The Cadillac ATS 2.0T Carbon Black Sport Proves America Can Be Great at Compact Sedans

Plenty powerful but economical; fun to drive and daily-drivable. Cadillac nailed this one.

Cadillac ATS

Over the last few years, Cadillac's performance-oriented V models have been demanding my attention, and when the opportunity has come along to get some play time behind the wheel, it's always been to my delight. But that being said, I haven't really considered any of them as a potential daily driver.

And so I was pleasantly surprised by this ATS 2.0T, the second engine choice in a lineup that starts with a 202-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder and finishes with a 3.6-liter V-6 with 333 horses. If you're looking for a great compact luxury sport sedan, and want to look beyond the classic German trio of Mercedes-Benz C-Class, BMW 3 Series, and Audi A4, you're view is going to narrow to this jagged slab of American muscle (and, possibly, the Lexus IS).

To start, it looks good—very good. The ATS's sharp and angular body is distinct at a time when most cars are getting increasingly globular. This tested Black Series package, for $795, gives the ATS a distinctively athletic look, especially the black rims with red Brembo calipers; it puts the "sports" in "sports-luxury sedan," and it's a nice touch.

That athleticism doesn't end with the looks, either. Get behind the wheel and the excellent chassis is immediately apparent—tight, and intuitive and great for windy back roads. The term "driver's car" is overused, but that's what Cadillac was going for, and that's what this is.

The two-liter turbocharged inline four falls in the midrange of the series, but with 272 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, there's plenty of push and shove. (Turns out, despite what our press fleet manager seems to think, you don't always need 500 horsepower to have fun in a sports car.) You don't spend much time wishing for more power, and you get to conserve some fuel, to boot. And the manual transmission, as always, is a lovely—and increasingly rare—thing to be able to choose.

Once you climb inside, there's no doubt about the luxury side of the equation; it’s good representation of modern Cadillac, with amply luxurious materials and finishes for the segment—and the red-on-black leather in the test model gives the car a significant edge. It's comfortable, and quiet. It should be noted that the ATS rivals have roomier backseats and trunks—but, hey, it's a driver's car, after all. The 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system is quite good, and the heads-up display is a welcome addition. The eight-way power front seat set-up took me a while to figure out, but comfortable once I found the right combination between the seat and the steering wheel. (It seems that the previous tester had very long legs and very short arms.)

The safety and security package includes all the bells and whistle you expect of a modern luxury car: blind-spot monitor, lane-departure prevention, forward collision-warning system, etc. I was not a fan of the Safety Alert seat that buzzes your ass as an additional form of collision warning—especially when it activates while you're parked and pedestrians roam around the car—you start to feel like you're stuck on one of those coin-operated vibrating beds you'd find at a seedy love motel off the Vegas strip. And it's hard to deactivate.

The Premium trim adds 18-inch wheels, nav system, power outlet, color heads-up display, power-adjustable steering wheel, summer performance tires, a sport-tuned suspension with adaptive suspension dampers, and a limited-slip rear differential. It adds to an already impressive package, and transforms the ATS into something I'd consider as a daily driver. In the German-dominated compact luxury sport sedan landscape, it's a strong vote for America.

--

Cadillac ATS 2.0T Carbon Black Sport
PRICE: $50,865
POWERTRAIN: 2.0-liter turbo I-4, 272-horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque; six-speed manual; RWD
0-60 MPH: 5.4 seconds
MPG: 22 city, 31 highway
DRIVER'S CAR BONA FIDES: Did we mention the manual transmission?