Road Test: 2013 Cadillac ATS Sedan

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To appreciate the 2013 Cadillac ATS you really have to understand what came before the latest junior edition to the luxury carmaker’s lineup.

2013 Cadillac ATS Sedan
2013 Cadillac ATS Sedan

Remember the Cadillac Cimarron? It was a ill-fated effort to take GM’s J-Body small car platform and give it an upscale twist. Think of it as a fancy Chevy Cavalier. Built between 1982 and 1988, it didn’t make the dent in the entry-level luxury market that Cadillac expected.

Cadillac Cimarron
Cadillac Cimarron Didn’t Have the Touch

Then there was the Cadillac Catera. Once again, GM tried to dip into its corporate pool and use a little fluff and shine to fill a luxury niche. This time it went overseas and drafted the Opel Omega from Europe. The American public yawned. It didn’t have much Cadillac style and problems with reliability didn’t help.

Cadillac Catera
Cadillac Catera Couldn’t

So when the Cadillac ATS was unveiled last year, there was plenty of reason to have doubts. But instead of a third strike, Cadillac got a solid hit. The ATS was named the North American Car of the Year. It’s getting rave reviews all over the place. So is it really that good?

I think the answer is mostly yes. I like the styling. I like the way the turbo four-cylinder motor works. I like the price (my test car stickered at $41,585). I like the fact that it’s a purposeful design, not just rebadging something that was lying around the GM garage.

Cadillac ATS 2.0
2.0 Turbo 4 is Impressive

Let’s start with the engine. There are actually three options. The base motor is a 2.5 liter four-cylinder that has 202 horsepower. That’s not a lot of power, but then it gives you a lower base price ($33,095) and impressive gas mileage (22 mpg city/33 highway).

My test car had the 2.0 liter turbo four-cylinder. It delivers a nice bump up to 272 horsepower. You don’t lose much in the mileage department, as the turbo should get 21 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway. My mixed use for one week averaged about 24 mpg, which is good for this type of car. The power is respectable but not overwhelming. It has a slight lag when you really push the accelerator that I’m going to say is transmission related. Still, it was a solid performer.

Of course if you really want power, Cadillac offers a 3.6 liter, six-cylinder engine that puts out 321 horsepower. You actually don’t lose much mileage (28 mpg city/19 mpg highway), but the base price jumps up to $42,090.

2013 Cadillac ATS interior
Inside the Cadillac ATS

Inside, the first thing you have to accept is that it’s not an all out luxury car. I had the “Luxury” edition, and it was nice, but not over the top. But then you’re not paying an over the top price. The seats were comfortable, although it took me awhile to get a good driving position. If you order the “Premium” version you get performance seats.

The dash has a nice sleek look to it. There are no dials or knobs on the center section. It’s all high-tech pressure-touch switches. Similar to the Chevy Volt, it takes a little getting used to. The only thing I didn’t adapt to was the touch buttons for the volume. However, I just started using the steering wheel controls instead.  I liked the display in the center of the instrument cluster. It has three parts and you can customize each portion. You can put the radio in the center, fuel economy on the right and then on the left you have fuel range. You use the selector on the steering wheel to find each section.

2013 Cadillac ATS Instrument Display
I Liked the ATS Instrument Display

The Cadillac CUE system is solid. The navigation was one of the better ones I’ve tried, although still not quite as good as my phone. The display can also show a weather map which is cool. You can also install apps (like Pandora) which give you additional options.

The ATS also has a noise canceling system built by Bose. Similar to noise canceling headphones, it creates sound waves that cancels out the road noise. I have to admit I didn’t really notice anything special, but then maybe that’s the point. It was simply quieter.

2013 Cadillac ATS Back Seat
ATS Back Seat is Small

About the only real downside to the interior is the back seat. It’s really small. I mean, really small. It’s ok in a pinch, but there isn’t enough leg room for an adult to be comfortable.

The car drives great. That’s critical because the ATS is billed as a competitor for the BMW 3-series. You can’t play in that league unless you can hold your own and the ATS doesn’t fall short. My test car had both a sport and comfort mode, but I really couldn’t tell much difference driving around town.

2013 Cadillac ATS Rear View
Can the ATS Really Challenge BMW?

Cadillac has come a long way since its Cimarron Days. The ATS delivers Cadillac style, and entry-level luxury. If the car can hold its resale value, then Cadillac may finally have the entry-level luxury sedan it’s always wanted.

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