Test Drive: New Cadillac ATS battles imports for market share

Test Drive: New Cadillac ATS battles imports for market share

November 10th, 2012 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

Our 2013 Cadillac ATS test car is shown in Radiant Silver Metallic paint. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

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FAST FACTS

* Model: 2013 Cadillac ATS.

* Exterior color: Radiant Silver Metallic.

* Interior color: Jet Black.

* Engine: 3.6-liter V-6.

* Horsepower: 321.

* Transmission: six-speed automatic.

* Fuel economy: 28 mpg highway, 22 mpg city.

* Dealer: Integrity Automotive Group.

* Price (as tested): $44,683.

Sometimes ad campaigns for new cars are subtle, other times not so much.

The television ads for the new Cadillac ATS sedan are called "Cadillac ATS vs. The World" and feature breathtaking shots of the luxury car carving up roads in Morocco, Monaco, China and Chile. One particularly cinematic spot shows the ATS threading the needle in the Guoliang Tunnels in China.

The message is crystal clear: Lookout world (in general) and BMW (in particular).

We took a spin in a new ATS from Integrity Automotive Group earlier this week, where new sales manager Bryan House recounted the story of a BMW 3-series owner who had stopped by the night before to test out the new Caddy.

To succeed, ATS must attract a share of the market for performance-oriented compact luxury cars. And frankly, that means benchmarking the king of the hill, the BMW 3-series.

STYLING AND OPTIONS

As if to remind you that you're driving a Caddy, ATS designers made liberal use of the Cadillac shield-and-crest emblem, which appears on the steering wheel, each of the four 17-inch alloy wheels and on a pie-plate-sized grille badge. This is a good thing, because, driving the ATS, you could easily imagine yourself inside a BMW 335i or and Audi A4.

The ATS, with its superb 50-50 weight distribution, 321-horsepower V-6 engine, rear-wheel-drive setup and electric steering, is a true driver's car.

Still, those who want a little luxury won't be disappointed. The ATS maintains a family resemblance to existing Cadillac sedans. The hood has the crisply tailored creases we've come to love, and the grille is bold and handsome. Torch-shaped headlights sweep back from the facia.

Our ATS, outfitted in Luxury Collection trim, includes seven-spoke 17-inch wheels shod with Michelin all-season, run-flat tires. The rear of the car features Cadillac's trademark, chevron-shaped taillight bar.

Inside, the Jet Black interior has thoughtful design elements, such as hand-stitched leather seats and brushed-aluminum inlays etched with cool geometric patterns.

The dash is dominated by an 8-inch, full-color display screen that serves as the brain center for the Cadillac User Experience (CUE), which is part smart-phone, part tablet computer, according to Cadillac. Functions of the CUE unit include navigation, audio, climate control, hands-free telephone, weather, Onstar satellite emergency service and Pandora Internet radio.

My only nit to pick with the interior is a thin font on the dashboard gauges that washes out in direct sunlight.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

To compete against BMW and Audi, the ATS needs to be a highly refined luxury rocket ship. On my test drive over winding roads near Chickamauga Lake, the ATS was a blast to drive. Electronic steering provided crisp handling with plenty of feedback. When I unleashed the 321-horsepower V-6 engine, the ATS let out an affirming roar and barreled through curves just like it does on television. Yee-haw!

The leather-clad seats were firm and supportive, and the Brembo front brakes provide plenty of stopping power. A cold-weather package, a $1,295 option, adds heated seats and steering wheel.

The ATS is also available in two four-cylinder variants, one turbo-charged and one normally aspirated. Rumor has it that a turbo-charged six-cylinder ATS-V might be in the pipeline.

BOTTOM LINE

Our test car stickers for $44,683. According to government estimates, the six-cylinder ATS should get 28 miles per gallon highway and 22 miles per gallon city.

Time will tell if the ATS can duke it out with sports-sedan segment leaders.

But give GM credit for giving this baby Caddy enough athleticism and refinement to at least give it a fighting chance.