Home » The Manual Cadillac ATS 2.0T Was As Close As We Got To A Four-Door Four-Cylinder Camaro

The Manual Cadillac ATS 2.0T Was As Close As We Got To A Four-Door Four-Cylinder Camaro

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For the past few decades, if you wanted a heavily depreciated decade-old rear-wheel-drive manual sports sedan, you’d simply open up Craigslist, search for a BMW 3 Series, and know you’re getting the benchmark of its day. Hell, I did, and it’s been lovely. However, it’s now 2024, and a little more than ten years in the past, BMW sort of fell off. The F30 3 Series saw the disappearance of the naturally aspirated inline-six, the disappearance of steering feel thanks to the introduction of poorly calibrated electric power steering, and a decided cheapening of interior materials. So, if you want a decade-old manual rear-wheel-drive sports sedan, what do you buy now? Well, how about a Cadillac ATS?

Yes, the Cadillac ATS was available with a proper six-speed manual gearbox without jumping all the way up to the nuclear-grade ATS-V, and not only was it a better driver’s car than the F30 BMW 3 Series, it was also as close to a four-door four-cylinder Camaro as GM ever sold.

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Welcome back to Beige Cars You’re Sleeping On, a weekly series in which we raise the profile of some quiet greats. We’re talking vehicles that are secretly awesome, but go unsung because of either a boring image or the lack of an image altogether.

Shortly after the Great Recession, GM was undergoing post-Chapter 11 renewal, and Cadillac had its eyes squarely on BMW. While the outgoing Sigma platform was competitive, it wasn’t class-leading, so GM started from scratch, developing a new platform called Alpha. Benchmarking the E46 BMW 3 Series, GM ended up with double-ball joint MacPherson strut front suspension, a five-link independent rear suspension setup, huge amounts of structural adhesive, and a 50:50 weight distribution.

Cadillac Ats 2013 1600 Fe

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It was good enough to make the sixth-generation Camaro ZL1 1LE a giant-slayer, but the first car on the Alpha platform, the Cadillac ATS, was an E90 3 Series-sized sports sedan, and while it came with a variety of powertrain options, the one you really want if you can’t stretch to the ATS-V is the two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with the six-speed manual transmission.

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Ticking those boxes gave you a stout 272 horsepower and a respectable 260 lb.-ft. of torque, along with a mechanical limited-slip rear differential and a Tremec TR-3160 six-speed manual transmission. Yep, that’s the same transmission as in the current Ford Mustang Dark Horse. If it’ll hold up behind a Coyote V8, chances are it’ll do alright in an ATS, even if you slap on a flash tune.

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Oh, but this sports sedan goes further than just a great manual gearbox and a limited-slip differential. Four-piston Brembo front calipers and magnetorheological dampers were also available, the former coming standard on all but the base trim, and the latter coming standard on the top Premium trim. We’re talking about grade-A hardware right here, and on a good stretch of tarmac, the results were spectacular.

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Cadillac Ats 2013 1600 3c

Granted, you had to look closely and be keen to notice how brilliant the chassis was because the Cadillac ATS wasn’t a hands-down winner right out of the gate. In 2012, Car And Driver compared a manual 2.0T ATS to the then-new and historically frowned-upon F30 BMW 328i, and the ATS lost. However, you wouldn’t know that by the way Car And Driver adored the handling of the ATS:

Less than two miles into his first handling loop in the ATS, senior editor Tony Quiroga announced, “Yeah, this car is way better.” He raved about the composure and responsiveness of the Cadillac, which was equipped with the FE3 Performance package that brings adjustable magnetorheological dampers, 18-inch summer tires, and a limited-slip differential to the party. The ATS is an easy car to drive fast, even on lumpy 1.3-lane roads in West Virginia, the land of decreasing radii. A safe touch of understeer gives way to near-perfect balance and incredible poise up to the 0.90-g limit. Wheel motions are admirably well controlled and damped, and it seems nothing can upset the ATS’s line. You can drive this car the same way on a rough patchwork road as you’d drive the BMW on a smooth one.

