and performance-oriented steering by German company ZF. Then Cadillac threw its adaptive Magnetic Ride Control dampers into select option packages to allow drivers to choose their preferred type of damping, from damped to sporty.
The ATS debuted as a sedan and later a coupe was added to the lineup. Cadillac offered it with an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, and a few engine choices. Between 2016 and 2019, the years to watch and what we’ll discuss here, the base 2.0-liter turbo-four was marketed as the most powerful turbo-four in its class at a whopping 272 horsepower and 295 pounds -foot couple. At its peak, the naturally aspirated 3.6-litre V6 produced 335 and 285 respectively. The 2.0 reached the 60-mph mark from a standstill in 6 seconds, the six in 5.4 seconds – not bad for a car with a curb weight of around 3,500 pounds, depending on the engine and transmission bolted on.
As for luxury appointments, reviewers (including The ride‘s Edouard Portelette) thought the ATS was good, comfortable and a nice place to be at the time. Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system was (and still is) widely regarded as a pain in the neck. To make matters worse, there is a lot of chintzy piano black plastic prominent below the screen on the main stack. The front seats were good, but one of the biggest complaints was a lack of space in the rear, regardless of body shape.
Overall, it’s a handsome package, and I think it looks especially good in sedan form with optional 18-inch wheels. Regardless of the colour, this combo really showcases the sporty features of the chassis, especially with Brembo brakes behind the front spokes.
Remarkable to consider tracking down
While it’s hard to pin down an optimal spec in the used market, there are a few nice features to look for. Personally, I’d go for the turbo four – sure, it won’t sound that great, nor is it the ground pounder of the bunch. But it packs a lot of power for its displacement, and combined with the six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive (RWD) and mechanical limited-slip differential (the latter is standard on all manual RWD models, huzzah!), it’s sure’ I’ll be shuffling around with some gusto .
Like his brother Chevy, who sometimes looks like an option pack company that sells cars, Cadillac offered some cool equipment for the ATS. Some of it depends on trim level and what’s available with what’s a little hard to keep up with – some trims include Luxury, Premium Luxury and Premium Performance.
Cadillac offered different levels of suspension tuning, ranging from what it called the FE1 package in the softest way to FE3 at the firmest and most versatile. FE3 is where Magnetic Ride Control exists, as well as the differential lock for automatic equipped models. It also has a sportier steering ratio and 18-inch forged alloy wheels with summer tires. Then there was the Carbon Black sports package that added Recaro seats and a black chrome grille, and a carbon fiber package that added some cool exterior touches, including suede on the steering wheel and gear lever. Other finer points and technical options in the interior included the UE4 Driver Awareness Package with some useful advanced driver assistance technology, Seating Package for a more comfortable and adjustable driving position, and Cold Weather Package for heated seats and an automatically heated steering wheel (critical for Cadillac’s own backyard, the midwest).
For enthusiasts, FE3 suspension seems to be the sweet spot when paired with rear-wheel drive, the manual transmission and both drivetrains. Reviewers seemed mixed when it came to manual versus automatic—three pedals are always more fun, and some found the automatic fast but jerky.
With this spec as the foundation, there are some cool things you can do with it in the aftermarket.
It may sound like I’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, but there’s a surprising amount of aftermarket support for the ATS. I think that has to do with the fact that there’s a Cadillac decal on the grille, but the ATS is indeed no stranger to anyone prone to turning the key a bit.
Companies like Renick Performance, Mod Bargains, Race Chip, Trifecta Performance, Vermont Tuning, RPM Motorsports and ZZ Performance offer substantially cool stuff for this compact steed, such as tunes, intake and exhaust systems, suspension components, brake upgrades, wheels and more. For those hungry for more grunt, adding at least 60 horsepower to the 2.0T engine is a simple proposition. Then, with plenty of digging, there are also options straight from GM, including throwing some gently used factory upgrades on a less-named one. Big swaps like integrating Magnetic Ride Control would be a bit of a bear though – you might be better off considering aftermarket passive damping options from KW, Eibach, H&R and BC Racing.
Overall, things don’t seem too bad with the Cadillac ATS, at least compared to its more complex European rivals (*cough* N20B20 engine in the F3X BMW 3/4 series). According to CarComplaints.com, shaky automatic transmissions, the CUE infotainment system and wheel discoloration are the top three complaints. The wobbly car is an easy fix, but just opt for the manual transmission.
Diving deeper, other sites discuss a few other strange issues, including failed drivetrain seals, broken axles, coolant leaks, misfires (especially for the 2.0T), electrical failures on early generation models, transmission cable failures, and power steering failures. The last two are pending recalls that can be reinstated free of charge. Forums also have many informative discussions on these issues, so check them out if you’re in the market.
As always, a thorough test drive and inspection is always a good idea, and the more service history available the better. There are still some examples with very low mileage on the used market, which could bode well for minimizing overdue maintenance.
Worth a look?
Price-wise, it seems that early 2.0T-equipped, automatic and rear-wheel drive models can be found with under 120,000 miles for just $10,000. However, anything with a manual transmission and under 80,000 miles is more in the $18,000-$25,000 range and a little rarer.
The Cadillac ATS seems like an underrated choice for enthusiasts looking for used compact luxury. The chassis and steering are highly regarded, it possesses some good performance minerals and it’s pretty cool to find such a platform in something designed, engineered and assembled by our fellow Americans in the great state of Michigan. As much as I write about depreciated options by European brands, I still support the home team, and I don’t think I’m alone in this sentiment.