2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6 Premium HD Video Review

The auto industry is littered with failed attempts to compete with The King. You probably wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t curious how the newest salvo, the 2013 Cadillac ATS stacks up against you-know-who.  No doubt, BMW’s 3 Series has earned its title over the years.  It’s as if the BMW engineers made a deal with the devil back in 1975 for the secret of fun-to-drive. To be sure, Lucifer got the short end of that agreement.

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The wreath and crest folks- who gave us the Cimarron and Catera mind you- believe ATS can take on 3 Series, C Class, A4, G37 and anyone else in the compact sport sedan segment.  And it does.  No qualifiers such as “for an American car” either.  It’s ready to take on the world.

Drivers, Choose Your Engine

ATS is a bit smaller than the well-regarded CTS (which has always split the difference between 3 and 5 Series).  There are three available engines.  Skip the base 202 horsepower 2.5-liter four cylinder.  That leaves enthusiasts with two real choices. The 272 horse 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo is torque rich at low revs (260 lb-ft @1,700-5,500).  I have not driven it.

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The motor in my Premium model tester is GMs ubiquitous 3.6-liter V6 that makes 321 horsepower @ 6,800 rpm and 275 lb-ft @ 4,800.  Nice engine, nice growl.  Some might complain you can get it in a Camaro for 20K less, but then you’d be driving a Camaro, wouldn’t you?  My car is rear-drive, the turbo and V6 can be had with all-wheel drive.

Transmissions? The turbo alone can be bought with a six-speed manual.  All can be had with a six-speed automatic with a very smooth console lever feel.  Keep in mind that A4 and 3 Series get eight-speed auto boxes.  ATS’s paddle shifters are made of magnesium, no plastic here.  Shift dynamics and throttle response can be adjusted with a button on the lower console.

Keeping Up With The Jones (or Müllers)

Power is not a problem, 0-60 rushes up in 5.5 seconds, right in the hunt when compared to the appropriate 3 Series and C Class models.   2013-cadillac-ats-106-medium  The V6 adds some pounds to the nose compared to the turbo four, but the weight distribution is nearly even (front to rear % is 51/49 for the turbo, 51.5/48.5 for the V6, 50.4/49.6 for the 2.5L).  ATS is among the lightest in class, beat slightly by the heavy hitting 3 Series.

Cadillac has developed a new platform for ATS.  The structure is fabricated from a healthy amount of high-strength steel that’s perceptively vault-like.  Premium models get an exceptionally well-tuned suspension with magnetic ride control.  It can soften or stiffen the shocks in the blink of an eye to allow for both comfort and performance.  Overall, it’s set on the firm side, noticeably stiffer than the 3 Series.  Obviously Cadillac is going after a new audience here.

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ATS gets Cadillac’s first ever five-link independent rear suspension using high-strength steel.  Up front is a multi-link double-pivot MacPherson-strut system with direct-acting stabilizer bar.  The whole set up was tested and tuned on the Nurburgring.

Transmission shifts are quick and sure.  Road noise is average, a smidge more than expected from this brand.  Up market models like Premium get Brembo brakes in front with great stopping power and modulation. The EPA fuel economy rating is 19 city, 28 highway.  ATS’s other engines are slightly more efficient as are the competition.

ATS will show you a very good time, it’s very compelling in the curves.  It’s one of those rare vehicles that seduces you into the act of driving, lulling you into the action.  Quick side-to-side transitions happen crisply with good road feel and no body roll.  The overall dynamic of the car has an emotional edge to it, a touch more raw than the Teflon smooth BMW. Which is better?  Only you can decide.

A new 30-second spot previewing the upcoming 2013 Cadillac ATS will air on the U.S. television broadcast of the Super Bowl this Sunday. The spot showcases actual testing footage of the car, Cadillac's entry into the super-competitive compact luxury segment.

Which Brings Up The Question Everyone Asks-

Which handles better, ATS or 3 Series?  That’s like asking who’s the best lover in the world.  There are other writers who will gush on esoteric details like some rarified wine expert but I will not.  My practical Midwestern upbringing is tired of the marketing and chest thumping.

