Cadil­lac ATS 2.0T VS. Ford Mus­tang Eco­boost

Motor Trend (USA) - - Contents - Scott Evans

At an iden­ti­cal price point, who de­liv­ers the best com­bi­na­tion of sport and lux­ury?

We ask our ve­hi­cles to be good for mul­ti­ple uses, but few are asked to do such dis­parate du­ties as lux­ury sports cars. They need to ride nicely but han­dle well. They need to have quiet in­te­ri­ors but ag­gres­sive ex­haust notes. They need to be light and nim­ble but come with fancy ma­te­ri­als and loads of fea­tures that add weight. Ev­ery­thing ends up be­ing some kind of trade-off.

The more money you can throw at the prob­lem, the fewer com­pro­mises you need to make. But this test is specif­i­cally about not throw­ing money at the prob­lem. With a $40,000 price cap, we find our­selves with the keys to a 2018 Cadil­lac ATS 2.0T coupe and a 2018 Ford Mus­tang Eco­boost, both just squeak­ing in as tested. Al­though both cars can be had with a man­ual trans­mis­sion, we opted for au­to­mat­ics be­cause this is a con­sumer test, and the vast ma­jor­ity choose au­to­mat­ics.

But first we should talk about the en­gines—specif­i­cally our de­ci­sion to skip the op­tional V-8 in the Mus­tang. It would have been wildly un­fair pit­ting a V-8 against a tur­bocharged in­line-four. Fur­ther­more, spec­c­ing the larger en­gine would mean we couldn’t af­ford many lux­ury fea­tures with the Mus­tang. We wanted a fair fight. The Cadil­lac ATS is po­si­tioned as a sporty coupe, and that means go­ing up against cars such as the Ford Mus­tang. We ea­gerly an­tic­i­pate your out­raged emails.

As con­fig­ured, these two cars are pretty sim­i­lar. The Cadil­lac is slightly smaller and no­tably lighter (nearly 300 pounds) with a tighter front seat and smaller trunk. It even rings up cheaper at $39,490 to the Ford’s $39,880. The Ford fights back with a more pow­er­ful en­gine and sub­se­quently a bet­ter power-to-weight ra­tio, yet it still man­ages to match the Cadil­lac’s fuel econ­omy.

In stan­dard­ized test­ing, though, it’s any­thing but a draw. The stronger, heav­ier Mus­tang is quicker to 60 mph and through the quar­ter mile, though the ATS nearly caught up by the end of the drag. The Mus­tang stops 8 feet shorter from 60 mph, pulls higher av­er­age g on the skid­pad, and laps our fig­ure eight test quicker and at higher av­er­age g. Also, the Mus­tang sounds bet­ter.

Al­though the raw horse­power and torque of the Eco­boost en­gine can be cred­ited for the speed ad­van­tage, it’s the tires that make the dif­fer­ence in most of the test­ing. The Cadil­lac—with zero win­dow sticker op­tions to keep it price com­pet­i­tive—rides on Con­ti­nen­tal Pro­con­tact all-sea­sons. The Mus­tang, mean­while, is equipped with the Eco­boost Per­for­mance pack­age, which among other things buys you a lim­it­ed­slip dif­fer­en­tial and Pirelli P Zero sum­mer per­for­mance tires.

The tire dis­crep­ancy made it­self known dur­ing our eval­u­a­tion. The Cadil­lac has a won­der­ful chas­sis, but it doesn’t work with these tires. At­tempt­ing to drive ag­gres­sively gets you a hand­ful of un­der­steer as the tires quickly cry un­cle. OK, slow in, fast out, right? Nope. The tires can’t put the power down, ei­ther, so you get dra­co­nian trac­tion con­trol in­ter­ven­tion. I gen­er­ally don’t turn off any of the nan­nies while on the street, but with the Cadil­lac’s trac­tion con­trol, I made an ex­cep­tion. It makes the car driv­able on a good road, and you still are pro­tected by the sta­bil­ity con­trol safety net. Bud­get an ex­tra grand for bet­ter tires to make this car han­dle as it should.

