2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium review: Looks aren’t everthing

2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium

2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium

It doesn’t look different.

Ah, but it is, just not in what you can see. The Cadillac ATS was introduced in the 2013 model year, and this is 2016. Normally that would mean a mid-generational update, a facelift or something. But here’s the 2016—with no changes to the bumpers, grille, trim or lights for the new year. Well, true, because nothing was needed.

But on the other hand, there’s big news is under the hood with a new 3.6-liter engine backed up by a new eight-speed transmission.

2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium dash

The 2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium interior is accented with piano black and genuine metal plating. (click to enlarge)

The 2013 Cadillac ATS, of course, is the first small Cadillac ever, at least that wasn’t something else to begin with and not successful, and was offered in four-door sedan until a two-door ATS coupe was added for the 2015 model year. New this year is the high performance ATS-V, which we’ll discuss in future review.

Meanwhile, the standard Cadillac ATS sedan and coupe continue, and as before the 2.5-liter four-cylinder continues as standard on the sedan, and the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder optional in the sedan and standard on Coupe, the turbo engine with available with a manual transmission, something increasingly rare in mid-size luxury cars.

And then there’s the new 3.6-liter V-6. Cadillac calls it the “fourth generation” of GM’s double overhead cam V-6. But this engine is new down to the engine block. The aluminum block is stronger, with increased structure in the bulkheads for superior rigidity, new bore-center dimensions, deep-skirted with cross-bolted main bearings. The engine gets a stiff forged-steel crankshaft, along with friction-reducing polymer-coated pistons and strong high-copper-content sinter-forged connecting rods.

2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium interior

The interior of the 2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium is stylish but restrained. (click to enlarge)

A prime objective for the new engine was reduced NVH—noise, vibration and harshness—and Cadillac engineers developed an all-new cam drive system with cushioned chain sprockets to make the new engine quieter, three dB quieter overall than the Infiniti 3.7L V-6, according to Cadillac. The chain-driven dual overhead camshafts have variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing. A new four-cam phasing system with intermediate park technology improves efficiency by enabling late inlet valve closing in certain conditions, much like the Atkinson-cycle engines used in some hybrid vehicles, but able to change to the conventional system when more power is needed.

The cylinder heads in the new 3.6-liter engine of the 2016 Cadillac ATS V-6 are new too, with a high-flow design we’re told enhances direct injection performance. The heads also have integrated exhaust manifolds.

2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium ATS badge

The “4” on the 2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium ATS badge indicates that it has all-wheel drive. (click to enlarge)

The new 3.6-liter engine can also deactivate two of its six cylinders at light-throttle cruise. Shutting down the cylinders–roller-finger cam followers can provide either full lift, or no lift to disable a cylinder—reduces pumping loss as well as reducing fuel spritzed in the cylinders by a third, plus reducing waste heat that would otherwise need to be dissipated.

The cooling system uses a patented “targeted” cooling system that Cadillac says “provides strategic cooling of the engine’s hottest areas while simultaneously fostering faster warm-up to enhance efficiency.” In other words more coolant flows to the cylinder heads when the engine is cold. The dual-path coolant flow also reduces drag from the water pump.

The engine also has a variable-displacement, two-stage oil pump that reduces internal drag when oil pressure demand is light. To further reduce noise, the pump is placed inside the oil pan.

2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium ATS

The test 2016 Cadillac ATS 3.6 AWD Premium has the optional 18-inch wheels. (click to enlarge)

Improvements in efficiency resulted in 19/28 mpg EPA city/highway fuel consumption estimate…which is exactly the same as its predecessor. We recorded 20.3 mpg over a tankful’s worth of driving, a slight improvement from the 2013 ATS with the previous 3.6-liter. We got 19.4 mpg with that car.

The new engine comes only with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The GM-designed Hydra-Matic 8L45 transmission is lighter than its predecessor despite the increased number of ratios. Still staying technical: According to Cadillac, the “7.0:1 overall ratio and numerically lower top gear offer an estimated five-percent fuel economy benefit over comparable six-speed automatic transmissions. It also features four simple gearsets for optimal efficiency and five clutches (two brake clutches and three rotating clutches) – creative packaging that enables them to fit the same space as the previous six-speed automatic, while also offering lower weight.”