So why did the ATS lose to the worst generation of 3 Series? Well, GM’s four-banger is a little coarser than BMW’s much-maligned N20 four-cylinder, and the Cadillac wasn’t quite as quick, but the bigger issue was an infotainment disaster known as the Cadillac User Experience, or CUE for short. See, Cadillac decided it didn’t need buttons on its center stack, and that one giant capacitive touch panel would be the way of the future. This worked about as well as you might expect. In addition to the vagueness of capacitive touch controls with early haptic feedback, the system was slow, laggy, and yes, unreliable. However, if you set a few hundred bucks aside for an eventual CUE touchscreen replacement, you can pick up a rare manual ATS for sensible money.

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For instance, here is a 2014 Cadillac ATS with the 2.0T engine, the manual transmission, and the Brembos for sale in Chicago for $13,500. Not only is it specced in a gorgeous shade of blue, it has a reasonable 107,000 miles on the clock and was originally a Southern car, which may mitigate some of the corrosion that comes with Chicago winters.

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Want to go even cheaper? No problem. Here’s a 2014 Cadillac ATS 2.0T manual up for sale in Pennsylvania for $10,995. Sure, beige isn’t the most exhilarating color out there, and this one has a hit on the Carfax, but with 83,388 miles on the clock, one previous owner, and stick-shift excitement, this is a solid amount of car for the money.

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How about an even rarer combination, mating this already uncommon powertrain with the elegant lines of a coupe? Well, here’s a manual 2015 Cadillac ATS coupe up for sale in New York for $16,985 with 86,010 miles on the clock. That may be a considerable premium over a sedan, but how often will you see one of these 2.0T coupes with a stick?

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The Cadillac ATS wasn’t some American also-ran. It was the best-handling sports sedan of its generation, and you can now get into a proper traditionalist manual rear-wheel-drive version for the price of a normal used car. If you need a little more practicality than a four-cylinder Camaro, this hits the nail right on the head,

(Photo credits: Cadillac, Autotrader sellers)

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Lost on the Nürburgring
Lost on the Nürburgring
11 days ago

I’m likely one of the last people to hand out compliments to any GM product, but I gotta say, the exterior styling of these cars really holds up and looks good. (That interior tho, yikes.)

R Smith
R Smith
13 days ago

A couple years ago, I went on a quest to find one of these 4-door gems. I figured by then, a quick plash of the the eprom existed that would eliminate the need for that awkwardly timed shift to 60 MPH when you gun it. At the time, the closest one I could find with less than 70K miles on it was located 571 miles away from me. I go back and look every once in a while. I can still dream.

Last edited 13 days ago by R Smith
Bomber
Bomber
13 days ago

I just picked up a 2017 ATS last month and I’m loving it. I have the V6 and AWD so no chance for a manual but it’s quiet, quick, and handles amazingly well. No body roll whatsoever.

Myk El
Myk El
13 days ago

I had a 2.0T auto sedan as a rental. I liked it well enough, but yeah, that infotainment setup is awful. It lost connection to my phone so often while driving.

Scott Ross
Scott Ross
13 days ago

My parents have the 2.0T coupe (sorry auto) its such a fun car…and rare too

Mrbrown89
Mrbrown89
13 days ago

I remember the rental I got was an auto but overall the same spec back in 2017. I drove the car for a month, the punch it had was amazing to me and the way it drove, to me cadillac was your old grandpa car but not this one. I am still thinking to get one but I dont know how reliable are.

I also have an eye for a BMW i3 REX for 8K… thanks David lol

Philip Rosenstern
Philip Rosenstern
14 days ago

I really wanted to like these cars, particularly as they were part of a dying breed of rwd manuals. But I test drove one when new and just couldn’t commit, despite the incredible lease deals back then (if I remember, under $350/month with little down). Too tight inside and the manual’s linkage felt very cheap. Ended up in a Camaro SS (which was on the larger zeta platform at the time) and had both the Camaro and it’s SS sedan siblings since.

In retrospect, these Caddy’s are starting to look interesting again considering the limited options for manual fun(ish) cars, but I’ll never forget how tight the drivers seat is…

Super Bonk 3000
Super Bonk 3000
14 days ago

As the owner of a hilariously-fun F30 N55 manual I can quite confidently tell you to go perform an unnatural act with your Cadillac POS.

Logan King
Logan King
14 days ago

I’d say driving better than a BMW is already a pretty unnatural act for a Cadillac, so they probably already are.

