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A distinctive American alternative

Sexy, stylish Caddy coupe ready to go toe to toe with German rivals

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2015 Cadillac ATS Coupe. Credit: Brian Harper, Driving

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LITCHFIELD HILLS, Conn. -- If one were to judge the people here in this rolling, semi-rural part of New England -- with colonial houses and American flags flying from verandas a common sight -- solely by the type of car driven, the inordinate number of Subarus seen on the road might suggest they are pragmatic, preferring something sensible for the cold, snowy winters.

If these hardy, practical types would like to fly more of a freak flag this coming winter, Cadillac has something extra stylish. Call it a haute couture alternative to Eddie Bauer parkas and Sorels, a "distinctive American alternative, unique in its class, yet delivering a sporty and sophisticated driving experience rivalling the world's best." Or, with far less hyperbole, call it the new ATS Coupe.

Targeting the likes of BMW's 4 Series coupes and the Audi A5, among others, this mid-sized luxury coupe is longer and lower than its sedan sibling. It comes with a choice of either rear-wheel drive or -- important to the citizens of Connecticut as well as every other four-season state, province and country -- all-wheel drive. The base engine is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that pumps out a stout 272 horsepower, the same as in the ATS sedan, but with 14 per cent more torque -- 295 pound-feet. (The sedan sees the same torque uptick for 2015.) Feeding the need for speed is the available 321-hp 3.6L DOHC V6 with 275 lb-ft of torque.

Although it rides on the same 2,775-millimetre wheelbase, the 2015 ATS Coupe is not merely the sedan with the rear doors missing. Yes, the hood is the same, but the roof, doors, rear fenders and trunk lid are all unique, along with a new front fascia and front fenders that accommodate the coupe's wider track.

And, for the particularly observant, it's also the first production model to wear the brand's revised crest. It's a handsomely styled car, with the edges and creases in its sheet metal providing familial cues to the rest of Cadillac's auto lineup, although these edges are somewhat more subdued -- as if the chief designer used an eraser lightly to go over the sharper bits.

Nor is the coupe more show than go, with Cadillac engineers providing the necessary mechanical pieces to ensure the coupe doesn't wallow like a North Sea trawler when the tarmac gets bendy. In addition to the Caddy's near 50/50 weight distribution and low centre of gravity, its five-link independent rear suspension and multi-link double-pivot MacPherson-strut front suspension -- with stabilizer bar -- soak up bad pavement and work to keep body roll to a minimum.

Even better is the electric variable-effort ZF steering gear, with a reprogrammed electronic control unit that broadens the range of steering assist at low and high speeds, based on wheel speed, steering angle and even the car's chassis mode.

On the roads around Litchfield (think of Quebec's Laurentians but without the road craters and frost heaves), the first excursion to a covered bridge in a V6-powered AWD model displayed a car very planted at the posted speed limits. In particular, the steering was well weighted and the tracking spot on.

Cadillac claims the ATS Coupe is the lightest car in the compact luxury coupe segment, which contributes to its excellent driving dynamics. The curb weight for the rear-drive 2.0T is a trim 1,547 kilograms, with the V6 model coming in at 1,602 kg. Even with another 70 or so kilograms for the all-wheel drivetrain, the ATS isn't overly porky.

The hotrod of the lineup is the rear-drive 2.0T with the six-speed manual transmission. With this setup, the car's light weight works with the smooth flow of turbocharged power, the ample torque, and the slick-shifting gearbox to launch the coupe to 100 kilometres an hour in less than six seconds.

It also handles a treat, especially if equipped with the driver-adjustable FE3 sport suspension (not offered on the AWD models), which includes the Magnetic Ride Control real-time damping system, a mechanical limited-slip differential, high-capacity engine cooling system and 18-inch speed-rated summer performance tires. The beauty of Magnetic Ride Control is that it "reads" the road and can change damping every millisecond.

But it's probable the 2.0T AWD version will prove the most popular for the Canadian market. Though not as rewarding to drive as the RWD-fitted base model, the 2.0T AWD version was more than competent in running the twisting roads that connected one Norman Rockwell town with another.

Whether on fast sweepers or decreasing-radius curves, the car held whatever line was fed into the steering without muss or fuss.

Inside, the cabin showcases Cadillac's fine eye for complementary colours and deluxe materials. Handcrafted cut-and-sewn upholstery combinations, decorative stitching, and real leather, aluminum, carbon fibre and wood trim bits provide the cabin with a suitably upscale ambience. The only thing you won't find, if the front-seat occupants are on the taller side, is rear-seat legroom. The back area of the coupe is a haven best left for toddlers.

Depending on the model, techno-geeks and the perpetually plugged in should find something to amuse themselves. Available features include a configurable head-up display, 5.7-inch, three-window instrument panel cluster display, OnStar 4G LTE connectivity with built-in Wi-Fi hot spot, and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity with natural voice recognition and text-to-voice that converts incoming text messages to speech and reads them over the audio system speakers. A Bose audio system with active noise cancellation is standard on all models and includes electronic sound enhancement on cars equipped with the available premium surround-sound audio system.

The ATS Coupe comes with the same safety technologies found in the ATS sedan. Additionally, Cadillac also provides available advanced safety features based on what it calls its "control and alert" strategy, which employs up to two cameras, eight ultrasonic sensors and six radar signals to help prevent crashes.

I don't know if Cadillac will take this as a compliment or not, but from the inside of the ATS Coupe looking out, it feels and acts like a good European sport coupe. As to whether it's actually better than a BMW 428i, Mercedes C-Class Coupe or Audi A5 is a matter for a different day, when back-to-back testing can be done. Let's just say for now that no coupe owner should feel in any way diminished parking the Cadillac next to any of those cars.

The coupe will start arriving in showrooms later this month. Canadian pricing has not been announced, but will likely range from the low $40Ks to the mid $50Ks.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

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