Mountain Wheels: Cadillac’s new ATS pushes performance, luxury boundaries
February 2, 2013
If you’ve read some of the past 600 or so updates I’ve provided on the changing face of the auto industry, you know I don’t do much unprompted gushing, especially on the domestic front.
But after a short stint in the saddle in the absolutely brand-new Cadillac ATS, the heaping of praise started early and went pretty deep. Cadillac, bless its stoic and one-time stolid roots, did indeed do the seemingly impossible: It crafted a compact luxury machine that looks, behaves and drives with all the class and grace of its European targets, the Audi A4, the BMW 3-Series or a C-Class Mercedes.
Really. It’s fast, it’s comfortable and, thanks to a litany of new-for-Cadillac suspension refinements, it can handle all that high-performance mountain driving you love to do in a fashion that will leave you speechless.
You’ve seen the commercials, and you may be skeptical. I opted to head out into my favorite Front Range canyon at about 6 a.m. one day and put the five-link independent rear suspension, the magnificently balanced rear-wheel drive (though you’re going to want the AWD version for mountain living) and the higher-end, 321-HP 3.6-liter V6 to the test.
The resulting thrill ride was pretty astounding for a car that starts at under $44,000. With revs holding as high as possible – mine had the six-speed automatic with large flappy paddles on the steering wheel – ATS’s engine roared and provided a relentless and seemingly endless blast of non-turbocharged but still pleasantly torquey power (275 lb.-ft.). The car is a little less than 3,400 pounds and that makes it even more playful.
Combine that with a nicely refined steering system, the electro-magnetic suspension and the very effective Brembo brakes that come standard on ATS’s better models (with 129-foot stops from 60 mph), and … wow. The whole experience is solid, intense and quite admirably crafted. In a little Cadillac. Who knew?
Those of you who won’t be spending all your time plowing through Chinese cave tunnels or over Moroccan switchbacks will still appreciate the ATS and its daily driving experience. The magnetic suspension can be completely forgiving for regular rolling around town.
The six-cylinder engine, under lighter velocities, can get you 28 mpg on the highway; you can also opt for higher-efficiency variations including a 2.5-liter I-4 or a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo (33 and 31 highway mpg, respectively).
The Lansing, Mich.-built ATS’s looks also imaginatively combine Cadillac’s church-steeple angles with a cool, nearly wraparound set of LED lamps that frame the edges of the car (there are even more that light up on the door handles when you chirp the door remote).
It’s aggressive but not quite as over-the-top as the 2014 Stingray, with Cadillac’s other design cues still intact. One cool feature: the grille shutters automatically close at speed to enhance the car’s aerodynamics.
Particularly inside, where the small but comfortable cabin gets its own scaled-down version of the digital dash, Cadillac’s innovative CUE touchscreen audio and navigation controller, piano black buttons on the steering wheel and a four-tone dash with sorta-woody-looking trim.
Skootch yourself into the driver’s seat and you can be as Euro-highway-combat-ready as you’d like, with intense, adjustable side bolstering allowing almost M3-styled body lock; in a more relaxed mode, it’ll still be a tighter fit for some drivers, but that’s where the new XTS comes in (see my review in a couple of weeks).
The attention to detail is certainly there, including a nearly hidden starter button, the piano-black heat and audio controls with their slightly unpredictable haptic touch-sensing input and a small crab claw-shaped, leather-topped center console box.
My dream build for the car (besides maybe popping a CTS-V engine in for kicks, which you cannot actually do – yet) would also include the optional sunroof, which would lighten up the cabin a bit – and trying for some combination of available six-speed manual transmission and all-wheel drive.
Like other members of the family, safety systems also include front and rear automatic braking to help avoid low-speed parking lot collisions, and that sometimes surprising buzzing under your seat bottom if you stray out of your lane.