If you can't remember any small Cadillac sedans of the past, consider yourself lucky, as neither the Opel Omega-based Catera or Chevy Cavalier-based Cimarron offer particularly fond memories. Fortunately, all that matters now is the fact that the 2013 Cadillac ATS stands as an impressive entry in a class full of overachieving sport sedans.
It's no secret that the Cadillac folks have aimed the rear-wheel-drive ATS squarely at the well-rounded BMW 3 Series, which has defined the segment for years. The ATS's exterior dimensions essentially mirror those of the 3 Series, and the ATS offers fine build quality, feisty performance and an involving drive along with a supple ride, just like the benchmark Bimmer. Cadillac's newest model also offers a logical electronic interface with which to work all the handy interior convenience gizmos, which is a crucial component in this segment of luxury cars.
The Cadillac ATS stacks up well against its rival. On the road, it delivers excellent steering feel and an agile, well-balanced ride. Contributing to the sharp dynamics is the fact that this Caddy is the lightest car in its class (by 70-150 pounds, depending on trim). Further adding to the ATS's athleticism is its ideal 50/50 weight distribution between the front and rear wheels.
With a trio of engine choices available, the ATS's performance ranges from tepid to thrilling. The base 2.5-liter four serves as the price and fuel economy leader, although its 202-horsepower output lags behind the base engines found in the competition. Meanwhile, the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 packs a solid midrange punch and is the only choice in the ATS range that can be had with a manual gearbox. With 321 hp, the energetic V6 offers a sweet soundtrack and is well-matched to a very responsive automatic transmission.
There are a few minor issues with the ATS. Enthusiasts may wish for a manual gearbox with the top engine, while the rear seats and trunk are less roomy than what some rivals offer. Of course, this segment isn't exactly bereft of talent, either. The 2013 BMW 3 Series still takes top honors by virtue of its superior base powertrain and slightly even more engaging driving dynamics, but it's also typically more expensive. We're also quite fond of the similarly well-rounded Audi A4, the refined Mercedes-Benz C-Class and value-packed -- if not as polished -- Infiniti G sedan. But overall, the 2013 Cadillac ATS is a very strong contender in the very, very competitive segment of compact sport sedans.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Cadillac ATS is a five-passenger, luxury-oriented sport sedan that is offered in four trim levels: base, Luxury, Performance and Premium.
Standard features on the base trim include 17-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, automatic headlights, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, six-way power front seats with power lumbar, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, OnStar, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a seven-speaker Bose sound system with satellite radio, an iPod/USB interface and an auxiliary audio jack.
The Luxury trim adds run-flat tires, keyless entry/ignition, remote engine start, eight-way power front seats, front and rear park assist, a rearview camera, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather seating, driver memory functions, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat (with pass-through), HD radio, Bluetooth audio streaming and the CUE infotainment interface.
The Performance trim (not available with 2.5-liter engine) further adds dual exhaust outlets, a Driver Awareness package (forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, automatic wipers and rear seat side airbags), an active aero grille, xenon headlights, an upgraded 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system (with a CD player), front sport seats (with driver-side bolster adjustment) and a fixed rear seat with pass-through.
Stepping up to the Premium trim (not available with 2.5-liter engine) adds 18-inch wheels, a navigation system, a color head-up display and the 60/40 split-folding rear seat. An ATS Premium with rear-wheel drive also comes with summer tires, a sport-tuned suspension, adaptive suspension dampers and a limited-slip rear differential.
Many of the features that are standard for the upper trim levels are available as options on the lower trims. A few other optional packages are also available. The Driver Assistance package includes the features from the Awareness package and adds adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, collision preparation with brake assist, and the color head-up display. The Cold Weather package includes heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. The Track Performance package adds an engine oil cooler and upgraded brake pads. Other options include different wheels, a sunroof and a trunk cargo organizer.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2.5 models come with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 202 hp and 190 pound-feet of torque. The 2.0 Turbo models come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 272 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The 3.6 models come with a 3.6-liter V6 that cranks out 321 hp and 274 lb-ft of torque.
All ATS engines come matched to a six-speed automatic transmission except the 2.0 Turbo, which can also be had with a six-speed manual. Rear-wheel drive is standard across the board, with all-wheel drive optional for the 2.0- and 3.6-liter engines.
In Edmunds testing, a rear-drive ATS 2.0T with the manual went from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. A rear-drive ATS 3.6 Premium with an automatic accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. Both times are average among similarly powered entry-level sport sedans.
EPA-estimated fuel economy for the ATS 2.5 stands at 22 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined. The V6 is estimated to achieve 19/28/26 with rear-wheel drive and Cadillac claims the 2.0-liter Turbo will get the same with an automatic transmission. With all-wheel drive, the ATS V6 drops to 18/26/21.
Standard safety features for the 2013 Cadillac ATS include antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, active front head restraints, front-seat side and knee airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Also standard is OnStar, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking, stolen vehicle assistance and turn-by-turn navigation. Optional are the aforementioned Driver Awareness and Driver Assistance packages.
In Edmunds brake testing, an ATS 3.6 Premium came to a stop from 60 mph in an impressively short 108 feet. A 2.0T stopped in an average distance of 113 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
Inside its cabin, the 2013 Cadillac ATS boasts a variety of high-quality materials, including tasteful wood and metallic accents. The available CUE infotainment interface features large icons and operates like an iPhone or iPad, which is to say you operate it by tapping, flicking, swiping or spreading your fingers -- making it familiar for many users. Furthermore, "Haptic" feedback lets you know when you've pressed a virtual button by pulsing when you touch it.
Up front, the seats do a nice job of holding one in place during spirited drives, and it's fairly easy to find a comfortable driving position. Oddly, the optional sport seats don't provide much more in the way of lateral support for the driver, despite their power-adjustable bolsters.
Rear-seat headroom is good, but knee room is tight for taller folks. Despite a wide opening, the ATS's trunk offers just 10.2 cubic feet of capacity ? downright stingy for this segment. Fortunately, some trims feature a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, which helps in this regard.
The 2013 Cadillac ATS is an impressive all-around performer, thanks to a poised ride, sure-footed cornering capability and excellent response from the steering and brakes. The 2.5-liter engine is smooth, but it delivers tepid acceleration compared to other entry-level powertrains, notably that of the BMW 328i. Opt for one of the other ATS engines, however, and you'll have no complaint, as they provide thrust more in keeping with this Cadillac's athletic personality. Although enthusiasts may lament the lack of a manual transmission for the V6, the six-speed automatic is hard to fault. Switched to Sport mode, this automatic knows just when to hold a gear and provides smooth, rev-matched downshifts right on time, every time.
Even with its sporting calibration, the Cadillac ATS takes neglected city streets in stride, absorbing the shock of potholes and broken pavement without upsetting the car or its occupants. As a result, the compact Cadillac makes for a fine daily driver that can also provide plenty of entertainment on a Sunday morning drive.
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