2013 Cadillac ATS

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Cadillac is not known for its small cars. Er, that is, not known favorably.ATS lead

The last one – the ’97-2001 Catera – rose to the mediocre. The ones before that – like the infamous Cimarron – must (like a “funny” Uncle) never be mentioned again.

But this latest small Cadillac – the 2013 ATS – is a comer. And, a goer. (Excepting the base model, which is afflicted with an engine unworthy of the rest of the car.)

For the first time – ever – there is an American alternative to a BMW 3 and all the rest of them.

A good alternative.


The ATS is Cadillac’s new entry-luxury sport sedan, slotting under the CTS.

Like the CTS, it’s based on a RWD layout – and offers AWD as an option. Unlike the CTS, the ATS comes only in sedan form – for the present, at least. (The CTS is sold as a sedan, coupe and wagon).ATS wheel

Also, since Cadillac has dropped availability of a manual transmission from the CTS’ options roster for 2013, the ATS is the only new Cadillac available with a manual transmission.

Prices start at $33,095 for the base trim with 2.5 liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission and RWD. For $34,900, you can upgrade underhood to a turbocharged 2.0 liter four – and a six-speed manual transmission.

Adding AWD to the mix pushes the MSRP to $36,900.

Top-of-the-line is a Premium trim with 3.6 liter V-6, six-speed automatic and AWD. It stickers for $47,795.

WHAT’S NEWThe 2013 Cadillac ATS compact luxury sedan features a driver-focused interior with thoughtfully crafted materials and the intuitively integrated CUE technology, a comprehensive in-vehicle experience that merges intuitive design with auto industry-first controls and commands for information and entertainment data. There are also seven interior color and trim combinations, complementing the dynamic exterior design elements and supporting the ATS’ fun-to-drive attitude.

The ATS is a new addition to Cadillac’s model lineup, targeting entry-level luxury-sport sedans from BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti – among others.

Though it is Cadillac’s smallest car the ATS – like the current BMW 3 – is almost mid-sized. Both cars bridge the gap between  true compacts like the Benz C-Class sedan – and truly  mid-sized models like the Cadillac CTS (and BMW 5).


No rebadged Chevy (or Opel) this time.

An American (the only American) alternative to a BMW, Benz , Lexus and  the rest of them.

Lots of engine – and transmission and drive – choices.

Very cutting edge technology, such as finger-swipe controls.

Mad Men attitude.mad ATS


Only one body choice. Competitors offer coupe – and wagon – options.

Base 2.5 engine is a underpowered – and overly thirsty.

Cutting edge controls don’t always operate seamlessly.

Manual transmission only offered with one engine – and not the engine that needs it most.


The base ATS engine is a 2.5 liter four rated 202 hp, teamed up with a six-speed manual. Next up is a performance-mined 2.0 liter turbo four boosted to 272 hp. This engine can be ordered with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. It is the only ATS engine that’s offered with a manual.

The third engine choice is a 3.6 liter, 321 hp V-6. It is automatically paired with the six-speed automatic.

All ATS engines, though, can be ordered with either RWD (standard) or (optionally) full-time AWD.

Including the 202 hp 2.5 liter engine.

In addition, there’s a Performance package that adds dual exhaust (but not with the 2.5 engine). Summer tires, a limited slip differential (RWD models), a Track package with oil cooler and upgraded brakes – as well as an adaptive, auto-adjusting suspension similar to Corvette’s may also be ordered.ATS stick

The ATS offers the widest range of drivetrain choices (and combinations) of any car in its class. For example, the 2013 BMW 3 sedan ($36,500- $49,300) only offers two engine choices – a turbo (240 hp) 2.0 four or a twin-turbo six (in two states of tune, 300 and 320 hp). The Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan ($35,350-$41,400) also has two engines – a 1.8 liter turbo four (201 hp) and a 3.5 liter V-6 (tuned to either 248 or 302 hp) and only one transmission with all of them (a seven speed automatic).

However, the ATS’ performance – even with its top two engines – is just par. Or even slightly below par. The top-of-the-line 3.6 liter model, for example, does 0-60 in about 5.7 seconds. This is quick, but not quite as quick as the Benz C350 (5.6 seconds) and much less quick than a BMW 335i (5.4 seconds) or 335is, which has a more powerful – 320 hp – version of the twin-turbo straight six. This version of the BMW 3 can get to 60 in a very speedy five seconds flat.

This disparity is noteworthy because the two cars’ engines put out virtually the same power (320 hp for the BMW is vs. 321 for the V-6 Caddy ATS). So why is the V-6 ATS about three quarters of a second less quick? The obvious guess would be – the BMW has to be lighter. In fact, it’s heavier than the ATS – and not just a little bit: 3,545 lbs. vs. 3,373 lbs. The Caddy is nearly 200 pounds lighter – and slightly more powerful – on paper – yet it’s noticeably less quick than the 335i.ATS 2.0

What gives?

