The 2012 Detroit Auto Show hosted the world premiere of the Cadillac ATS. The first compact Cadillac joins the midsize segment to take on BMW’s top-seller, the 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
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The Detroit-based brand desperately needed a successful entry luxury car in a segment with the highest sales. With the ATS, Cadillac steps back into the premium compact-sedan market for the first time in 20 years.
Cadillac ATS has so far enjoyed a good amount of positive press and even won the 2013 North American Car Of The Year Award, so with those in mind we decided to test one ourselves.
We got our hands on a White Diamond 2.0T model with the latest ZF electric power steering. Following the design lines of the CTS, the premium compact Cadillac showcases a bold, angular exterior design with the signature LED vertical lights and and sharp-looking front-grille. These twin vertical blades of light start in the lower fascia and extend through the edge of the headlights for a dramatic nighttime signature.
The bumper forms a sharp air dam near the sculpted corners which enhance its sporty look.
We especially liked the rear-end design. The pinched LED brake light bar doubles as a spoiler at high speed while the twin chrome exhaust finishers are fitted within a blacked-out diffuser. The vertical LED taillights are easily recognizable at night time.
Overall, the ATS is crisp and compact in appearance, with a confident and sporty road stance. Visually, the ATS is immediately recognizable as a Cadillac, but this time around, the brand aims to attract a younger demographic with this razor-edged design.
The interior of the car combines the old-school look and feel of the iconic brand with the the latest technology and gadgetry. The cabin looks and feels like a top-quality premium car and comes with a large variety of color combinations and trims. Soft materials cover almost every surface inside the car, and the stitching on the seats and dash accents hint to luxury.
As many of the cars in this premium segment, the ATS offers great sport seats with substantial thigh support and good side bolstering as well as an underseat tray. Twelve adjustable ways are available to the driver and ten for the passenger. In the back, the legroom is what you would expect from a car of this size, great for people under 6 feet tall, and a bit tight for those over. The new 3 Series makes no exception. Interesting is the fact that Cadillac offers smaller bolsters for seats in the back as well.
While the thick steering wheel goes to our heart, the abundance of buttons and controls on it make the overall experience a bit cumbersome. It takes some time to get used to it, but some drivers may prefer to have most of the car functions at their fingers.
Back to the center console. Here we have an 8″ CUE screen that has been one of Cadillac’s shortcomings for quite some time. The latest iteration of CUE has fixed some of the previous issues, especially around the responsiveness of the entertainment system. While the idea of a touchscreen-based infotainment sounds cool in theory, in practice the truth is that it is hard to use on the road and impossible to use accurately on bumpy roads. The CUE does provide a button-free user experience with drag-and-drop functionality, so again this might appeal to the right demographic.
Voice recognition certainly helps here and in our test the Siri-like function worked well.
The Driving Experience.
With its engine lineup, the ATS covers all its bases. Three powertrains are offered: a 202-horsepower, 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated four; a 272-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four; and a 321-hp, 3.6-liter naturally-aspirated V6. The 2.5 comes only with rear-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is optional on the 2.0T and 3.6. A six-speed automatic is mandatory on all except the 2.0T RWD, which can be optioned with a six-speed manual.
Our tester came with the 2.0 liter turbo which produces 272 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. In comparison, the 2013 BMW 328i is also powered by a 2.0 liter four-cylinder turbocharged unit outputting 240 horsepower and 255 lb-ft of torque.
According to Cadillac, and not tested by us in this test drive, the 2013 ATS runs 0-60 mph in 5.7 seconds for the configuration we had.
The new engine doesn’t disappoint. The acceleration is smooth and the power flows easily from the 2.0 liter four-cylinder unit. Flooring the pedal and the engine quickly pulls ahead the 3373 lbs vehicle. Even though coming from driving mostly BMWs, we got to appreciate the steering feel, and road-holding abilities, a surprise for us from a Cadillac without the V-badge on it. When compared to the BMW, it’s just a bit lighter though.
If you want to get more involved with your ATS, a ix-speed manual is available only with the 2.0t.
The Cadillac ATS rides on a stiff performance oriented chassis, thanks to GM-developed magnetic ride control suspension. The sport-biased independent suspension sacrifices little where comfort is concerned. Strong braking brings the car to a full stop pretty quick.
What the 2.0t model lacks though is a real sporty exhaust.
We haven’t tracked the car yet, but our journalist friends from other magazines swear by its track capabilities, even on Nurburgring. It remains to be seen after we will spend some time on track back-to-back with their V6 model and BMW’s 335i.
Our test drive returned a combined 22 mph fuel economy. The BMW 328i tends to do a bit better, 25 mpg in our previous tests.
Should I Buy One?
The 2014 Cadillac ATS 2.0 starts at $36,020, about $1,300 cheaper than the 2014 BMW 328i. With similar price points, the two cars are clearly going for the same customer so the choice will narrow down to your test driving experience. Without a doubt Cadillac wants to change its image, attract younger buyers, and become a brand associated more with professional success than growing older, so we expect their second iteration ATS to evolve even more.
Cadillac has successfully created an excellent competitor in the compact luxury segment and the best way to understand the Cadillac ATS is to experience it for oneself.
[Photos: Johan Lee Photography