by Wallace Wyss –
The Cadillac name is one emblazoned on my brain. When I was a kid, having a Cadillac was the ne plus ultra of career achievement. There weren’t many on my block that had one but, boy, when they first drove one home, the neighbors burned with envy. They had obviously made it to the big time.
But, of course, I grew up in Detroit, so I didn’t see Rolls Royces and Mercedes 300s until I was a teenager, and then gradually got the idea there was another few tiers above Cadillac.
Cadillac is now pitched against their old enemy Lincoln. And they have one thing Lincoln doesn’t have as yet—performance. But as far as styling it’s hard to say which of the Detroit automakers is on the right path.
Lincoln is really pushing the new Continental which has a Bentley style grille that got an angry blast from a Bentley designer.
Cadillac still has remnants of their chiseled “art-and-science” design trend, though now it’s more rounded in places.
Cadillac, when an ex-Audi man came aboard to run it, moved their HQ to New York to get away from the Detroit way of thinking, but as this design is over five years old, I think this car was conceived when they were still in Detroit so it still has a little unsure footedness, not quite sure what it needs to be in order to take on Lexus, Infiniti, Mercedes and other luxury cars.
I would say , after driving the Cadillac ATS V6 1000 miles, that they have a good start (though Car & Driver thought five years was plenty of time to find their way…). Size-wise it’s a handy size, not as big as a “fullsize” car, as the Caddys of ten years ago. And yet it seats four.
The Cadillac ATS V6 is available as a coupe or sedan. The base package is a 272-hp. 2-liter four with an eight speed automatic and rear wheel drive. A 335 hp. V6 is available, which our test car had. This is not, repeat not, the twin turbo version, that is the ATS-V which costs more but delivers more power.
All the Cadillac ATS models can be equipped with a lot of electronic stuff, which I personally do not need though I am sure that with the up-and-comers buying it, it is crucially important it can be ordered to accommodate Apple Car Play and Android Auto and has an 8.0-in. touchscreen to use these programs.
BOLD FRONT, SO-SO REAR
First of all let’s talk about the styling. From the front, the Cadillac ATS V6 has something distinctive that sets it apart from other brands, a vertical running light at the end of each fender about a foot tall that really announces something special is coming. The side is a well chiseled shape but nothing distinctive, and from the rear, it’s forgettable. I am annoyed by the depression in the trunk lid for the license plate that is about 3 ft. wide. License plates in Europe are wider than the US but not three feet wide so why make it so big?
The trunk is huge and has a “pass through” so you can take your snow skis.
The sporty touch on our test car was the V-Sport package’s red painted Brembo calipers with slotted rotors, upgraded pads, etc. And you can order a fancy interior which Car & Driver described as “richer than a Parisian house of ill repute.”
The car also is equipped with those dampers (shock absorbers) that have some sort of magnetized material that allows them to change their springing rate instantaneously and I discovered the fact the rate was adjustable only near the end of my test, but found it more satisfying as a performance car-in-disguise once I found I could set it on the “track” setting.
Now Car & Driver, who may have tested the same car (by the pictures) said in their comparison tests, it came behind the BMW 335i and Lexus IS3560F sport “because there’s more to a luxury sports sedan that its ability to ride and handle.”
They noted it was slower than the same model they tested the year before, which led them to conclude the gearing is aimed at ”fuel economy” rather than performance. By the way, at best it got about 30 mph it got down to 24 mpg.
A lot of the things like heater and radio volume are controlled by sliders but it’s a mystery where to press on the dash.
Even though we had a 1000 miles to get it right, we were always lost as to which part to press on to get it to work. As far as navigation, though, you can issue voice commands, to where you want to go and the map will appear.
The dashboard has carbon fiber as a decorative element, and chrome (probably plastic) and leather, altogether too much as if they were saying “Somewhere in here we will get what people want.”
I think they need to hire someone like Michael Kors (the purse guy) to come in and spec the colors and materials for the interior and that’s it, not employ ideas from 10 different designers all trying to get a piece of the dashboard. Chrysler hired fashion designer John Varvatos and I have to say the edition of the 300 he did really has what designers call “graphic continuity.” Something they don’t know about in Detroit.
The car has a lot of new challengers on the block like the Jaguar XE, Audi A4, Mercedes C-class, etc. I would say the Cadillac design staff needs to drive these competitors in rotation so what they do with Cadillac reflects the tastes of this segment of the buying public. You want to avoid the feeling it is some basic design “warmed over.”
I looked over the option list and, eagle eyed buyer that I am, I saw a couple things I’d leave out. Oh I liked the sports suspension at $945, but paying several hundred extra for the paint (gray metallic) offended me–I think paying extra for paint should only be with difficult colors to lay on, like white pearl, if they have it.
I would say that, in ordinary driving, it didn’t feel like a potent performance car, more like any middle class sedan in the $25,000 to $30,000 range. That especially applies to the exhaust sound, you would never guess what drones on at low rpm sounds so great once you floor it and it begins winding out each gear to redline.
Only when you floored it did the car take on a more dynamic character. Then this Cadillac ATS really felt like you were rocketing ahead, like the car had completely changed personalities.
Also the semi-analine leather seats at $1295, will someone please explain why I care it’s semi-analine or full-analine. What is analine?
In sum, the Cadillac ATS V6 has the basic chops to go up against the foreign competition, but it needs to have a boss in charge who sees what makes the European cars such strong statements in their price class and even the Lexus F-series so strong a statement, and get Cadillac to make a strong statement too. I think they can beat Lincoln, which has a front drive car (which can never perform like a rear wheel drive one) and a glitzy grille but Cadillac’s got to have it all together to make a stronger statement in a car that looks good and delivers.
Let us know what you think in the Comments.
THE AUTHOR: A former associate editor of Motor Trend, Wallace Wyss’ latest book is Janis Joplin’s Psychedelic Porsche 356 and 49 other Barn Finds…from Enthusiast Press (715)381 9755.