It’s got to be gearing (maybe the Caddy has a less aggressive final drive ratio) or – much more likely – BMW is soft-pedaling the true output of its twin-turbo six. Because the math does not otherwise add up.

Nonetheless, the Caddy isn’t slow – well, so long as you order either the 2.0 turbo or the 3.6 V-6. If you order the base 2.5 engine, however, you’ll be looking at 7.2 seconds to 60. With RWD. If you order AWD (heavier) it’ll be slower still. Too slow, arguably, for a premium car – much less a premium car so otherwise sporty as the ATS.

The 2.5 engine is fuel efficient, though: 22 city, 33 highway. However, the more appropriately powerful 2.0 liter turbo four matches that exactly when it’s teamed up with the automatic transmission – and beats it (22 city, 34 highway) when ordered with the manual.ATS V-6

Another ouch – for the Cadillac: The turbo 2.0 BMW 3 ($36,500 to start) can zip to 60 in a respectably quick 5.9 seconds – only a blink of an eye less quick than the V-6 (and $41,195 to start) ATS.

The V-6 ATS is also fairly fuel-inefficient: 18 city, 26 highway with AWD. The 335i delivers 23 city and 33 highway – exceptional numbers – and even more exceptional given the other numbers mentioned already.

Luckily for Cadillac, the ATS is not the thirstiest – or the least quick – car in this class. That dubious honor goes to the Benz C250 sedan, which needs 7.4 long seconds to manage 60 MPH – and still only gives you 22 city, 31 highway. Its performance – and economy – is on par with a new Toyota Corolla’s.

Double ouch – for Mercedes-Benz.

Another item in defense of the 2.5 liter ATS engine is that it’s a regular unleaded engine. Most – if not all – the engines in competitor models (base as well as optional) require premium.

Over time, the extra 20 cents or so per gallon – regular vs. premium – will definitely add up.ats auto pic

My only critique is that this Caddy is such a sporty-minded car that such considerations probably don’t matter – or rather, not in the way Cadillac might have thought. The typical ATS prospect probably doesn’t care about saving 20 cents per gallon at fill-up time. But likely does care what happens (or doesn’t happen) when he floors the accelerator pedal.

On the other hand, none of the Cadillac’s engines have the super-annoying (and probably super-expensive to repair when it craps out) Auto-stop function that is now standard equipment in the BMW.

ON THE ROADats drive

Cadillac’s return to RWD layouts beginning in the late ’90s (when the Opel Omega-based Catera was launched, followed  shortly thereafter by the much better CTS) marked a turning point away from placid – and let’s face it, elder-oriented – boxy boats it had been making since the mid-late 1970s … and back toward the kind of Cadillacs it had been making before that. In the ’60s, especially – when Don Draper-mobiles like the ’67 Eldorado were the chariots of successful young up-and-comers, not rheumy-eyed over-the-hillers.

This ATS is a car like that – or at least, it is trying hard to be. And, for the most part, succeeding.

Though not quite as athletic (or agile) as a BMW 3, it’s very close. It accelerates almost as snappily. It corners nearly as adroitly.

And much more so – in all those ways – than the ploddy, stuffy (and yes, old-mannish) Benz C-class.

Imagine saying that about a … Cadillac!ATS rear

The 2.0 turbo engine/six-speed combo is – in my opinion – the one that fits the car’s nature best. It makes the ATS feel and drive most like a BMW 3 – and that is clearly Cadillac’s benchmark target. The big V-6, on the other hand, is a good companion and works well with the six-speed automatic. But – my opinion, freely admitted (and yours may differ) it also makes the ATS feel like a heavier, less on-its-toes car. It’s probably the go-to drivetrain for buyers who will be spending most of their driving time stuck in traffic – or doing long-hauls on the highway. But though it’s got thrust, it doesn’t sing like Caruso at (or near) redline like the magnificent BMW straight six turbo does. Especially the “is” version – which allows temporary overboost (and 370 lbs.-ft of torque vs. the Caddy 2.6 liter’s 274 lbs.-ft.) during those WOT moments we – like Don Draper – all crave and savor.

What’s really needed, 3.6-wise, is a manual transmission option. Or a better automatic transmission. There is nothing wrong with the Caddy’s six-speed automatic. However, the competition offers seven (and eight) speed automatics, as well as automated dual-clutch manuals – which confer an edge efficiency and performance-wise. Automatics need not be so… automatic. A sterling example is the Subaru BRZ I reviewed last week (see here). If the ATS had an automatic like that, there’d be less reason to lament the absence of a clutch.

It’s kind of odd when you think about it – given how aggressive Cadillac has become – that the CTS’ manual transmission has been dropped for 2013 – and that the ATS only offers a manual with one engine.