Al­though the Mus­tang has vastly su­pe­rior front-end grip, it’s not per­fect. Power tends to come on like a ham­mer, es­pe­cially in the var­i­ous Sport modes, and it’ll eas­ily over­whelm the rear tires and rouse the sta­bil­ity con­trol. Mus­tangs like to snap over­steer and need to be driven with fi­nesse, and the lit­tle-en­gine model is no ex­cep­tion. Drive it like you stole it, and it’s like try­ing to wheel a clas­sic Mus­tang in Bul­litt. Learn its bad habits, and on a moun­tain road it’ll leave the ATS for dead. In ev­ery­day driv­ing, there’s no deny­ing the Ford feels quicker and sportier than the Cadil­lac.

The Mus­tang’s all-new 10-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion also con­trib­utes to its per­for­mance. It was bril­liant on the road. The shifts were smoother and quicker than the Cadil­lac’s, both up and down, and it al­ways knew what gear to be in. In Sport mode, it be­haved so well that it made the paddle shifters su­per­flu­ous.

The eight-speed au­to­matic in the ATS was the op­po­site. It shifts smoothly but wants to be in eighth gear re­gard­less of drive mode. You need to use the pad­dles to drive the Cadil­lac quickly, but even they re­spond slowly.

De­spite the Mus­tang out­per­form­ing the ATS, we could never find an ideal setup. The damper set­tings are per­ma­nently tied to the mul­ti­ple-choice driv­ing modes, and the steer­ing weight is ad­justable only in some modes. As a re­sult, we ended up in Sport mode—where the dampers are too soft but the steer­ing isn’t ridicu­lously heavy and the throt­tle isn’t hair-trig­ger. Even the cus­tom­iz­a­ble My mode wouldn’t let us mix and match set­tings the way we wanted.

Still, the Mus­tang, as equipped, is clearly the bet­ter sports car. But which is the bet­ter lux­ury car? Here, the race tight­ens. The Mus­tang reg­is­ters the loud­est in­te­rior of all eight cars in this

com­par­i­son, but the Cadil­lac’s is the sec­ond loud­est. Like­wise, the Mus­tang, de­spite its op­tional Mag­ner­ide ac­tive dampers, rides more like a sports car than the lux­ury-ori­ented Cadil­lac.

De­spite that, we still pre­fer the Mus­tang’s cabin. We ad­mire Cadil­lac’s com­mit­ment to “cut and sewn” ma­te­ri­als, but we take is­sue with the ma­te­ri­als cho­sen to cut and sew. The sheets of vinyl stitched to the dash call quite a bit of at­ten­tion to them­selves, and not the good kind. If you’re not go­ing to wrap the dash in leather or suede, don’t bother. The Mus­tang’s soft-touch dash is plas­tic, but it doesn’t look like it’s try­ing too hard. We’re call­ing a draw on the Cadil­lac’s plas­tic wood trim ver­sus the Ford’s dull gray plas­tic.

Elsewhere on the dash, we come to a tale of two in­fo­tain­ment sys­tems. Both have long suf­fered soft­ware de­vel­op­ment is­sues, and both seem to have fi­nally got­ten it right. We find Ford’s Sync 3 more in­tu­itive than Cadil­lac’s CUE, but the lat­ter looks more hip and mod­ern. The Cadil­lac’s lack of nav­i­ga­tion is to be ex­pected at this price and is mit­i­gated by Ap­ple Carplay and An­droid Auto in­te­gra­tion. (Ford pro­vides both, as well.) Un­for­tu­nately, there’s no get­ting around the fact that CUE’S en­tirely touch-sen­si­tive in­ter­face is housed in a wa­ter­fall of black plas­tic cas­cad­ing down the dash­board while the Mus­tang gets cool metal tog­gle switches and knurled knobs.

