2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Tom Sedens

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2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium

A Cadillac that claims it’s “built to be the world’s best sport sedan”. A few short years ago, that might have seemed laughable. There are plenty who might consider that a joke today.

But Cadillac wasn’t fooling around when they developed the ATS. As a matter of fact, they had a very specific target in their sights. They’ve made no bones about the fact that they were aiming squarely for the BMW 3 Series. It seemed a bit desperate. I wish Cadillac had introduced the ATS on its own merit and let the product do the talking instead.

The fact that I drove a new BMW 3 Series the week before I drove the ATS made for an inevitable comparison.

I’d already driven the hot-rod 3.6L rear-wheel-drive version of the ATS. And it was spectacular.

However, this is the ATS I’d be shopping for. The one with the 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder driving all four wheels.

It seems as though everyone has a 2.0L turbo-four these days. Check out the numbers on this one: 272 horsepower at 5,500 rpm; 260 lb-ft of torque at a low 1,700 rpm. Serious power density.

It all makes its way through a six-speed automatic on my tester (though a manual is available with this engine), and out to all four corners via an all-wheel-drive system.

Fuel economy is good, not great. This ATS is rated at 10.3 L/100 km in the city, and 6.6 L/100 km on the highway.

I tried two different ways of driving this car. For a while, I drove it hard. Fast. The opposite of economical. And it returned a very reasonable 13.2 L/100 km during that time. For the balance of the time, I drove it as I normally would – commuting, getting groceries, occasional freeway drives, but making no particular effort to save fuel – and I netted a surprising 10.1 L/100 km. That’s really good for a 270-hp sports sedan. And within the rating range.

Although it’s instantly recognizable as a Cadillac, the ATS has a nice aggressive stance, with clean lines and some pretty eye-catching details.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium. Click image to enlarge

I (and virtually all those who came to check it out) loved the long, vertical strip of super-bright LED driving lights that cascade down the edge of the hood through the headlight cluster.

The creases around the car aren’t overly sharp and the proportions are kept very tidy. Personally, I think this is the best-looking Cadillac in a long time.

I liked the handsome 18-inch rims on my review car, shod with 225-width rubber.

The overhangs are short, almost shockingly so in the front, and Cadillac’s dual exhaust tips (edging toward the center) look like they mean business.

I was surprised at how many looks this car got. Lots of looks. Lots of thumbs-ups.

The ATS will surprise some with its firm, sporty ride. Since I was just in the new BMW 3 Series, I couldn’t help but compare the two. This is my kind of suspension – what I look for and want in a sports sedan.

When you compromise a bit on the ride, you get a very athletic car. The ATS is very poised, and invites you to play around corners. And when you play, you realize you’ve been paired with a very competent dance partner.

The steering was flawless for this class of car. It’s heavy enough at every speed, and weighted to give a perfectly connected feeling. There is always good steering feel and turn-in was quick and very direct.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium. Click image to enlarge

I found the turbo engine to be tremendous. Is it the most powerful thing out there? Nope. That’s not the point. It feels strong after you overcome the very short lag and it builds momentum with alacrity. Of course it’s great for everyday driving, but when you get on it, the mid- and higher-range power is awesome.

When it’s on boost, and you stay on the gas, the torque is relentless, and it seems as though it pulls as hard in second gear as it does in first.

The six-speed automatic transmission is where the ATS fell a bit flat for me. It’s very smooth and luxurious, but I couldn’t find a real sport mode where it was truly aggressive and held the shift points longer. You can shift it manually using paddles or the gear selector and the shifts are pretty fast.

The four-cylinder sounds great inside when you’re on the gas but it’s too quiet from the outside. All noise levels are very well controlled inside – nothing ever gets loud or intrusive.

The brakes are excellent – easy to modulate, powerful when you need them.

The all-wheel-drive system is also very good. Perfect for everyday driving – transparent when you don’t need it, and there when you do. Turn the traction control off to play in the snow and you can happily steer the tail with the throttle all day long.

I liked that the ATS invited me to play. All the time. It never minds taking on a corner, sticking to it like glue, and coming out of it like a champ.

Materials are lovely. You’ll find soft, stitched, textured material with a premium feel throughout. Fit and finish was very good, and the car felt very well built and rock-solid.