Both cars handle exceptionally well, you’d have to drive them back-to-back on a performance course to notice any subtle differences.  If anything I’d give the edge to the Cadillac, which is a skosh more fun to toss around (see, I can throw out technical jargon).  But really, a car is a holistic decision and here you can be safe letting exterior or interior design woo you.  My suspicion is most will be going for the prestigious badge and reputation.

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CUE Up The Interior

As you might expect the cabin is very nicely appointed, materials have a rich warm look to them.  Even the pedals are nicely done.  Reach into the door pockets and edges are smooth and finished, same with the most excellent door releases.  Is this a stupid detail to mention?  Not when the price of a car rises to an as tested price of $49,185.  In this class it’s all about the small stuff.

Seats are especially comfortable, supportive and adjustable (even for cushion length).  The driver’s chair vibrates.  No it’s not “magic fingers” massage, it’s for warning.  Take the lane departure system for example.  Drift over the centerline without signaling and the left side of the seat quivers to discreetly tell you to sharpen up.  Trigger the forward collision warning system and the whole seat vibrates.

Phones and iPods are supported, the steering wheel is heated.  Cadillac’s crisp clear heads-up display that offers up all sorts of info is a great tool.  The Bose sound system is quite good here, the CD slot is in the smallish glovebox.  Priced at nearly 50K there’s no sunroof and the parking brake is not electronic.

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Just like big brother XTS, ATS has CUE or Cadillac User Experience.  The big difference is that ATS’s gauge cluster is a real speedometer and tach, not a big LCD display.  The high res LCD display strip below the speedo and tach can be customized.  The center screen is simplified until you reach toward it, then it springs to life with full controls.  CUE is laid out intuitively, get lost and the home screen is a tap away.

My biggest complaint with CUE is that the haptic screen and lower panel don’t have the kind of touch sensitivity found on an iPhone and that’s distracting when driving.  There’s a secret hiding place (that I’ve just told thieves about) where you can stash an old iPod out of the way as a music server.

You Were Expecting a Limo?

None of the cars in this class are roomy enough to really stretch out.  They’re compact cars.  At 5’9” I have enough knee and foot room in the outboard positions.  I’d call it cozy because they are very nicely sculpted and comfy, a point that a few passengers commented on.  You’ll want to keep it to two in back, the substantial drive shaft tunnel will scare center passengers away.   There’s a place for small stuff and drinks in the foldaway center armrest.  There’s a powerport too.  Dual seat pockets are handy, no storage in the door though.  Side torso airbags are found on Premium models.

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ATS’s competitors don’t have large trunks.  For example the 3 Series holds five packs of my trunk measuring metric, bundles of Kirkland brand bath tissue (and no, I don’t get paid to endorse it).

I’ll build suspense by saying the battery is mounted in the boot, good for weight distribution.  Under the load floor you’ll find a tray for small stuff  but no spare, the tires are run-flats.  There are trunk tie downs and a plastic cubbie to hold milk jugs secure when racing home from Safeway. The hinge design takes up space, but trim keeps the arms from scrunching cargo. Finally, the trunk opening is on the narrow side and room is at a premium.  Four packs of TP is on the small side, at least Cadillac offers split folding seats to get more utility out of the ATS.

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(New) Classic Cadillac Design

If you like Cadillac’s edgy Art and Science design language, ATS should appeal to you.  The headlamp units reach way back into the quarter panel.  It’s a crisp looking car with a long nose and short overhangs.  The strong family resemblance to CTS is the only reason ATS keeps a low profile.  There’s an “a-ha moment” once people realize they’re looking at the ATS, and they get really curious when they realize they’re looking at “the new Cadillac” (as almost everyone called it).  Seems like it’s already building a very positive reputation on the street.

Cadillac throws in maintenance for four years or 50,000 miles.  And using an OnStar app you can check the diagnostics of your car on Android and Apple iOS smartphones.  Finally, Cadillac throws in roadside assistance for 6 years or 70,000 miles (whichever comes first of course) and a free year of OnStar, which I have to say is a great service.

Prices?  ATS begins at $33,990 with destination.  But really, you’ll want to at least pony up for the turbo motor that starts at $35,795.  Check every option box including all-wheel drive and it’s nearly 54 grand, about four grand less than a similar 3-Series.  That makes it decent value in this segment.

