Cadillac ATS Coupe. REVIEW. Dubai, UAE

Cadillac launches the new ATS Coupe in the Middle East, but is this really ‘more agile and more engaging’ than its four-door equivalent?

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Just over two years ago, was invited to test the new ATS saloon, which Cadillac claimed could go toe-to-toe with the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, and still come out on top. Given the marque’s ‘90s track record we were sceptical, but the premium quality of the build and the modern, menacing looks proved an impressive sight, good balance, awesome road holding and decent poke from the V6 proving the icing on the cake. Stunned though we were, we were completely sold. By a CADILLAC.

And now, Cadillac has launched what it calls the ‘lighter, more agile and more engaging’ ATS Coupe to truly blow air up BMW/Mercedes/Audi’s respective kilts, as well as mark a new era for the company. In the last two years, General Motor’s premium brand has launched six new models, with another four scheduled to drop within the next 24 months. Former Audi and Infiniti man Johan de Nysschen took the helm as Cadillac President in August, and in an effort to re-energize flagging sales figures for 2014, the company’s headquarters will next year move to New York (though development and production will remain in Detroit). The company has even gone to great expense to re-design the family crest for the first time in 14 years, ditching the laurels in favour of a longer, more modernist design. The ATS Coupe is just the start of a global shake-up.

Though the Coupe is based on the same wheelbase as its four-door counterpart, it sits lower, wider and longer for improved balance and a lower centre of gravity (even if it has put on a pound or two). The changes don’t stop with the platform either, the roofline, doors, boot lid and rear fenders all unique to the new Coupe, which also boasts a wider front track. Family DNA – plus some inspiration from the Elmiraj concept – shines through courtesy of the headlights, bonnet grooves, 18-inch aluminium wheels and that gaping front grille (ah, there’s that re-designed crest). Losing two doors certainly hasn’t affected the ATS’ good looks.

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On the inside, leather upholstery, aluminium trim and the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) are pretty much as you would find in the saloon, though the latter has been updated and is now hooked up to an exclusive Bose surround sound system. The sloping roofline means there’s slightly less head and legroom in the ‘driver focused cabin’, meaning a plus six-footer like myself may struggle in the back on longer journeys. One design change though concerns the driver and front passenger seatbelts, which are now mounted to the B-pillar at one end and the seats at the other. Fine if you’re in the front (it makes reaching them a lot easier), but rear passengers may find a taught polyester strip at ankle level a tad nerve-wracking when getting in and out. Unless of course you enjoy hitting the pavement with the bridge of your nose.

This being a ‘more agile and engaging’ model though, it’s not practicality we’re looking for with the new Coupe. Nor in all fairness is it grunt, the 321bhp 3.6-litre V6 driving the rear wheels the same as that found in the saloon. No, our focus instead is on the FE3 sport suspension, the electric ZF steering and the near perfect 50:50 weight distribution, all of which we’ll be putting to the test on the region’s most hallowed stretch of tarmac, Jebel Jais. Cue nervous expressions from Cadillac Arabia’s representatives as we buckle up…

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Through the opening salvo of long sweeping left and right-handers though, balance in the ATS Coupe is very good with little in the way of bodyroll to upset the back end or jerk momentum as we pick up speed. Heft through the steering is similarly impressive as the road begins to tighten and wind its way between the canyon walls. Even through the heaviest of standing dust, grip through the front tyres and no appreciable weight on the nose allows the front end to stay pinned, and while there are hints of a slightly twitchy back-end in the making, an ATS Coupe sized hole in the mountain walls is something the team here today would like to avoid. Hence we’ve been asked to leave that traction control button alone.

Decent poke from the V6 allows us to wind power smoothly back in out of the corners, with no real lag as we hit the high revs. There’s little in the way of electronic nannying either, changes through the six-speed gearbox smooth but snappy and little in the way of wheel spin. The stiffened suspension allows for greater road holding, but this hasn’t unduly affected the ride comfort, a combination of good lumbar support through the seats and a smooth ride allowing me to keep my fillings in-place. This could also be down to Cadillac‘s Magnetic Ride Control, which automatically reads the road surface and moderates the damping accordingly. It proves perfectly comfortable even when driving aggressively, though the slightly claustrophobic cabin means I’m not enjoying this quite as much as I’d hoped.

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Having also lain down an impressive benchmark, it’s difficult to tell an enormous difference in manoeuvrability between the established saloon and the new ATS Coupe: for that we’ll need a direct comparison (hint). I will say that the sense of joie de vivre we experienced with the saloon two years ago has been difficult to replicate – we KNEW the Coupe was going to be good – and the ‘driver focused cabin’ hasn’t done itself too many favours, meaning of the two I’d probably still opt for the saloon for now. That the new two-door model has proven itself very capable through the turns though is hard to deny, and it will be interesting to see if my admittedly lukewarm reaction changes when we get more time behind the wheel.

There’s also those four new models within the next two years to consider. In May this year, Cadillac ceased production of the CTS-V coupe – the most powerful and lunatic example of its mid-sized saloon – yet offered no details of a replacement. The ATS Coupe would be a very good place to start looking…


Full technical specifications on page 2

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