The 2013 Cadillac ATS turns up the heat: Motoramic Drives
You can't deem yourself a chef just because you know how to follow a recipe. That's what kept going through my mind while driving the 2013 Cadillac ATS, the long-sought Cadillac version of a small luxury sedans based on the recipe that made the BMW 3-Series the world's most popular luxury car. Had Cadillac simply put similar ingredients through a blender, or had it created something distinctive?
The ATS arrives after a five-year journey, delayed thanks to GM's bankruptcy. With the ATS, Cadillac now offers a tall-grande-venti trio of sedans via the CTS and XTS, and over the next couple of years will flush out its line with a new CTS, a new Escalade and a version of the Chevy Volt dubbed the ELR. But no luxury brand can survive without a small car to lure those younger shoppers who've finally achieved some level of success. Compact luxury sedans lead the sales charts for BMW, Mercedes and Audi — and without a credible one, Cadillac would relegate itself to the second tier of pseudo-luxury cars.
Cadillac has come hard at BMW before, and produced some of its least-popular cars in the process. (Anyone who can defend the Cimarron and Catera in 50 words or less has a future in Cadillac PR.) But with the CTS, Cadillac began to hone its skills; first by getting the basic layout and styling right, then slowly upgrading the interior and engines, until today when the CTS can make a credible alternative to the Europe and Japan's best midsize sedans.
Cadillac could have served a smaller portion of the dish it made with the CTS —a bigger, heavier machine than the competition, whose brash styling and horsepower advantage gave it a presence its interior didn't always live up to. But the CTS came from a different General Motors -- one that was more spendthrift about taking on the world's luxury automakers in a way the new GM won't tolerate. Instead, the ATS follows the European formula as if it was building a luxury sedan bought at Ikea.
Fortunately for Cadillac, that begins with an all-new chassis that ranks as best sedan General Motors has developed in a generation. A clean-sheet design, the Alpha platform that the ATS uses stands inch-for-inch against competitors while weighing up to 195 lbs. less. Maximized for lightness and a 50/50 front-rear weight split, those delays let engineers obsess over mass to the point they can tell you how many grams they saved by using smaller bolts. That lightness has already paid dividends with a fuel economy rating of 22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway for the most efficient version — without having to adopt BMW's rough stop-start engine system.
The spice for that chassis comes from one of three engine choices: the bargain-basement 2.5-liter four-cylinder of 202 hp, a 2-liter turbo four offering 272 hp and the GM 3.7-liter V6 at 321 hp. Most will be linked to a 6-speed automatic, with Cadillac offering a 6-speed manual many of its buyers will only consider as an antitheft device.