The Cadillac ATS has won as many awards as Adele has Grammys—if not more. Perhaps the most notable among those awards is the 2013 North American International Car of the Year. So if nothing else, the ATS has considerable street cred, literally and figuratively.
Car and Driver wrote: “We think the ATS looks terrific inside and out and makes a decent visual statement, even in a segment full of attractive cars. It delivers the solid structure and confidence-inspiring moves that are expected in this cohort.”
Motor Trend has it: “The Cadillac ATS is shockingly good.”
Automobile opined: “The ATS is a solid effort that at last puts a Cadillac on par with the German competitors it has fixated on for so long.”
USA Today put it: “ATS is a delight.”
And we could go on from there about the sport sedan manufactured in Lansing, Michigan, that made its chops some 4,000 miles east at the Nürburgring.
They like it, they really like it.
And it is a good car. Is it as good as an Audi A4, a BMW 328 or a Mercedes C350? That, I suspect, only time will tell. I’m not suggesting that the all-new car (i.e., it is a new rear-drive platform, not something predicated on something that General Motors has had on the road) has teething problems, but it just seems that it is a little premature to declare not merely parity but even possibly victory for the vehicle.
The compact has a fresh interpretation of the Art & Science look that Cadillac has settled on, albeit in a manner that is somewhat more restrained than the original CTS, which some may remember as looking like a concept car in The Matrix Reloaded, even though it was the production design. The ATS has a long hood and a short decklid; it is probably a good thing that they’ve used aluminum for that hood because otherwise it would have added to the mass, and if there is one thing about the ATS is that it is light. As Driven (with the base 2.5-liter engine and six-speed Hydra-matic transmission), the curb weight is 3,315 lb. Which is useful vis-à-vis not only fuel efficiency (less mass to move), but also handling (a more lithe car is easier to go in the direction you intent with greater alacrity than, say, an ocean liner). Also adding to the handling are Cadillac’s first five-link independent rear suspension (it uses lightweight, high-strength steel and efficient straight link designs) and a multi-link double-pivot, MacPherson-strut front suspension setup with a direct-acting stabilizer bar. And there is a ZF steering system, and Brembo brakes
However, some people might be unnerved thinking, “They keep talking about how light it is—about things like magnesium engine mount brackets—I want something that’s more substantial around me.” Don’t worry. The car is nicely balanced (50:50, Cadillac says), so there’s no sense that you’re going to go careening where you don’t want to be prior to being crumbled like an aluminum can. The track is a bit wider in the rear than in the front (60.9 in. vs. 59.5 in.), which is good for a rear-drive car. And should something untoward occur, there are eight standard airbags.
Inside, the car is comfortable if you’re sitting in the front seats. Like all compacts, numbers notwithstanding, you’re not going to want to sit in the back.
One of the things that Cadillac is flogging a bit too hard is its CUE, “Cadillac User Experience,” system, which was in the ATS (with navigation, a $1,295 option). It’s almost as though the idea is that in order to be in the Audi/BWM/Mercedes club it is necessary to have an über-complicated means by which you do things like change the stations on the radio.
One of the things that separates humans from our ancestors is the opposable thumb. This means that we have the facility to turn dials. Just because Steve Jobs and company determined that swiping the face of an iPhone would be a great way to navigate, it is a phone or a tablet, not an eight-inch LCD multi-touch sensitive screen embedded in an instrument panel of a 3,315-lb. car that is often moving at more than 0 mph. Sure, it is very clever to have capacitive sensing, but really, this is a car made of steel and aluminum and magnesium, not pixels. A tech aesthetic would have been achieved more appropriately (remember: they’re proud of the tuning at the Nürburgring) through the use of some real-metal knobs with knurled outer diameters.*
The ATS is a good car. Car of the Year? Not in my book. There’s another Cadillac that I think should have gotten that plaudit. Which we’ll get to in the days ahead.
Engine: 2.5-liter V6
Material: Cast aluminum block and heads
Horsepower: 202 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 191 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 109.3 in.
Length: 182.8 in.
Width: 71.1 in.
Height: 55.9 in.
Curb weight: 3,315 lb.
Base MSRP : $37,590 (destination: $895)
EPA: 22/33/26 city/highway/combined mpg
*Dan Neil, in his Wall Street Journal review of the Lexus RX 350 F Sport, after excoriating the knob-like device that it uses to make selections for things like HVAC and navigation on its screen, writes of the cleverness of things like CUE and a one-step-beyond system offered by Lincoln, which leads him to conclude:
“The effect of all these panels is to contemporize the cockpit layout in a way that adds a lot more function while subtracting many more switches and buttons. Given these systems' clarity, functionality and modernity—the way the human interface crosses over from other digital devices—I think it will be hard to go back.
“So there it is. Based on my experience with the RX 350 F Sport, I declare the rotary controller obsolete. Capacitive switchgear will kill the dial controller, probably within one product generation or two.
“And yet, the handwriting is on the wall for capacitive switchgear, too. Soon gesture-recognition systems, which will read the occupants' hand gestures in the empty air, will supersede touch screens and capacitive switches, avoiding, among other things, greasy fingerprints on the controls. The geography of fixed switches will disappear altogether.”
Again, let’s think about the fact that we are talking about making adjustments in a moving vehicle. Making Mandrake the Magician-type sweeping gestures while driving in order to crank up the radio or to turn down the air conditioner is not exactly the most driving-friendly thing to do when, well, driving. Why is texting something not smart to do in vehicles? Because you have to look at the screen when inputting the text on your device. Why is a “rotary controller” or knob not obsolete: Because it is something you can adjust without taking your eyes off the road.