About That Car: In Praise of the 2013 Cadillac ATS

6/7/2013, 8:21 a.m.
The 2013 Cadillac ATS was named North American Car of the Year at this year’s Detroit auto show.

DETROIT – During the last two to three product generations, Cadillac has made quantum leaps in its offering. And now with the 2013 Cadillac ATS, GM’s luxury brand has created a car that can compete, tread to tread, with the best that Europe has to offer.

The 2013 Cadillac ATS was named North American Car of the Year at this year’s Detroit auto show. And after a week-long test drive, it is a well-deserved award.

First, the ATS has been positioned to take on the entry level models of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. All first-tier compact luxury sedans. The ATS is lighter, arguably more nimble and has all the trappings that you’d expect in a top flight compact luxury sedan.

The test car had a two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that made 272 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It had all-wheel-drive and the engine was mated to a six speed automatic transmission.

The combination yielded a powerful small sedan that was responsive, very quick and hard to keep at the speed limit. There is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 202 horse power; it’s been widely panned by automotive journalists. And rounding out the ATS’ engine lineup is a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 321 horsepower.

The two-liter turbo on the ATS is the bread and butter engine; the only quibble was a bit of turbo whirr. The other complaint was that it was a bit of a squeeze getting into the rear passenger compartment of the ATS. Though once seated there was enough headroom, legroom was a bit close. But there was ample hip room for an almost six-footer.

Other than those minor gripes, the Cadillac ATS was an eye-opener. The car handled with rifle-shot accuracy. It had three ride settings: touring, sport and snow/ice. Touring was the setting used for most of the test drive but it wasn’t what it sounded like. The car’s ride was firm, undulations in the pavement could be felt and the setting kept the impact of road bumps isolated.

The ATS had a MacPherson strut front suspension and Cadillac’s first five-link rear suspension. Combined with Cadillac’s Magnetic Ride Control, the ATS had the feel and the handling characteristics of a sports car, which is needed if the brand hopes to take on the best that Europe has to offer in this category.

A leather-clad interior with real wood trim in gray and brown was as classy as other luxury brands. The sleek, button-less instrument layout of the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system has had its detractors. But at least there was no mouse to deal with.

Cadillac has softened the exterior appearance of the ATS. Yes, it still has the characteristics of the brand’s edge design but the creases have been rounded and the taunt surfaces are not as tight. The car had a much more refined look.

But the ATS was immediately recognizable as a Cadillac. It had the same grille and the same forward fins look of the new XTS, which was illuminated, literally, by Xenon LED front running lights.