Ppnw
Ppnw
14 days ago

These were pretty handsome and by all accounts great cars to drive. I was never able to get over the instrument cluster. Looks like it was taken straight out of a 1990s Taurus. And you have to look at that every day.

Janeane Garafolo
Janeane Garafolo
14 days ago
Reply to  Ppnw

It was configurable to an extent. Easy to read at a super quick glance, even in direct sunlight. Not sure what else you’d want from an instrument display…particularly in the 2014-ish era.

Ppnw
Ppnw
14 days ago

Just the big central half circle speedo is very 90s. It has no real design but not in a cool minimalist way.

Janeane Garafolo
Janeane Garafolo
14 days ago
Reply to  Ppnw

I always had the digital speedo in the large center position, so I never even looked at the needle, I guess.

Logan King
Logan King
14 days ago
Reply to  Ppnw

They did fix it up a little bit in 2017, but it’s definitely something they should have done in 2016 (when they upgraded the CUE system to be faster and more responsive) at the latest.

Mike F.
Mike F.
14 days ago

I guess I’m in the minority here, but I find these (along with most of what Cadillac has put out over the last 20 years or so) to be really ugly. I guess that wouldn’t bother me while I was hauling the thing around a back road, though. Nice article on a car I knew little about.

FatGuyInALittleCar
FatGuyInALittleCar
14 days ago

I got the FWD version of this in a Buick Regal with the old Saab 6 speed. It’s more fun that it has any right to be.

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
14 days ago

Not an Alpha – That’s an E2XX, which is a mild update of the Epsilon platform.

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
14 days ago

Oh wow, I had no idea these had gotten that cheap. I’ve always liked the looks of the ATS and it was a pretty great chassis.

Deathspeed
Deathspeed
14 days ago

Respectfully, the only place “four” goes with “Camaro” and gets my attention in a positive way is when describing a carburetor. I have absolutely no interest in reading about any four-door or any four-cylinder appliances unless they are refrigerators. I know those cars have their place, but I want to read about exciting places where I don’t live.

Eric Moody
Eric Moody
14 days ago
Reply to  Deathspeed

I put a few hundred miles on a 2.0T Camaro driving the mountain roads in Seqouia National Forest and it was a fabulous car.

Dinklesmith
Dinklesmith
14 days ago
Reply to  Deathspeed

I also like outdated things! For instance, I post on this website only from my landline telephone. And the Fax Machine is superior to email!

Jerry Thomas
Jerry Thomas
14 days ago
Reply to  Deathspeed

Mr. McFancyfridge over here, with his four door refrigerator

Janeane Garafolo
Janeane Garafolo
14 days ago

The dealer where I got my 2.0T 4 couldn’t even get a stick in stock in 2014, and they do volume. So, I got what I got, although fortunately I was able to delete the CUE upgrade and swap in the remote starter at no charge.

It’s such a fun car to drive, and due to the hours I was working at the time, I’d often have the whole Parkway to myself, using both lanes and hitting apexes etc. In theory, I might have driven it quicker than what was considered “acceptable.” A fabulous way to unwind on the way home from a long shift.

Last edited 14 days ago by Janeane Garafolo
Logan King
Logan King
14 days ago

If my ATS coupe V6 had been a stick I probably would still have it instead of doing a dalliance with a 996. The LGX was a glorious engine with an absurdly wide powerband that pulled hard from 2000RPM all they way up through the 7000 RPM redline. With the (factory optional) Corsa exhaust it howled at over 5000 RPM; all while pushing 34MPG on the highway (on regular fuel!). The interior was comfortable, the trunk was shockingly large with seats that folded flat, there were so many nice touches with its ergonomics and interior design, the suspension tuning was fantastic (I put the ATS-V swaybars on it but otherwise it was perfect) and the parts sharing with the Camaro led to tons of cheap upgrades. The CUE screen was garbage Tesla-level cheapo nonsense and the capacitive touch piano black trim was a terrible idea like it was on the original PS3, but they made kits for the former and you could order replacements for the latter directly from the original supplier on eBay.