Like­wise, the ’90s-in­spired gauges in the ATS look dated next to the Mus­tang’s fu­tur­is­tic-look­ing dig­i­tal gauges. Al­though Ford’s in­ter­face might look bet­ter, with layer upon layer of menus and mul­ti­ple but­tons scat­tered around the steer­ing wheel, it’s a lot less in­tu­itive than the Cadil­lac’s.

It’s a sim­i­lar story when you con­sider the seats you’ll be sit­ting in. The Cadil­lac’s im­i­ta­tion leather is plenty con­vinc­ing, but even then you don’t get enough of it, thanks to some cloth patches sub­sti­tuted in places Cadil­lac thinks you won’t no­tice. The Ford’s seats are sportier with leather and con­trast stitch­ing, though we’re split on which is more com­fort­able. Not up for de­bate: At this price point, the Mus­tang’s seats are both heated and cooled; the Cadil­lac’s are nei­ther.

The ex­tra room in the front of the Ford is ap­pre­ci­ated, but it makes the rear seats less use­ful. To be fair, the Cadil­lac’s rear seats are only slightly more utile. Kids

only in the back for both. Don’t bring too much stuff with you, ei­ther, be­cause nei­ther car has a big trunk. The ATS has a larger open­ing to get your bags through, but the Mus­tang has a larger and more us­able trunk be­cause it doesn’t have the ATS’ in­trud­ing wheel­wells.

Then there are the money mat­ters. Nearly iden­ti­cal as-tested prices mean nearly iden­ti­cal fi­nanc­ing costs, and the same goes for fuel econ­omy. Of all eight cars in this test, the Mus­tang is the most ex­pen­sive ve­hi­cle to in­sure, but the ATS is sec­ond-worst by a slim mar­gin. Main­tain­ing the Cadil­lac is more ex­pen­sive, but the Ford’s re­pair costs are steep. The real dif­fer­ence, and it’s a doozy, is in de­pre­ci­a­tion. The Cadil­lac has the worst de­pre­ci­a­tion in this test; the Ford comes in at the av­er­age.

So it went and so it goes with these two. Nei­ther is our ideal four-seat sports car, nor is ei­ther a stand­out lux­ury car. With two equally priced cars, the de­ci­sion then comes down to which we’d rather drive. With bet­ter per­for­mance, a bet­ter driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, far more fea­tures, a nicer cabin, and a cheaper cost of own­er­ship, the an­swer is in­escapably Mus­tang. n

ELE­PHANTS IN THE ROOM Yes, you can get a Mus­tang with a V-8 at this price point, but most folks don’t as­so­ci­ate Cadil­lac with sporty un­til you get to the V-spec mod­els. We wanted com­pa­ra­ble cars loaded with lux­ury fea­tures.

BLACKED OUT The Cadil­lac’s im­i­ta­tion leather seats were very con­vinc­ing, but we wish they were more sup­port­ive in sporty driv­ing.

STYLE AND SUB­STANCE We ap­pre­ci­ated the blue ac­cent stitch­ing on the Ford’s real leather seats, as well as their ad­di­tional bol­ster­ing.

MA­TE­RIAL DIF­FER­ENCES We weren’t im­pressed with Cadil­lac’s choice of ma­te­ri­als, par­tic­u­larly the vinyl dash cover and the wa­ter­fall of black plas­tic down the cen­ter con­sole.

STYLE OVER SUB­STANCE The Ford Mus­tang’s in­te­rior ma­te­ri­als weren’t any­thing spe­cial, but we found the de­sign much more com­pelling than that of its Cadil­lac com­peti­tor. OVER­SHAD­OWED We like the Cadil­lac’s en­gine, but it’s over­shad­owed by a re­cal­ci­trant trans­mis­sion. MIGHTY MOUSE The Ford’s en­gine is and feels much more pow­er­ful, and it sounds bet­ter, too.

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