Fair warning: I want to root for this car. I really do. I'm a huge homer, GM owner, and fanboy and it hampers any decision making abilities and blinds me to otherwise sound logic and firm reality. I have a disease. It's genetic and I'm actively seeking treatment through reviving a '95 Miata from the pits of blown motor purgatory.
And so far, I think my first car review is going well. Admit to blatant bias, then pander to the audience. Check and check.
Full Disclosure: Cadillac wanted me to drive this car so much that they let me borrow one in the promise that I'm going to spend an absurd amount of cash having some service done on my 2005 CTS-V over the course of the next two weeks.
Having the first iteration of Art and Science Cadillac, a "Hollaback Girl"-era CTS, gives me a delightful view into Dante's seventh concentric circle of poor interior materials hell. In the off chance you've never had the pleasure of finding yourself in the more successful sequel to the much maligned Opel "At Least the Lincoln LS Felt Like It Was Trying" Catera, imagine driving a cigarette boat through the Great Pacific garbage patch. It's an otherwise invigorating experience wrapped in a collection of questionable styling decisions surrounded by a vulgar and incomprehensible amount of plastic in various states of decomposition.
But it certainly gives perspective to GM's latest attempt to strike out against the ephemeral idea of the BMW 3-series (which certainly is a far throw from the current generation 3-series, or is that my crippling bias talking?)
First Impressions: Upon approach to the car, you can tell this is the part of the life cycle of Art and Science where it graduates awkward from high school, matures, and shows up back in town the summer after its junior year as a well-adjusted stone cold fox. The lines are clear-cut Cadillac, with the waterfall LEDs up front being as easily identifiable from any distance. Unlike the relatively stoic and conservative A4 and withdrawn 3-Series, this Omega platform Cadillac has an identity and presence.
In the last 50 years, the number of GM interiors that could be described as pleasant places to be is few and far between. Generally you'll spend the first few hours trying to ignore the blatant switchgear from the SSR parts bin. However, the ATS seems to have broken the GM mold. At first glance, the interior bits are exceptionally improved upon. The wheel in particular is a meaty ring wrapped in a decent cut of leather with the right girth and diameter to give hints as to the engineer's intentions with regards to the driving experience. The materials are soft and seem eons removed from the Kozy Koupe CTS' of yesterday.
Pros: I remember watching John Heinricy, one of the head guys for GM chassis development back after the bankruptcy race an A-stock 4th gen Pontiac Trans Am out at Memphis Motorsports Park to an absolutely dominating finish many years back. Ever since then, I've had this absurd pipe dream that GM engineers (even after his subsequent retirement) have been reasonably competent when developing performance cars.
Lo and behold, they did their homework and should be granted top marks for it. The ATS is, without hesitation, a sport sedan. The direct-injection 3.6 is getting to be a bit older in the class, but in the Omega platform, it seems more than adequate to rustle the jimmies of the local gendarmes. Revs come quick, and there's no shortage of torque to pull you down an on-ramp. Somehow, they've managed to create a reasonable noise out of a 3-something liter V6. Anyone who has had experience with the thrashy yet Mosin-Nagant reliable GM 3400 and 3800 will most likely suffer an aneurysm at WOT knowing they share the same bloodline. While the transmissions feels somewhat lackadaisical in a world of DSG, PDK, and whatever flavor of dual-clutch you prefer, the car will kick down with purpose as fast as a torque converter will allow.
But the most impressive feat certainly brings flashbacks of a youth watching GM engineers out-tweak and torch their competition. The chassis is just delightful, playful as a puppy when you want, but complaint enough to get you to and from the business accounts on a daily basis. An excellent compromise has been struck somewhere in the bones of this car. I'm uncertain as to anyone who does chassis development as well as GM does: the thing is just a peach when the maps go squiggly. And it's a good thing too, because the car needs every single distraction it can get from the Lovecraftian horror of the user interface.
Cons: For the bronze, what on earth was Cadillac thinking when they plugged this afterthought of a gauge cluster into their torch bearer into one of the most competitive segments in which they compete? How the remainder of the interior turned out so well visually yet this shows up is a mystery that will endure for generations. As inspiring as the driving experience is, there's more dark space here than there is in all of Professor Hawking's research on black holes.
You know when you're a passenger in a car or at a bar with someone, and they'll toss you their phone and ask you to text someone and you have that moment of complete electronic bewilderment as though they've just tossed you some alien artifact and asked you to use it to translate "Jabberwocky" into Esperanto? That moment of GUI panic is replicated to exceptional detail and confusion each time you sit down in the ATS and attempt to use frankly anything on the center console.
Simple and fairly pretty. But make no mistake: those are not buttons. The simulated tactile feedback provided is more unhelpful than your first time trying to remove a bra. There is no way I've discovered to quickly turn down the stereo without turning the thing off. Trying to alter the HVAC controls requires focus and attention, which seems odd since you should be spending your time in the car trying to navigate it from place to place as opposed to attempting to achieve the singularity by which you can communicate with the machine that you'd like it to be slightly colder in the cabin. In this particular 1,500 mile example, the seat warmers spent a solid 3 minutes today cycling through their modes without any driver input. And this is the second most infuriating thing in the cabin. No, sports fans, the ultimate honor must be bestowed upon this unholy bastard:
Cadillac, if any of you are out there: this might be the worst addition to any GM interior since Chevrolet decided to add exposed Torx screws to the third gen Camaro. I will readily grant that with more time, I'm sure that my #millenial brain could come to terms with the system and figure out how to trick it into doing what I want on a consistent basis. But coming to terms and learning to cope is more akin to anything with the prefix "chronic". There's just too much going on, and the page to page navigation requires too much driver focus to easily accomplish anything having to do with the audio, navigation, or HVAC settings. I dearly hope you've got a CUE 2.0 out there that's less first generation iDrive and more first generation iPhone.
Should You Consider Putting On Nice Shoes And Test Driving This Car: If not for seeing just how far US domestic manufacturer cars have come, then meander into your local Cadillac dealer. The driving experience is lovely and the 3.6 will provide all the entertainment you can conjure with the points you don't yet have on your license. But you're going to have to use some combination of meditation and cold, hard American determination to overlook the shortcomings of the user interface if you're any bit clumsy with devices. Does the driving experience forgive that infernally damned CUE? Probably, it's downright fantastic. If at the very least, you should be excited for the ATS-V and Camaro coming on the platform later.
This Cadillac has some things that will make you disown any belief structure and sell your soul to Satan to make the Bluetooth work, but the bones are good. Some GUI updates and another generation and this car has some serious potential. Make no mistake, amigos: now is a fine time to root for the home team. It only took 30 years.