AT THE CURBats draper

When it comes to their aesthetics, the new Cadillacs conjure the best of the Don Draper era. It’s a very different look, but there’s the same unapologetic arrogance expressed in the severe angles and facets, the skyscraper stacked taillights, the toothsome, leering grillwork. This is not a shy man’s car. Or a shy woman’s car. Cadillac is to be credited for that. It’s no easy thing to make a car look macho – and sexy.

Both Don Draper – and Charlize Theron – would look right in this thing.

Dimensionally, the ATS is almost exactly the same size as the BMW 3 sedan: 182.8 inches long vs. 182.5 for the BMW, but rides on a slightly shorter wheelbase: 109.3 vs. 110.6 inches. This may explain why the otherwise same-size Caddy has noticeably less backseat legroom: 33.5 inches vs. 35.1 for the BMW. That’s a definite downside – for Cadillac. Though a big/tall person ( I use myself as the guinea pig; I’m 6ft 3 and 210 lbs.) and will fit in the back of the ATS, it’s not a comfortable fit.ats backseats

The Cadillac also suffers from not-much headspace – relative to others in this class. There is 38.6 inches of front seat headroom in the ATS – as opposed to 40.3 in the BMW 3. That’s before you factor in the optional sunroof. Taller drivers may find it’s already a close shave without it. With it – forget about it. The Caddy’s seats, however, are very adjustable – and you can drop them down enough to make up for the headroom clearance issue without dropping you too low.

It must also be mentioned (again) that the Benz C is even smaller inside – with only 33.4 inches of backseat legroom. This is a consequence of it being a smaller car than either the ATS or the BMW 3. It – the Caddy C sedan – is almost three inches shorter overall (180.8 inches) and rides on a 108.7 inch wheelbase. It is a compact sedan, while both the ATS and the BMW 3 edge closer to being mid-sized.


The ATS has “touch” (or finger-sweep) controls for secondary functions such as increasing or lowering the stereo’s volume, raising or lowering the climate control settings – and so on. Kind of like the bridge of the Enterprise on Star Trek: Next Generation. It’s a neat idea – but the real-world function is sometimes less so in that it takes more time to do things like increase the temperature settings this way than it would using a more old-school button or knob. I found the system sometimes didn’t sense my finger’s touch – or required me to repeatedly tap the pad (for example, to go higher or lower for temperature). There is also an audible thump sound (and “Haptic” feeback) each time you increase or decrease a given setting. It takes some getting used to.

The main LCD display is set up to operate like an iPad – and its operation is less fussy.ATS center

You can use a radar detector with the ATS. Even though it has a bevvy of gadgetry – including a Driver Awareness package (gawd) that includes forward collision alert, rear cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning – for whatever reason, the radar/laser/sonar (or whatever) emanations used to make these things work don’t mess with the workings of radar detectors, as they do in other high-end, gadget-afflicted cars – including, most notoriously, Audis and BMWs and Lexuses, which drive my Valentine V1 nuts with false alerts.  The “leakage” from some of those cars is so bad you don;t even have to be in them to experience them. I’ve noticed that when I am in the vicinity of a new-ish BMW or Audi, my radar detector will go berserk – even though (as far as I know) cops are not driving BMW fives.

Small gripe: The center console cupholder has two cupholders but realistically only one is usable at any given time. Put a small-sized Starbucks coffee in one and there’s no room for your passenger’s cup.

Big thumbs up: The interior is sumptuous – and sexy. My test car had deep burgundy ATS lastred and charcoal leather accented with piano black and carbon fiber trim plates. Thius entry-level Cadillac compared very favorably to high-end Cadillacs – and high-end cars, period. If only the back seats had a bit more legroom – and the base engine a bit more power.

Oh, and maybe a third pedal, too.


Cadillac made the transition from also-ran to contender several years back. Now it’s gunning for champ.

Eye of the tiger.

Throw it in the Woods?


  1. I saw an ATS the other week outside the local HEB supermarket, and I thought the interior was far superior than the CTS (hard plastics, exposed metal, strange fonts used for the lettering). I think someone at GM might finally be understanding that on a luxury car, you want *luxury*, not “budget”

    So far as BMW — I regard the M badge to merely be a trim level now. Yes the motors are hugely powerful, but they’re lamed by the heavy weight of the optioned-up cars. And yes, they’re being driven by upwardly-social suburbanites, not enthusiasts.

    • Only two things I personally did not like about the car:

      The “haptic” (finger swipe) controls – and the V-6. It’s got power, but it hasn’t got the song you get with something like a BMW six (over-laden with techno-crap though they’re becoming).

