The present invention provides coating systems that minimize thermal and residual stresses to create a fatigue- and soldering-resistant coating for aluminum die casting dies. The coating systems include at least three layers. The outer layer is an alumina- or boro-carbide-based outer layer that has superior non-wettability characteristics with molten aluminum coupled with oxidation and wear resistance. A functionally-graded intermediate layer or "interlayer" enhances the erosive wear, toughness, and corrosion resistance of the die. A thin adhesion layer of reactive metal is used between the die substrate and the interlayer to increase adhesion of the coating system to the die surface.