The ATS feels tidy – not too big, not too small. My five-foot-ten frame never felt cramped, but anyone much taller could be running out of headroom up front.

Styling-wise, I really enjoyed the toned-down feel in the ATS. Cadillac can take things a bit far sometimes, and here I felt it was done just right and nothing felt overboard. It is a handsome, simple, straightforward interior with clean lines.

The leather seats – power-adjustable, heated, driver’s side memory – are fantastic. Not what you expect to find in a Cadillac, they offer the perfect harmony of sport and comfort.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium. Click image to enlarge

The heated steering wheel feels great – behind it sit gauges and the driver information screen. An interesting bit of tech, this. The left, the centre and the right parts can all be programmed to display what you choose.

The centre stack starts with Cadillac’s new CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system – it’s handled by an 8-inch touchscreen and manages the media, navigation, phone and vehicle settings. It’s a beautiful screen and a pretty decent user interface. The screen also handles the back-up camera.

Below the CUE screen you’ll find a smooth panel with soft-touch buttons (with haptic feedback) to control the dual-zone, automatic climate control system.

The 10-speaker BOSE sound system feeds off AM, FM, satellite, CD, auxiliary, USB and Bluetooth sources and sounds spectacular.

In terms of driver tech, there is some cool kit here. The HUD (Head-Up Display) is sharp and easy to read. There’s also a front collision and a lane departure warning system. In terms of getting your attention, Cadillac has a new trick up its sleeve with Safety Alert seat pulses. About to back into something? It’ll buzz your seat. Drifting out of your lane? You get buzzed – on the appropriate side. Sounds bizarre, and it is at first, but I liked this once I got used to it.

The ATS never advertises that it’s a big car and the rear seats will bear that out. You’ll find three seats, three seatbelts and two headrests back there. The outboard seats are very comfortable, but the middle one is laughable and straddles a massive driveshaft tunnel. There isn’t a lot of legroom, though I was able to fit comfortably. Likewise, headroom is at a premium, but was fine for my height.

There are two sets of LATCH anchors for kids’ seats if you need them. This is one of very few vehicles where we couldn’t get all three of our kids in comfortably. They felt squished width-wise, but it would be great for two kids.

I found a cool surprise when I touched the small, metallic V at the bottom edge of the center stack. The whole panel silently swings up, revealing a hidden compartment containing a USB plug. I love stuff like this!

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium. Click image to enlarge

The trunk is reasonable at 290 L and it is nicely finished. Everything is carpeted and the trunklid arms are shrouded, keeping everything clean.

All in all, I can say I loved the ATS. It offers luxury, excellent in-car tech and appears to be built well. The car is tight, poised, controlled and balanced. It doesn’t lie when it sells itself as a sport sedan.

As a matter of fact, that sport factor will be a bit more than some want, and that ride might be a bit too firm for some. But if you’re shopping for a competent sport sedan, regardless of what you consider to be the benchmark, you’d be missing out if you didn’t include the Cadillac ATS on your shopping list.

I can’t imagine anyone taking an ATS out for a spin and not agreeing that it is a great driver’s car.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was crazy high. In her words, “there isn’t anything I don’t like” – right before she pointed out something she didn’t like. She doesn’t like the low seating position. That was it. I wondered if she’d complain about the firmness of the ride, but she never did.

The ATS has brought some serious game to the table. It’s competitive, to be sure. I love that it’s available in a number of configurations, including engine choices, manual and automatic transmissions, and rear- and all-wheel drive. You can make this car into what you want. And what you need. Unless you need a large car.

Does the ATS beat the competition? Right now, I’d put it on par. Putting anything on par with a benchmark is saying something. It’s saying it’s good. And the ATS isn’t just good. It’s awesome.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD Premium. Click image to enlarge

You can bet your boots that Cadillac isn’t going to rest now. The ATS is fantastic and will only get better.

Way to bring it for your first shot at this category, Caddy. Keep ‘em coming!

Pricing: 2013 Cadillac ATS
Base price (2.0L Turbo AWD Premium): $50,950
Options: $1,395 Power Sunroof; $1,295 White Diamond Tricoat
Freight: $1,595
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $55,335

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