Traditionally, the BMW 3 Series has been a point of reference or a standard that we would use to reset our seat of the pants. In other words, it is a car that we can use to recalibrate ourselves to what a great driving car should feel like. This doesn’t mean it is the best handling or performing car, rather it’s more like a standard all cars could aspire to.
With the advent of the good-looking new Cadillac ATS, there may now be a double standard.
The Cadillac ATS is that good. In fact, it was just named 2013 North American Car of the Year along with getting rave reviews across the board.
Developed as the smallest Cadillac, the compact luxury sport sedan is the latest ground-up application of Cadillac’s Arts and Science philosophy. In addition, Cadillac ATS decision makers have taken that A&S philosophy a step or two beyond the original definition with an obsession for building the very best car they could conceive. Moreover, to make sure it was right, they spent hundreds of hours testing and tweaking their creation at Germany’s famed Nu?rburgring and numerous other challenging roads, racetracks and laboratories worldwide. If you have watched the television commercials, you’ll see what they meant by “challenging roads.”
The result of their extensive work is one of the lightest Cadillac’s of all time (don’t count the Cimarron as a Cadillac). It has a near perfect 50/50 weight balance and sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension that includes the amazing Magnetic Ride Control. The steering is a precise new electric variable effort system developed by ZF. It has available legendary Brembo brakes. In standard form, the ATS is a rear wheel drive, but it also comes in all-wheel drive.
There are no big V-8 engines under the hood of this newest Cadillac; rather it comes with a pair of available four-cylinder engines or a V-6. The base engine, a 202-hp, 2.5-liter, isn’t overly exciting, but will provide respectable performance for customers looking more for luxury and image. The next step up, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 272 hp offers a big performance boost. The performance engine is a 321-hp, 3.6-liter V-6. The three engines accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 7.5-, 5.9- and 5.4-seconds respectively. EPA fuel economy estimates for the RWD versions are 22/33 mpg, 21/31 mpg and 19/26 respectively. AWD lowers the numbers on the Turbo and V-6 versions by one or two miles per gallon.
A six-speed Hydra-Matic transmission is standard for the base and V-6 engines, but the turbo also has a six-speed manual transmission option. We appreciate that the V-6 has a great exhaust sound, befitting a performance car – not too loud, not too quiet — just right.
There are nine trim variations of the ATS that revolve around Standard, Luxury, Performance and Premium m designations. There are two levels of the base model, four turbo variations and three of the V-6. Price-wise the range runs from $33,990, including the $895 destination charge, for the 2.5 Standard RWD up to $48,690 for the 3.6 Premium AWD. AWD adds from $1,100 on upper level models to $3,800 on a standard trim level.
A fully optioned 3.6 with AWD tops out at just under $55,000.
Each of the models carries appropriate features for that model, and of course the Premium version of the Cadillac ATS 3.6 we drove was very well equipped with normal luxury performance car features we expect, like leather seating, navigation, Bose audio, head-up display, magnesium paddle shifters, Rainsense wipers, HID headlights and on and on.
Like other cars in this esteem class of sport sedans, the Cadillac ATS is designed for the driver and front seat passenger with comfortable supportive seating and interesting technologies. The rear seat is on the tight side, but that’s not this car’s mission. Cargo space is a shortcoming, too with only 10.2 cubic feet available.
Driver appointments are ergonomically correct, at least for mid-size people, and the interior looks good and is user friendly. Our test car tailoring included an interesting blend of jet-black upper surfaces over rich Morello red lower surfaces and seats. The trim had the look of hand cut and sewn leather. Dash trim elements included what looked like real carbon fiber and chrome. Traditional knobs and slides on the center console have been replaced with high tech touch sensitive controls. Initially, some of the controls were awkward to use but we both adapted quickly.
At the top of the center stack, the eight-inch color touch display screen displayed the inputs from the controls below in addition to the navigation and CUE (Cadillac User Experience). CUE is one of the more intuitive information and entertainment control systems we’ve used. It reduces what could be up to 20 controls down to only four. Easier than many systems, it can still be complicated for the technologically challenged, but iPhone and iPad wizards will feel right at home.
The Cadillac ATS offers a high level of innovative technologies, but its best feature is the way it drives. This car competes with the world’s best sport sedans and continues to elevate the Cadillac brand.