To be completely transparent, this is the 5th time I’m writing this review. I had gone back and forth with different ways to make it interesting, catchy, and not sound like a complete and utter idiot. It wasn’t working. For me, this isn’t a day job, though I am a writer professionally. I write for an ad agency that specializes in pharmaceuticals which essentially means I write text and organize data in such a way that it can be deciphered by a graphic designer and placed into a beautiful visual representation. To call myself a journalist at this point in my automotive industry career would be both laughable and highly unfair to those that actually DO live this life day in and day out.
Shifting Lanes started out as a small blog, but now we’re becoming larger because of readers like you and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. For some reason, what we do is resonating with you all and that makes me feel incredible and it drives me to become a better writer and champion for the brand. And the reason why I’m prefacing this article in this way is because when you get into the auto industry and you’re a nobody, feelings and emotions become juxtaposed in many different ways.
For example, when we first started this website back in 2013, it was a little blog on which we would write whatever popped into our head on whatever topics we could think of. We had no press cars, we had no one to read the site, and we couldn’t have had less notoriety. But as we wrote more and learned more about the industry by reaching out, making contacts, and suddenly building a brand from nothing, we began to feel a bit of a sense of belonging. It felt odd in a way. It felt dirty. Almost like we didn’t belong. When we went to the New York Auto Show on press passes we thought it was the greatest thing that has ever happened in our lives, automotively speaking. We got there, checked out the vast expanse of cars that inhabit the Jacob Javits Center once a year, and got to rub elbows with actual automotive execs and journalists. It felt great and odd. How did we get to this point? Did we really belong? We’re here, the readers are there, but where do I belong in the massive sphere that is auto media?
So now, here I am over 3 years later and Shifting Lanes is getting press vehicles so we can review them and give our opinion so that someone, somewhere might make a more informed decision about likely the second largest purchase in their entire lives. As I sat and started at the Cadillac ATS in my possession I thought, “How in the holy hell did we get a week long loaner from Cadillac?” It felt dirty. Like I had swindled some old woman out of her last stick of Wrigley’s spearmint gum. I felt the same way I’d imagine someone stealing actual candy from an actual baby. It felt strange. Did I deserve this?
It’s not like Cadillac is Ferrari or McLaren. I mean that would be a hell of a coup d’etat in auto-land wouldn’t it? I could see the headlines, “Small, Meaningless Blog Gets Ferrari 488GTB Press Loaner. Rest Of Industry Perplexed. Riots Not Dissipating.” We’ve had press cars before (A Camaro 2.0T, Mazda 3, Scion FR-S, GMC Yukon Denali), but nothing on the echelon of Caddy. Cadillac is, after all, the American luxury brand that no matter where in the world you turn and ask about a product like a toaster, someone will tell you, “this is the Cadillac of toasters.” Their name is lexicon in such a crazy way that even when you talk about a luxurious thing, it’s always Caddy that comes to mind. You might get “this is the Rolls Royce of X,” but never enough to come close to the Cadillac saying. So when Caddy gave me an ATS for a week, I couldn’t help but feel off. And that’s exactly how the ATS will make you feel when you drive it.
The ATS isn’t the first foray into the sport sedan realm for Cadillac. Thankfully, it’s not a Catera was wasn’t even a Caddy at all. That was pretty much just a rebadged Opel. The ATS takes on arguably the most competitive segment in the entire industry. Luxury sport sedans are the cars that all of us think are attainable, yet are just ever so slightly out of reach that they still set the bar as to what we can reach for. There’s an argument to be made that they are the ultimate daily driving enthusiast’s toy. For those that aren’t spectacularly rich and can’t afford to daily drive a Porsche 911 GT3, the sport luxury segment is the true tipping point to know that you’ve made it. You have the job, you might have the girl or guy, and you now have the car. Life is grand. Started from the bottom, now we here, in this BMW 3-series. So you go buy a BMW or an Audi or a Mercedes. Perish the thought of a Cadillac. The ATS is always questioned as really belonging in the segment. Your BMW blog reading friend might warn you, “Ah the Germans have the dynamics and the history. Don’t go American. No one buys that crap. American cars are bullshit!”
