A 3-series/S4 killer from America?!Baffled. It's the one word my colleague used to describe the look on my face minutes after I picked up the all-new Cadillac ATS.
Baffled. It’s the one word my colleague used to describe the look on my face minutes after I picked up the all-new 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6. The XTS was a pleasant surprise to drive, but in all honesty, this thing is just another level of great. Having the uniqueness of being the first vehicle on the all-new Alpha platform by GM, I wasn’t all that excited to drive the car. Sure, my fellow auto writers have been raving about it for some time now, but in all honesty, nothing from General Motors lately has tickled my fancy. Evidently, I was dead wrong. The entry-level luxo-sport sedan segment is one of my favourites. Till now, with players like the BMW 335i, the Audi S4, the Mercedes C350, and even the slightly obsolete Lexus IS350, there hadn’t really been a “bad” choice in the segment. I’m personally a sucker for the Audi S4, loving its simplicity and all-around awesomeness.
Cadillac decided to put me in the top-of-the-line ATS 3.6 Premium with the AWD and 6-speed automatic. I’ve driven a couple other vehicles with the same 3.6L, most recently the Cadillac XTS, and came out slightly underwhelmed. Obviously the fact that the XTS weighs nearly as much as the White House played a role in that. The only way to describe the power delivery of the ATS is that the car flies down the road. The exhaust note sounds great, power delivery is smooth, throttle response is potentially the sharpest I’ve felt in a GM product, and the powertrain of the car just overall oozes confidence. I’ll even go as far as to say that the driving dynamics are 90% at the level of the current Audi S4. Coming from the mouth of somebody who absolutely adores the S4, that is not a statement to be taken lightly.
There is a lot of buzz in the world of automotive media around the fact that the ATS is available with GM’s 2.0L turbocharged engine and a 6-speed manual. A true purist at heart, I recall nearly jumping out of my seat when I first heard that news. After having driven this 3.6L though, my only complaint is the price point, but more on that a little later. The drivetrain has 3 selectable modes: Tour, Sport, and Snow/Ice. Naturally, I did the majority of my driving throughout my test period in Sport mode, and boy, does this thing deliver. I had it in manual-shift mode 99% of the time and I can safely say that these are the most convenient paddle shifters currently available on a mainstream car. They’re large, they don’t feel flimsy, and the 6-speed transmission does a superb job of shifting exactly when you want it to. Downshifts sound incredible, too. The downside to all of this is that I averaged a nice 12.4L/100km in “spirited” driving. Unlike anything else it competes with, the ATS does take regular grade fuel.
$58,465. Yes, you heard me. Fully loaded, that’s what this ATS will run you back. Optioned with the S-tronic double-clutch gearbox and the sport differential, a 2013 Audi S4 will set you back just about $56,000. That car probably ties the ATS in the aesthetics department, but in terms of the transmission and overall feel of the Audi, it’s no competition. I don’t think there’s any way I’d spend the extra money on the ATS if the S4 can be had for less. Also, the best part of the S4 is the lack of the ATS’ CUE (Cadillac User Experience) multimedia interface.
I love technology, and I love the integration of this technology into the automotive industry, but there are certain multimedia setups that I just don’t like. MyFordTouch is one of them. Having said that, I’d actually hand over bundles of cash just to ensure that a vehicle I buy eliminates the CUE system altogether. While the selectable menus and displays in the instrument cluster are great, the huge touch-screen in the dashboard and the “buttons” below it are absolutely atrocious. It’s glitchy, it’s slow, the haptic feedback is sluggish to a point of unbearable, and I just want it to go away. I typically listen to my trusty 160GB iPod Classic, and give the occasional glance to satellite radio. With CUE, even these simple tasks are made difficult. In fact, if I was previously listening to a track buried deep into the playlists of my iPod, turn off the car, then upon my return, remote-start it, my song memory disappears. I have to find the song again by scrolling through thousands of albums. Ridiculous.
All negativity towards CUE aside, my ATS did come beautifully equipped. The seats were finished in a lovely Caramel colour, and the car comes with pretty much everything you can think of. Heated front seats, the GM heads-up display which I so dearly love, HID headlamps, lane departure warnings, collision warnings, and a factory remote starter. Sunroof and the other typical stuff is naturally standard. The neatest thing that seemed to impress everyone that came across the car over the holidays was the fact that the exterior door handles on the ATS are lit up by a neat LED strip. Very classy. Arguably tacky on the black XTS I recently drove, the lights just work much better on the White Diamond Tricoat ATS. Another cool feature also present on my ATS is the OnStar-branded app available for my iPhone 5. This app allows me to start, unlock, lock, or panic the car from anywhere in the world provided I’m in cell phone range. It also displays how much gas is in the ATS at any point in time, along with oil life and the odometer reading. Neat, but to my dismay, I discovered that this app is less than reliable, as it refused to work on numerous occasions.
I’ve long been known to be a troll towards German machines. Naturally, being given the privilege of driving nearly everything under the sun creates a certain level of objectivity in my eyes, but I had yet to be truly impressed by a product by GM. This car seems to have done it. I’ve been driving the ATS for a week, and I still can’t stop raving about it to every single person I come across. It’s at a point where I either need to buy one, or shut up. Frankly, if Cadillac steps up their game and gets rid of CUE, I just might do the former. It really and truly is that good.