Welcome to Planet Cadillactica, a far-off galaxy where cars are creations from the past that feel like the future. The storied automaker’s past has been celebrated by a new generation, who have transformed 1970s Cadillacs into works of unapologetic grandeur. Custom Cadillac fever has thrived throughout the South and is closely tied with hip-hop culture across the country. In the early days of the new millennium, while Cadillac manufactured snoozeable cars and outdated SUVs in Detroit, a renaissance was flourishing elsewhere—from Los Angeles to Miami. The custom Cadillac “donk” reached its pinnacle form in gleaming cotton-candy paint, effervescent chrome and long luxurious two-door 1970s coupes. It became more exciting to see the original creations that hobbyist mechanics dreamed up than the actual new cars rolling off the line in the Motor City.
Luckily, in the past few years Cadillac found its way back to making cars that have some kind of futuristic flavor, beginning with the introduction of the CTS—a nimble, well-made sports car that gave it street credibility capable of hanging in the same valets as German-made contenders. Cadillac may have cast aside its boxy big-bodied ’vert heritage and more ornate crest, but what it’s recaptured is an attitude with greater personality, which brings us to the Cadillac ATS Coupe. The plum-hued car we drove offers an unapologetic spirit, albeit in a small rear-wheel drive package.
Cadillac finds its essence in the architecture of the ATS. It’s replete with strong, vivid exterior lines. Only the hood is a carryover from the sedan, leaving designers with the wiggle room to have fun with form. And in this space, Cadillac improved the melding of the squarish-roundish rear that gives it more stature than the CTS. We’re hopeful that Cadillac will continue to pluck from its memorable past in such subtle, but clever design cues.
While Cadillac tapped its fabulous pedigree for the exterior, it has turned the page on performance. The 2.0 liter turbo engine and electronic automatic transmission are tuned for performance verve, but it also nabs decent fuel economy numbers, capable of 31 miles per gallon on the highway. Suspension stays sporty-stiff, even when touring mode is engaged. The 2.0 liter, four-cylinder engine has the necessary power to bend and weave through pot-holed orbits. Gadgetry is also in line with Cadillac 2.0, including wireless charging for smartphones and 4G LTE connectivity. The C.U.E. telematics system, however, is still in need of rethinking to compete in the space age, where controls should be more intuitive. This two-door Caddy is also best experienced as a twosome—the backseat proportions leave long-legged passengers in a pickle. But that’s a common tradeoff in the contemporary sport coupe that best suited to drivers, not passengers. In its sinuous coupe, Cadillac has made a car that contends with European models, but not as a mere imitation. The long list of standard equipment includes decadent touches like a heated steering wheel and 12-way adjustable seats.
Pardon me if I phone home 4,000 miles away from where you at / If you ain’t holdin back I can take your whip
It’s only natural that this contemporary Caddy is paired with “Cadillactica” by Mississippi-born lyricist Big K.R.I.T., who came up the old-fashioned way in hard-spitting hip-hop. He first drew widespread attention in 2011, crushing mixtapes and proving his merit through clever verses. Big K.R.I.T.’s transition to album format finds his crisp diction intact, over more polished production notes. His conceptual ode to Cadillac cars draws from classic Southern rap technique that he describes as “Sonic Boom South.” In “Cadillactica,” Big K.R.I.T. gives us a fresh flow as we floss in a make and model that has found its way back to the inter-cadi-llactic highway.
Images by Tamara Warren