The 2.0 liter, 272 horsepower turbo engine this particular ATS came with was surprisingly quick (~5.6 second to 60) and smooth. Though the optional 20″ wheels looked really cool, they made the ride harsh and the car came with one of the wheels already bent from a previous tester. The alpha platform the ATS sits on is nothing sort of extraordinary and the handling is legitimately shocking. A Caddy, historically, shouldn’t handle this well; excluding the V models of course. Yet it does and you feel glued to the road in ways you don’t when driving the 3-series or C-class, both of which I’ve had the chance to weild. I was the most confident in the ATS by a wide margin. The manual (yes, manual) gearbox was excellent thought the clutch itself wasn’t very linear and had a noticeable kick to it from the bottom to middle of the pedal travel. Overall, it’s not a bad clutch pedal and the entire system works together quite well. It’s easily mastered by a seasoned gear rower in less than 10 minutes.
So the ATS was a better handling car than the class leaders? That’s just wrong. It all felt so, so wrong. While this ATS came ridiculously loaded and optioned up to $58,505, you can also option a BMW 330i up to the equally shocking sticker of $57,000-$58,000, but you’ll get less power (248 hp) in arguably an inferior handling car. Advantage ATS, yet again. What is happening?
Even sitting in the cabin feels strange. Gone are the days of cheap plastics and leather less comfortable than the cheap plastics. If you sit in the cabin of a loaded ATS and think it feels cheap you have a highly questionable world view. Carbon fiber and supple leather is something that Caddy has gotten right and it’s all over the place. Interior is a subjective place, sure, but if you think the cabin of the ATS is a level below it’s competitors, you’re just flat out wrong. Overall it’s a really nice place to be. As with any car though I had a few gripes. The vents are the worst placed vents I’ve ever experienced in any car I’ve ever driven. Period. In any position they blew on the hands and barely got to my face making my face continually sweaty and my fingers miniature Mr. Freeze replicas. The windshield wipers seemed to have a mind of their own and didn’t keep to a particular speed when it rained. There was also a tire pressure issue where there was a slow leak due to a nail in the tire on the left rear, but the display said it was on the right rear. Likely it was a mixing up of the wheels with their TPMS sensors as I found out later that a tire had to be replaced before delivery. Other than that, the ATS was comfortable, looked great, had ample room (though slightly cramped in the rear seats), and would be easy to live with day in and day out. Also, the CUE system really isn’t at bad as everyone says it is. You can learn it in 30 minutes of less. I had no problems navigating the menus at all.
I now believe in the ATS. It has enough power, luxury, and amenities that anyone would ever need. I’ve driven others in the class and didn’t get the same emotional attachment. While the others felt clinical and sterile, the ATS felt alive and engaging. Liking the ATS felt the same as that day in 2014 in New York. I felt dirty. I was trying to find more faults with the car, but there just weren’t any. Everything I’ve been told and taught was swirling in my head while my gut said this was the car to have in the segment. That’s what the ATS wants you to feel. That’s what Cadillac wants you to feel. “How can I like a Cadillac? This is American garbage! The Germans are the best in the business!” Kepe thinking that if you wish, but by not driving an ATS you’re doing yourself a great disservice. In a way, the ATS is the wrong car to have in the segment. No one buys it, it doesn’t makes people switch from the Germans, and it’s not top of mind for most in the market. Most buyers are the loyalists that keep coming back for more every 5-10 years. For that reason, it’s probably the wrong car for you. But that should make you want it. It should pique your curiosity. That should be enough to make you double take and think that this car could be wrong in the best way. Take the risk, go drive one. It’s the car that when you get in and you think, “This is a Cadillac? Shit, I kind of like this. I feel dirty.” it’s exactly the emotion they’ve wanted you to have. And Caddy is completely fine with that.