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Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

2013 Cadillac ATS Photo Gallery

2013 Cadillac ATS Test Drive

Atlanta, GA – At the international launch of the ATS, Cadillac’s all-new compact luxury sports sedan, there was a distinct departure from the usual tone of these events.

Normally, if direct competitors are mentioned at all, it’s usually in muffled tones and the power point picture has come and gone before you know it.
Not so this time. The German entrants were frequently cited at this Cadillac launch, with the benchmark BMW 3 Series named as the prime target. Indeed, the ATS was conceived and built essentially from scratch to go grille-to-grille with this Bavarian icon—a car that has dominated the segment in terms of critical acclaim and driver dynamics for decades.

First Drive: 2013 Cadillac ATS reviews luxury cars first drives cadillac
2013 Cadillac ATS. Click image to enlarge

Tough gig. The BMW 3 Series has had many worthy challengers, but none has managed to fully capture its essence.

Caddy certainly has its mechanical bits in order. The ATS rides on an all-new rear-drive platform (codename: Alpha) that incorporates aluminum, high-strength steel, and magnesium to keep weight in check and yes, it handily undercuts most rivals.

The front-engine, rear-drive ATS in its various configurations gets very close to the ideal 50/50 front to rear weight distribution. To help in this regard, the front cradle is all aluminum while the rear subframe is pressed steel. Additionally, the differential housing is cast iron instead of aluminum.

There are MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear suspension, just like in a certain car from Bavaria. The third generation of GM’s magnetic ride control is available.

Cadillac is covering all the bases when it comes to configurations. There are four trim levels (Base, Luxury, Performance, Premium), three engines (2.5L four, 2.0L turbo four. 3.6L V6), two transmissions (six-speed auto and six-speed manual), available all-wheel-drive and a track-focused performance package. An ATS for every taste is a clever strategy—this is the fastest growing luxury car segment.

First Drive: 2013 Cadillac ATS reviews luxury cars first drives cadillac
2013 Cadillac ATS. Click image to enlarge

The 2013 Cadillac ATS arrives in Canada late summer, starting with the $35,195 base model that is powered by a direct-injection 2.5L inline-four generating 202 hp and 191 lb-ft of torque. This is the most fuel-efficient model, with a highway rating of 6.0 L/100 km. It’s a serviceable engine for those who don’t feel the need for speed, but frankly seems here only for price-point bragging rights.

Apart from the single exhaust tip, you’d be hard pressed to tell this base car from a fully equipped Premium V6, so at least the neighbours won’t know you cheaped out.

The first ATS I drove was a 2.0L Turbo (starts at $36,985) with six-speed auto and fitted with the standard non-adaptive suspension. This all-new engine makes its debut here in the ATS. It kicks out 272 hp and 260 lb-ft from 1700–5500 rpm. A comparable BMW would be the 240-hp four-cylinder turbo 328i at $43,600.

Having almost literally stepped off a plane after driving a couple of BMW 3s in Germany, my derriere was in tune for a reasonably accurate comparo (4,000 km and jet-lag notwithstanding).

So here are my initial findings. The chassis engineers should be knighted for arriving at such a brilliant ride/handling compromise. The car cut an accurate swath through the winding back roads of rural Georgia—it was always poised and always eager, yet never upset by bumps. Even over rough pavement, the ride was compliant—impacts big or small didn’t ruffle car or passengers.

Well, this is a Cadillac after all. I suspect the relatively modest 17-inch wheels helped in this matter too. I liked this ride better than with the Magnetic Ride Control setup.




About Peter

Peter Bleakney is a Toronto-based automotive journalist. He is also a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).