2013 Cadillac ATS

Make no mistake, ATS is a fiercely competitive compact sport sedan and well worth your test drive time.  It has its work cut out for itself though.  ATS doesn’t have the pedigree that time has bestowed on 3 Series and many will dismiss it simply because there’s no roundel badge.  However, if Cadillac maintains this level of performance, handling, and design in the coming years, it should develop a pedigree of it’s own, and a really good rivalry with the Europeans.

FULL PHOTO GALLERY BELOW.  ALL STILL IMAGES PROVIDED BY GENERAL MOTORS.

14 Comments

  1. fatbaldandhappy says:

    Great stuff as always. I wish Caddy would let go of the blinged out chrome obsession and go with a brushed aluminum/nickel look. The art/science thing is their brand image and from certain angles I really like it. The straight on side view though is box-adelic.

    In my profession I spend a lot of time designing things for optimal usability. I have many thoughts on the interior control choices, but I think in the end the deal killer for me would be the resistive instead of capacitive touch controls. Why in the world would they make that choice?????!!!!!! The interior is where the driver lives. If that’s not right, it almost doesn’t matter what else is. HUD is super cool. I’ve always wondered why more manufacturers don’t offer it.

    At the risk of being “that guy” and having you recall my Driven hat (which I wear all the time by the way)… Ah- nevermind. Rock on!! :)

  2. Facepalm says:

    Nice review, Tom!
    Do you plan on reviewing any of the other ATS configurations (transmission, engines, etc.)?

  3. Goliath says:

    The deal breaker for me, I could not live with CUE everyday. I’m sorry, but I rented the 2.5L from National and CUE is awful. I can understand copying BMW’s blueprint and building a great car, but then copying Ford’s awful MyFord Touch infotainment system just isn’t smart.

  4. An says:

    Any plans of a review for the 2013 Lexus LS?

  5. Chucky says:

    Excellent review Tom!!! I have been looking forward seeing this review for a long time. The ATS interior really looks nice compared to BMW 3 series. But as far as performance goes, the 328i and ATS V6 have almost identical 0-60. The only bad thing I’ve heard about the ATS from other car reviews is the manual transmission. Everything else feels and looks great. It would have been nice to have an electronic parking brake. I rarely see those parking brake right next to the brake pedal. I believed the last I’ve seen those type of parking brake was from a Toyota Camry. Thank you so much Tom for the review! Looking forward to see future reviews :D

    • TV says:

      Yeah, even the Malibu Turbo i just got out of has an electric parking brake. A little surprising there. I have also heard the same about the manual transmission but prefer to find out for myself. Glad you enjoyed the review.

  6. KITT222 says:

    Very nice review, Tom! The new format looks more like a TV show, too. And your stance on the handling is very mature. I’m personally a big fan of the ATS. Cadillac has some good potential here, and it is good that the review world acknowledges it. The next few years will be interesting for Cadillac.

    • TV says:

      Yeah, I’d say the biggest gripes people can make is the six-speed tranny and smaller trunk. Glad to see they started with an all-new platform and sophisticated suspension. Yes, I’m looking forward to the ATS-V, new CTS and the ELR. It’s fun to see some life in the brand after years of CTS holding down the fort.

  7. Smeg says:

    Woot! Thanks Tom. Been waiting for this one!

    Your review is excellent, as always. Read about a few issues with the manual that are making them rare on the lots so I won’t look again till that is worked out. Also not sure if the magnetic ride control is available on anything other than the 3.6, but read somewhere that it also may not be so necessary. If it comes down to it and I get one, I’ll keep it between a Luxury trim or the Performance. The Performance had some junk I don’t want and a few things I really do want, but for whatever reason (rigidity, I imagine) the fold down rear seat is standard on every trim but perfomance (where it’s not available at all) and I do find that handy. Car marketing people really drive me nuts with their terrible packaging. The Premium has too much junk I don’t want and will never use.

    Anyway, as to that TP test … ahem … I predicted 3 packs and never have I seen you squish them! Till’ now. Maybe out here in Texas packs are a bit larger (which opens me up to a number of jokes, I know).

    • TV says:

      Yes, generally fixed rear seats are for rigidity, at least it’s what the automakers say. As for option packaging, they’re damned if they do or don’t. You’ll have to go with the flow I guess.

      There are many times I squish packs in, there was a little extra space in the rear that’s difficult to see. If those packs are bigger in Texas, they must be HUGE in Alaska…