Cadillac has already proven that it can build a top notch sport sedan and coupe with the CTS. But, being about the size of a BMW 5-series, the CTS is still too large and heavy for core sport sedan enthusiasts who prefer rides like the BMW 3-series, Audi A4, and Infiniti G. Well, it took a while but the all-new Cadillac ATS has those rivals squarely in its sights. So let’s see just how true Cadillac’s aim really is.
We’ll just pretend that the Cimarron never happened, and call the 2013 ATS Cadillac’s first compact sedan. It certainly is their first compact luxury-sport sedan. It’s hard to believe that a prestige brand can survive as long as Cadillac has without a worthy entry-level model. But, more than that, the rear-wheel-drive ATS looks to have the goods to go toe-to-toe with the most hallowed of all sport sedan benchmarks, the BMW 3-series.
We sure had a blast sliding this lightweight, expertly balanced Caddy around Atlanta Motorsports Park. The ATS makes you believe you’re in total control, although you know in the back of your mind, there’s a lot of ones-and-zeros helping you go fast. It’s definitely a driver’s car. The available limited-slip rear really helps get the power down whether around curves or in a straight line. On that, the ATS is not one-size-fits-all when it comes to power. There are three choices, one more than most rivals. From the 2.5-liter I4 in the base and Luxury models, to the brut in the line up, the CTS’s 3.6-liter V6 found in the Premium model. But our favorite, and likely the buyer’s too, is the Performance model’s all-aluminum, Direct Injection 2-liter turbo, with its 272-horsepower, 30 more than the 328i, and 260 pound feet of torque. Good for a 0 to 60 run of a respectable 5.7 seconds.
That great power is then perfectly balanced with good fuel economy at 22-City, 32-Highway, and 26 Combined. All engines don 6-speed automatic transmissions with manual shift, while the 2-liter Turbo offers a sport sedan pre-requisite 6-speed manual. While “purists” will insist on the manual, the auto is plenty responsive, and suited us just fine.
Length and wheelbase put it right amongst the competition, but at 3,400-pounds it’s lighter than most of them, thanks to extensive use of aluminum and even magnesium. Front suspension starts as typical MacPherson strut, but replaces the usual wishbone with twin ball joints and lower control links. The rear is an all-new 5-link design. Our ride’s FE3 Performance Suspension adds the limited slip rear and driver adjustable Gen 3 Magnetic Ride Control that really pulls it all together. There is electric variable steering assist, and we have no complaints as there’s a sweet amount of feedback through the wheel.
The front end is smooth. Narrow, vertical headlights with available LED accents, flank a broad grille with active shutters, accentuating width. The rear proudly features Cadillac hallmarks such as vertical LED tail lights and large wreath and crest, while nicely integrated exhaust tips add a touch of modern. Inside, there is an ultra-modern yet familiar Cadillac look. Our Performance model features sporty aluminum trim, though wood is available elsewhere in the lineup. And Cadillac’s new CUE proximity touch interface is also standard in all but the base car. We love the look and feel of CUE when sitting still, but moving, like all such systems, you need to use the best-yet voice activation to avoid too much distraction. Much like the larger XTS, gauges are a high-tech display, with a multitude of configurations. Overall interior dimensions are similar to the 3-series. That means a fairly intimate front cabin but with plenty of legroom. The rear seat in the ATS, however, is a little tight even for a sport sedan. And, the trunk is downright small at 10.2 cubic-feet.
On the street, the ATS is very composed and super stable. More than one of our staffers felt the need to constantly remind themselves that they were driving an American made sport sedan. The 2-liter turbo has plenty of guts, little turbo lag, and likes to be revved; yet it remains quiet and smooth as you should expect from a luxury oriented brand. All-wheel-drive is available on all but base and luxury models. ATS pricing begins at a very reasonable $33,990, but we expect most will go out of the door closer to 40-grand.
Cadillac has hit the compact sporty four-door bullseye with the 2013 ATS. Now, that doesn’t mean hordes of 3-Series fans are going to trade in their twin-kidneys for a wreath and crest. But, it does mean Cadillac is now a member of a very exclusive club. And, with a V-Series and maybe even a coupe to follow, the ATS looks like a lot more than just a splash in the pan.
Engine: 2-liter turbo
Torque: 260 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 5.7 seconds
EPA: 22 mpg city/ 32 mpg highway