Perhaps most importantly, though, the ATS gave birth to GM basically giving away 4 piston Brembo brake calibers from the second the car launched to this very day for countless BRZs/86s, Fox Body Mustangs, WRXs, Corvettes (late C4s, C5 and C6s)… Under $400 for two calipers plus hardware, straight from Amazon? Thank you, GM.

Last edited 14 days ago by Logan King
Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
14 days ago

As a slow car fast mindset kinda person I have loved these since they came out and would have one over a V, great as the V is. They are so hard to find. Especially if you want the track suspension/brake stuff.

Last edited 14 days ago by Shooting Brake
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
13 days ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

This is why I stopped looking for one. They’re so rare with the stick and the sport suspension/brakes and it’s really hard to tell on the pictures of online listings

Protodite
Protodite
14 days ago

Having had my ATS-V for a few years now, honestly you get pretty darn used to CUE. It’s far from the greatest, but most of the controls you need are gong to be on real buttons on the steering wheel, and I typically will just have CarPlay running no problem.

That being said, the alpha platform is just outstanding, and I think Cadillac’s design for the ATS was really good. It was a less cartoonish version of the 2nd-gen CTS, a lot more refined in its looks. The part that gets me though is the facelift… I think the smaller top grille of the initial run looks better, save for the truly awful wreath logo, than the larger single grilled facelift. BUT under 2016 and you ain’t gonna get CarPlay…

The solution obviously is just get the V which I think looks simply fantastic!

Janeane Garafolo
Janeane Garafolo
14 days ago
Reply to  Protodite

Gotta disagree about the wreath! It was a sad day when they got rid of it.

Protodite
Protodite
14 days ago

I’ll clarify! 70s/80s wreath & logo? Gooooood stuff. But that 2000s logo redesign where they got rid of all the detail and elegance and left it with the most garbage badge imaginable tainted the wreath for me!

Janeane Garafolo
Janeane Garafolo
14 days ago
Reply to  Protodite

I’ll go with the thought that it wasn’t the best wreath, for sure. But, any wreath is better than no wreath.
Long live the wreath!

111
111
14 days ago

I happened to be selling Cadillacs when these came out!

In all the thousands of cars that passed through our lot in my tenure, I saw 1 single ATS 2.0T 6MT.

I’d always been partial to the ATS V 6MT, but the balance on the 2.0T was simply superb. It may have been one of the best handling cars I’d driven at that time in my life, which included all comparable sport sedans of the time.

However, that CUE system and haptic touch controls…. did not hit the mark.

Overall, article is spot on with the quality of the chassis and driving experience. I’m surprised there are even more than 1 for sale in the USA!

Matt A
Matt A
14 days ago

I had a college friend of a friend that bought one of these upon graduation. It repeatedly went into limp mode for throttle pedal/throttle body miscommunication. They couldn’t fix it, so he eventually lemon lawed it and moved on to a Fiat Abarth. I rode in it one time on a longer ride (during which it did go into limp mode), and it was pretty nice. Wish I had the chance to drive it, and that it wasn’t a lemon

Parsko
Parsko
14 days ago

Thanks for letting my secret out. ANY non “V” Cadillac with a manual transmission is going to be an EXCELLENT daily driver. I know, I have a ’12 CTS manual, and it’s brilliant.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
14 days ago

Why would you want a four cylinder four door Camaro, especially when you could get a four door Camaro with a TT-V6 and a manual.

Parsko
Parsko
14 days ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

kids

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
14 days ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

$$$$

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
14 days ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

Weight. When I bought my 4cyl Accord I also drove its V6 twin. You could really feel the extra weight in the nose. Given the forte of this car is its chassis and handling prowess some folks might prefer to trade power they will never use for agility they will. Plus better gas mileage.

TL:DR Because slow car fast fun.

EXL500
EXL500
13 days ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

Old people like my friends and me need the extra doors for ingress and egress. Having said that, the ATS coupe is lovely to look at.

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
13 days ago
Reply to  EXL500

Re-read my comment… I’m not saying get the 2-door ATS, I’m saying get the ATS-V

EXL500
EXL500
12 days ago
Reply to  BolognaBurrito

I did understand your post, but went off on my own tangent. Sorry.

Last edited 12 days ago by EXL500
Rippstik
Rippstik
14 days ago

This series is killing me with how many trips to Autotrader I’ve been making.

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