What is it?
This is the Cadillac ATS, the brand’s first foray into the entry-level compact sedan segment since the truly horrid Cadillac Cimarron of the early 1980s. Cadillac is working up a wide range of new offerings — including an all-new flagship based on the delicious Ciel concept — but this down-market saloon is the product likely to provide the foundation for any Cadillac comeback.
Cadillac still sees itself as the “standard of the world,” though that really hasn’t described Cadillac since the days of its finned land yachts. But after years watching its European – primarily German – competitors redefine the luxury segment Caddy is finally determined to challenge the status quo. Could this be the car to do just that?
What is it like?
The new ATS isn’t a badge-engineered Chevrolet but a handsome, surprisingly competent saloon largely achieving everything it set out to do. Its biggest flaw is the image of the Cadillac brand itself.
The look of the ATS will be familiar to anyone who has followed Cadillac since the CTS introduced us to the Art & Science design language a decade ago. Though 8.5 inches shorter than that car, the compact model maintains the basic angular look, albeit a little less edgy and slab-sided than its bigger brother.
Perhaps the most notable detail is the fact that the ATS weighs in at just 1503kg for the base 2.5-litre car. That's substantially less than the CTS and nearly 68kg under the BMW 328i, despite being within one inch of the Bavarian sedan’s dimensions in every direction.
'Lightweighting' was a key goal for the ATS engineering team and a key reason they got their own new platform, internally known as Alpha. The good news is that by using advanced adhesives and welding techniques instead of shoring the chassis up with brackets, the ATS is both light and rigid – which became abundantly clear during a long afternoon at the Atlanta Motorsports Park.
Inside, the new saloon is far more refined than might be expected in this segment. Traditional luxury details, such as chrome and carbonfiber accents, are complemented by a range of hi-tech features including the new Cadillac Cue system, arguably the most user-friendly infotainment system on the market.
In US trim there are three powertrains. The base, 202bhp 2.5-litre is an acceptable driveline but expect to see most buyers flock to the sportier 2.0-litre turbo, which punches out 272bhp and 260lb ft. The turbo is the only engine offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, and then only in rear-drive configuration. That’s disappointing as the high-line 3.6-litre V-6 pulls another three-tenths off its 0-60 times, at 5.4 seconds. At least there’s a manual mode with optional paddle shifters.
On the road, the Cadillac ATS proved well planted and responsive. Its electric power steering delivered a solid sense of the road with just the right level of assistance. It can be dialled down even more in Sport Mode, which also tightens the suspension and modified shift patterns.
The tight handling and minimal body roll encouraged us to shave tenths and even full seconds off our lap times with each run. Clearly, all that focus on cutting weight and increasing body rigidity has paid off.
Should I buy one?
The question is whether potential buyers will even notice that the ATS is there. It’s been a long time since Cadillac played in this segment and its history in it hasn’t exactly been good. It’s likely to take some time to build up a portfolio of positive reviews and good word-of-mouth before Cadillac can land on prospects’ shopping list. But we were impressed, and think potential customers will be, too.
Paul A. Eisenstein
Cadillac ATS (2013)
Price: $37,590 (£24,250); 0-60mph: 5.7 seconds; Top speed: NA; Economy: 33mpg (combined); CO2: NA; Kerbweight: 1530kg; Engine type: 2.0-litre turbocharged; Installation: rear-wheel-drive; Power: 272bhp; Torque: 260lb ft; Gearbox: 6-speed automatic