BOWMANVILLE, ONTARIO – “We’re going right after the 3-Series,” was the opening salvo from Kevin W. Williams, President and Managing Director of GM Canada Limited on the all-new 2013 Cadillac ATS at the recent press event in Toronto.
It seems to me that I have heard this before….oh yeah, about the CTS years ago.
To take on such a formidable foe as the 3-Series, Cadillac had to come up with something special, something new, and something that was engineered to win.
The 2013 Cadillac ATS gets off on the right foot. It is an all-new, lightweight, rear-wheel-drive architecture with one of the lowest curb weights in the segment –1,504 kilograms (3,315 lbs). That is a good start as more and more manufacturers realize the benefits of a lighter weight vehicle. The ATS also features a good line up of engines. There is a good choice of engines, from a standard 2.5L inline four, a 2.0T turbo inline four and a 3.6L V6. Only the 2.0T is available with a manual transmission.
Visually, the ATS follows what now seem to be traditional Cadillac lines – straight. There is no such thing as a ‘french curve’ in the desk of the exterior design team at Cadillac. It’s one of those designs that you either like or hate, but I think the new ATS design is striking, and reflects where Cadillac is heading.
Let’s face it, if you are going to take on the likes of what is widely perceived as the best luxury compact sedan on the planet, you are going to need to work a little overtime to put in the engineering effort required to even get on a level playing field.
As I mentioned earlier, the low weight is a good start. Then you add to that a 50/50 weight balance, Cadillac’s first five-link independent rear suspension using lightweight, high strength steel and efficient straight link design, along with a multi-link double pivot MacPherson front strut design up front an you have a good base to build on.
The optional FE3 sport suspension with Magnetic Ride Control with real time damping complete the package and there is four channel ABS with Brembo Performance brakes (up front). There are also AWD versions.
After being tested and developed partially at the famed Nurburgring, it was our turn to try it at the Canadian version of the ‘world’s toughest track’, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park (CTMP).
CTMP owner and Canadian racing legend, Ron Fellows was on hand to give us some tips about circulating this high speed proving ground.
Now, I will hand it to Cadillac for the way this evaluation was run. We were free to roam CTMP with no restrictions, Williams asked that we push the ATS as hard as we like…and I did.
You see, while I don’t expect the ATS to be the vehicle of choice for pounding around a racetrack, it will serve as a great platform to really experience what Cadillac has done with the ATS. Have they made it a challenger or a pretender to the 3-series?
First up was the 2.0T with a manual. Straight away I could tell the balance you look for in high speed cornering was there. A slick spot at the bottom of turn 2 unsettled the ATS, but immediately it jumped back in line – impressive.
The balance under braking and turn in is very good, and the steering is very precise. I could put the ATS where I wanted on the track. The 2.0T laboured a bit up the long Andretti back straight, but still hit a very respectable top speed (my best was 120 mph – US car).
I then tried the V6, and to my surprise, Cadillac had made the necessary adjustments to the suspension to accommodate the heavier mount up front. The increased power of the V6 I think is the way to go, it was much more of a pure sport sedan. Now, some of you may not like the idea of a flappy paddle automatic gearbox, but like a Porsche 911 I drove there earlier this year, the ATS transmission was able to determine what I was doing, and was able to keep me in the right gear for the upcoming turns.
So, my vote has to be that Cadillac has done their homework with the new ATS. They have built a very good, rear drive sport luxury sedan.
The ATS also features all the luxury you would expect from Cadillac on the inside of the car. But here is my problem with it. I think that while the materials – including real leather and wood - and workmanship are first class, for some reason the packaging still feels a little cheapish. Maybe it’s because it’s very hard to the touch in spots.
That aside, the ATS interior design is very nice with easy to use controls. The seats are great, and really Cadillac has built a contender to the crown.
But, building it is one thing, getting people to buy it is a whole different problem. You see, from my observations here is what I think is the problem. BMW buyers want a BMW, plain and simple. The ATS could be a better car for them, but simply put, it’s not a BMW.
Sometimes it’s not about the vehicles, but about the brand, and the brand image.
Cadillac has built a serious luxury sport sedan challenger, the only question remains is how many will give it a chance to prove itself.
2013 Cadillac ATS
Trim levels available: Standard, luxury, performance and premium
Models: 4 door luxury sport sedan
MSRP range: $35,195 (standard, 2.5L two wheel drive) - $50,725 (V6 Premium AWD)
Notable options: All Wheel drive, Magnetic ride control
Configuration: front engine/ front wheel drive (AWD option)
Available engines: 2.5L inline 4 (202hp), 2.0Turbo(272hp), 3.6 V6 (321hp)
Available transmissions: 6-spd automatic (manual option on 2.0T)
Fuel economy ratings: 2.5L(7.8L/100km) Comb 2.0T & 3.6 TBD
Warranties: 4 years/ 80,000 km (basic); 6 years/ 110,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: BMW 3-series, Audi A4
Strengths: the right size, lightweight, well balanced, great packaging options
Weaknesses: no manual in V6