By David Colman
Hypes: Nuburgring Handling Prowess, Nicely Tailored
Gripes: Olympic Seat Belt Pull Effort, No Rear Wiper, Battery Buried in Trunk
It isn’t everyday you drive a car with a title longer than a British Count. But Cadillac has managed to append no less than 4 qualifiers to its newest offspring, the diminutive ATS 4-door sedan. “2.0T” refers to the fact that this is the first Caddy since the unlamented Cimarron to rely on just 4 cylinders for motivation, Granted, this is an impertinently perky foursome, depending on direct injection and a turbo to churn out 272hp. Those horses are wisely allocated by an ultra-responsive 6-speed automatic transmission featuring “Performance Algorithm Tapshifts” to control gear choice and rpm range. The “Premium Collection” descriptor stems from the handcrafted, cut and sewn interior leather seating surfaces, and the delicate contrasting stitching highlighting most dash and door panel seams. Everywhere you look, the ATS posits this question: why buy a BMW 3 or Audi A4 when you can select this premium small Cadillac instead?
This is a very tough market niche to crack, one which the German makes have owned for years now. Although Cadillac’s ATS isn’t quite on par with the leaders, it’s close enough to merit a look. It’s 8 inches longer than BMW’s 3, 5 inches longer than Audi’s A4. Like the BMW, the weight distribution of the ATS is perfectly split between front and rear axles at 50/50. And like the Audi A4, the ATS is available with all-wheel-drive. In fact, Cadillac offers a seemingly inexhaustible variety of ATS configurations. The base model with rear-wheel-drive, normally aspirated, 2.5 liter four carries an MSRP of $33,095. In AWD form, base cost jumps to $36,900. The rear-wheel-drive turbo ATS “Premium” I drove carries an MSRP of $44,895. The priciest version is the 3.6 liter, V-6 AWD Premium model which starts at $47,795. Cadillac offers an amazing 13 variants of the ATS, with plenty of options for each. Our test car priced out at a whopping $50,955, once these additions were added: the “Driver Assist Package” ($3,220) which you can definitely live without, “Crystal Red Tintcoat” ($995), “Polished Aluminum 18 Inch Wheels” ($850) and “Cold Weather Package” ($600).
Because Cadillac realizes that sports sedan customers hold handling and agility sacrosanct, they have tailored ATS suspension accordingly. There’s absolutely no mush in this lithe and athletic sedan, which in Premium Collection trim, boasts GM’s prized FE3 Suspension Package. From the contact patches of the sizeable (225/40R18 front and 255/35R18 rear) Bridgestone RE050A tires, through the Corvette-derived MR (magneto-rheological) shocks, the ATS generates enormous grip in corners. The finely calibrated ZF “Premium Electric Variable Steering” contributes to unalloyed confidence in handling precision. The automatic gearbox is perfectly configured for manual control, with elephant ear magnesium paddles set tight to the steering wheel for micro management when the floor console stick is positioned in manual mode. The turbo boost of the 2 liter engine, redlined at 6,400rpm, is always adequate to acceleration needs, especially when you pre-select the appropriate gear set. Unlike the latest 3 from BMW, there’s no annoying automatic start/stop device to annoy you at traffic lights. And the Caddy still manages to post a respectable 24MPG in combined city/highway driving.
The downfall of the ATS is its distressing Cadillac User Entertainment (CUE) system, which defies logic and refuses to cooperate with your commands. Apparently, someone in charge of GM dashboard design has decreed that knobs are passé. In their stead, a series of ill-defined digital control bars are arrayed to oversee cabin climate, fan operation and radio volume. These bars are supposed to offer haptic feedback when operated, but the feedback is more hapless than haptic. It takes forever to bridge the digital gulf from mute to loud or low to high fan, and all that while you’re taking your eyes off the road to accomplish what would be instant with a knob. CUE’s faceplate looks just like your cell phone’s. Only you won’t be bumping into other people when you use it, you’ll be bumping into other cars.
Other than that singular drawback, the ATS is a viable effort from Cadillac to penetrate the small sports sedan category. With the deletion of CUE and the addition of a few good knobs, this Cadillac could easily manage to breech the existing German hegemony.
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T Premium Collection
- Engine: 2.0 liter inline 4, Direct Injection, Turbocharged
- Horsepower: 272hp
- Torque: N/A
- Fuel Consumption: 21 MPG City/31 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $51,850
- Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars