The 2013 Cadillac ATS represents a wonderful insight into how GM corporate thinking and reaction to consumer interests have changed.
Prior to the meltdown of 2009, GM pretty well pumped out what it thought the people wanted, the Cadillac Cimarron of the 1980s being a prime example.
Based on the lowly J-car chassis shared with econocars like the Chevrolet Cavalier, it was just that—a front-drive Cavalier with a leather trim package and better suspension bushings.
It put consumers off the idea of a baby Cadillac for years after.
Cadillac tried again in 2002 with the CTS, a much more serious effort with rear- or all-wheel drive and a nicely weighted chassis topped off by signature, razor-edge styling.
While it was hoped the CTS would attract BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 buyers, the CTS was bigger and heavier — really more mid-size like the 5 Series and A6.
And while the CTS did, in fact, attract considerable 5 Series and A6 intenders, it did not wash as a 3 Series/A4 competitor for a lesser price. Buyers bought those other cars because they didn’t want anything big and that was proven by the rising interest in the 1 Series then coming on stream.
In a bold move, a completely new chassis—the Alpha—was created for a new generation of small, nimble cars of which the ATS would be first. We will be hearing a lot more about the Alpha in coming years and I suspect the new generation Camaro among them.
The Alpha was designed for rear or all-wheel-drive and 50:50 weight distribution—key elements if the ATS was going to match the Eurosedans.
Like the Europeans, the ATS offers a choice of gasoline engines, but unlike the others, no diesel (yet).
The first is a 202 hp (190 lb/ft) 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder. Available on the bottom two of the four trim levels, it also is only offered in rear-wheel-drive (RWD).
The other two engines are a 2.0-litre, direct injection turbo with 272 hp (260 lb/ft) and a 3.6-litre direct injection V6 with 321 hp (274 lb/ft) both available in RWD and AWD.
All versions of the ATS use GM’s standard six-speed automatic except for a six-speed manual available on the turbo only.
While the 2.5-litre gets four-wheel disc brakes, the 2.0-litre and 3.6-litre enhance stopping power with upgraded four-piston Brembo calipers. All versions have what Cadillac calls its Auto-Dry Brakes system which applies the brakes very lightly in wet conditions to take excess water off the discs.
Lastly, the ATS features the third generation GM Magnetic Ride Control suspension that uses sensors to “read” the road up to 1,000 times per second and change the damping settings to match thus improving control.
The styling leaves no one in doubt that this is a Cadillac but it is also very aerodynamic with an integrated rear spoiler, outside mirrors optimized for wind flow and active shutters behind the grille that close at speed to cut drag.
One very sunny day just as winter started to make itself felt, I took off to sample the ATS and had such a good time, I covered just over 600 km because I was simply enjoying myself.
Equipped with the 3.6-litre and AWD, my tester was fitted out in ruby red metallic paint, machined 18-inch alloy wheels and wonderful biscuit-coloured leather.
There are several interior trim materials such as carbon fibre, aluminum and “sustainably sourced exotic woods”. The leathers are offered in a variety of tones and all, like the panels, are sewn with French stitching.
The first impression was an odd one.
Driving along the freeway I started to feel a vibration, first ob one seat side bolster and then the other coupled with a little green icon at the bottom looking like a ideogram of the cellphone.
I thought someone must have left a Bluetooth connected cellphone in the car so I started fishing around beside and under the seat.
Turns out it was actually the lane departure system (optional) letting me know when I was changing lanes right or left.
It can be switched off by a button and I did. I’m used to these systems by now, but normally there is a vibration sent to the steering wheel, not the seat.
At then when the traffic suddenly slowed ahead I got a very strong vibration directly on the seat of my pants.
This was the optional rear/front collision warning and the vibrating Safety Alert Seat system doing its job and very effectively I might add. I left this one on.
Front suspension is MacPherson struts, but on the ATS it is a double pivot setup with the rear suspension being a five-link system which works really well with AWD and RWD because of the compliance built into the geometry to take advantage of the Magnetic Ride Control.
Couple this with a variable assist steering system and you do have a car that rivals the blue-white roundel and four linked ring guys.
With the 3.6-litre, the ATS is deceptively fast. Here, the optional heads-up display was a plus not a hindrance, as a majority of twisty roads I used snake through cottage country where the locals are not that vigilant but the police are.
Sight lines ahead and to the side were fine but the very high trunk lid made setting the outside mirrors correctly a must and the use of a backup camera a necessity.
As noted above, the 2013 Cadillac ATS starts at $35,195, but not this one.
As tested, my fully optioned 3.6-litre AWD was priced at $56,870 not including the $1,595 shipping fee. I will let you compare that to a BMW 335xi or Audi S4.
This is a remarkably different kind of Cadillac and one that should help return the brand to the time when it billed itself as “the Standard of the World”.
BODY STYLE: Compact sports sedan.
DRIVE METHOD: front- or all-wheel drive.
ENGINE: 3.6-litre DOHC V6 (321 hp, 274 lb/ft of torque).
CARGO: 290 litres (10.2 cu ft).
TOW RATING: 3.6-litre only, 454 kg (1,000 lb)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) AWD as tested, 11.7/7.7L/100 km (24/38 mpg) city/highway
PRICE: Base 3.6-litre AWD, $53,450; as tested, $56,870 not including $1.595 shipping fee.
WEB SITE: www.cadillac.gm.ca