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2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Performance Rocky Mountain Review By Dan Poler

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2013 Cadillac ATS

The 2013 Cadillac ATS; fantastic to drive; a significant step forward for the brand; deserving consideration next to more established sport sedan choices.

By Dan Poler
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

Bringing up the names of small Cadillacs of the past doesn’t exactly inspire confidence – the Cimarron and Catera from years past don’t conjure up images of high performance, luxury sport sedans. With this in mind, Cadillac had some past history to overcome as they set out to create an all-new small sport sedan.

Enter the Cadillac ATS. A long-gone sister brand to Cadillac coined the slogan “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” And in the case of the ATS, to borrow the phrase, this is most definitely not your father’s Cadillac.

The ATS is the first vehicle to use GM’s all-new compact-midsize Alpha Platform, so not only is the car brand new, so is the platform on which it’s built. This new baby Cadillac is available in a fairly dizzying array of configurations – to include two drivetrains (rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive), three engines (2.5 liter I-4, 2.0 liter turbo I-4, or 3.6 liter V6), and four trim levels (Standard, Luxury, Performance, or Premium). We recently got the opportunity to spend an enjoyable week with the ATS in its RWD 3.6L Performance trim and what a joy it was.

The exterior of the car is absolutely reminiscent of a shrunken Cadillac CTS, but with updated touches such as vertical LED running lights which are fantastically distinctive in their appearance. Elsewhere on the exterior we find touches only Cadillac would think of, such as an LED strip illuminating the outside surface of each door handle. The premium Thunder Gray Chromaflair paint that graced our ATS was strikingly beautiful.

Inside the cabin, gone are the mushy seats of Cadillac’s past. Front seats are firm and supportive with manual thigh bolsters. Back seats… Well… It’s a small sedan. The back seats are comfortable although legroom is severely restricted; the real challenge, however, is access. Low doors make rear seat entry and exit for grown-ups something of a head-thwacking experience.

Amenities in the cabin again include really nice touches that only Cadillac would think of, such as a hidden storage cubby behind the stereo and climate controls – the control panel actually flips up at a touch via a small motor to reveal access.

Doors close with a resounding thunk. The cabin feels solid, serene, and isolated from the outside.

The ATS uses the new CUE system – that’s Cadillac User Experience – to provide access to entertainment, navigation, and climate control via a centralized interface. Much has been said about this sort of setup – and CUE is decidedly … not bad. Not perfect, but certainly more intuitive than most to use.

There are a lot of unique features incorporated into CUE which are clearly the result of a great deal of engineering, such as haptic feedback (vibrations in response to your touch, confirming the command was received), sensors that know you’re reaching for the touchscreen and activate the menu before your hand even gets there, and cell-phone-like pinch to zoom controls for the navigation map.

The real downside to CUE (as with many, many other systems of this kind) is that they are faced with the daunting challenge of presenting the driver with a lot of information. Between CUE and three customizable segments at the bottom of the dashboard, there is a lot of opportunity for distraction while driving.

We trust that the CUE will continue to evolve my means of software updates for enhancement and simplification. In addition, the CUE's control system includes the black shiny, buttonless surface and the touchscreen, both of which acquire fingerprints at an alarming rate - the compulsive among us will be inspired to perform a daily (or more) wipe-down of the CUE system's control surfaces.

In the Cadillac ATS, a great number of modern safety features are included. In addition to the host of industry-standard features such as eight standard airbags (including knee airbags and head-curtain side airbags) and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, the ATS utilizes a camera, radar, and sensor-based system to provide features such as lane departure warning, intelligent braking assist, and forward collision alert.

While these features are becoming commonplace in the luxury segment, Cadillac has implemented a unique method of communicating urgent information from this system to the driver - small motors in the driver's seat will cause vibrations to the driver's thigh to provide an alert - for example, if the lane departure system detects the vehicle moving out of the lane on the right, the seat will vibrate under the driver's right thigh, causing him or her to correct to the left. This setup was much more clear and straightforward in its communications than just another light on the dashboard.

Similarly innovative, the forward collision warning uses a heads-up display of red lights which project onto the windshield in front of the driver, warning of an imminent crash.

Despite the feeling of isolation in the cabin, the ATS does an excellent job of connecting the driver with the outside environment. We know that the ATS' masters targeted the BMW E-46 3-Series as their target in designing this vehicle. Did they make it? Not quite. But very, very close. The 3.6L engine produces a nice growl of a note and doesn't hesitate in the slightest when your foot goes down. The cabin keeps fairly quiet other than some minor road noise from the Michelin Primacy tires. The ride is firm, and this combined with the power and small size of the ATS provides for a grace which enables it to easily dart in and out of traffic. Perhaps the disappointment comes from the electric power steering setup, which lends itself to an overly light, mushy steering effort which does not provide a great sense of control.

Regardless of a light steering effort and the somewhat complex CUE setup, Cadillac’s new ATS is fantastic to drive and represents a significant step forward for the brand, deserving consideration next to more established sport sedan choices.

Specifications: 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Performance

Base Price: $33,095.00
Price as Tested: $47,780.00
Engine Type: Direct Injection VVT V6
Engine Size: 3.6 Liter
Horsepower: 321
Torque (lb-ft): 274
Transmission: Hydra-Matic 6L45 six-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length (in): 109.3 / 182.8
Curb Weight: 3,461
Pounds per HP: 10.78
Fuel Capacity (gal): 16
Fuel Requirement: Unleaded / E85
Tires: Michelin Primacy MXM4 P225/40VR18
Brakes: Ventilated Disc
Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson Strut / Multi-Link
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
EPA Fuel Economy - MPG city / highway / observed: 19 / 28 / 25
Base Trim Price: $43,695.00

Options and Charges

Cold Weather Package: $600.00 (Driver & Front Passenger Heated Seats; Heated Steering Wheel)

Option: Chromaflair Paint - $995.00

Option: 18" Machined-Finish Aluminum Wheels - $800.00

Option: Navigation System - $795.00

Delivery: $895.00

Price as tested: $47,780.00