      • I really don’t like the sound of most V-6’s, but the 3.6_L that the ATS shares with the Camaro and some other GM vehicles, does sound good to me. Recently heard a Camaro with a new Borla exhaust system, pretty righteous mechanical notes out of that motor.


      • I agree with you – a pox on touch controls. They force the driver to look away from the road because muscle memory won’t work with them.

  2. Good review, Eric.

    I concur _again_ on most of your comments regarding the ATS.

    And while I never warmed to the ‘CTS’ styling, I do find the ‘ATS’ attractive, and the coupe should be more attractive.

    I have test drove a new ATS V-6 model, that came in here locally, over some familiar twisty road, and found it quite capable and entertaining. The chassis is well sorted and nearly of the order of a BMW, which frankly are beginning to feel a little piggish or soft(2013’s). Marketing…$%^&^*@-6%^()!!

    BMW needs to go with its primary 3-series buyer market, clueless, upwardly mobile drones who buy the badge and need more rear seat room, and shift its serious sporty intentions to the 1-series.

    • Hi Tre,


      And – amen on the BMWs. For me, the golden era was circa the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. Brilliant cars. The best of everything that’s “German.”But the recent crop is – in my opinion – overteched and over-nannied. They’re the worst of everything that’s “German.”

      • Hi! Eric,

        Yes, the E-21’s through E-36’s are my favorites, but I do appreciate the E-46’s, especially the ‘M’ models. I’m just not a tech guy in the driving compartment, NAV’s and all that ‘Connectivity’ interfacing. The 3-series really is aimed, these days, at a different breed of owner, not the person who can utilize them at the 90th percentile of their performance envelope.

        While I have never owned a 3-series ‘M’ car, I have greatly enjoyed my 91′ 318is and 96′ 328is.

        If, Cadillac stays focused on top tier performance, we might see a resurgence of the focused sport compact class.

        I’m finishing up this years projects and anxious to start a new one.

        Have a good holiday season, and great, productive new year, Eric.

        Regards …Tre

  3. “Only one body choice. Competitors offer coupe – and wagon – options.”

    I don’t know that it’s a bad decision by Caddy to not offer wagons. I see a ton of Mercs and BMW coupes and sedans around here, but the only wagon I see in any numbers is the Audi A4. I don’t even see too many Volvo XC40s anymore. But this car screams for a coupe’, maybe even with a stepped up tuning kit, like an AMG or M series equivalent. It sounds like you think it’s just about there.

    Of course AMG has overbuilt components to begin with, so pushing more HP out isn’t going to blow up anything. I always remember the story of Henry Ford sending people out to the junk yards to find out what parts lasted the longest. When they told him that every differential in the junk yards was in perfect condition he had his engineers design a diff that wasn’t as good to cut costs.

  4. I always find it funny those individuals who blast a car they have never driven. The auto industry is constantly evolving, the top players change. BMW was not always on top and chances are they won’t stay on top. If Hyundai with the Genesis can turn things around and be a serious player in the luxury car market especially when dressed in R-spec trim, anyone can.

    This article and a few others on the Internet have sparked my interest in the ATS. I will test drive one in the next few weeks before I have an opinion on the car.


  5. “This will make a good 3 year old used car at half the new car price” Seems to be what is best about Cadillac. This is a true competitive effort but I will never buy from anti-human-freedom parasites like GM or UAW baboons.

    • I used to be a “GM” guy – before GM became Government Motors. Back when guys like John DeLorean ran divisions… but no more. I haven’t been genuinely turned on by a new GM model – meaning, I had the urge to buy one myself – since at least the 1980s. And then there’s the issue of principles – the issue you brought up. It’s a tragedy – and a farce – all at once.

      • Did you see that Michigan is now a Right-To-Work state? After the Union Maggots just gave Obama millions of dollars for the election to stop things like this from happening. Just like Clinton took millions from the stupid chumps and signed NAFTA anyway. Lucky for us civilized human beings – violent union parasites are truly too stupid to be free.

        Michigan becoming right-to-work is like a rapist deciding to make love.

  6. Objectively, this car almost looks competitive. But it won’t be.

    Who would buy a Caddy over a Bimmer, Mercedes, Audi…..or one of the premium Japanese brands?

    The only way an ATS or CTS could really be competitive would be to blow the others away….on performance, appearance and price. I’m seeing very little of that here….especially appearance.

    “Eye of The Tiger?”……If only.

    • You make a good point, Mike. At least, as regards the benchmark (the BMW 3). However, the ATS is in my opinion objectively better than the Benz C in several key respects. It’s also got the goods you don’t get (can’t get) in FWD-based cars like the Audi A4. et al.

      As far as looks: Not my cup of tea, either – but other people seem to like it. The CTS – similar styling – sells well.

  7. “And much more so – in all those ways – than the ploddy, stuffy (and yes, old-mannish) Cadillac C-class.” I think you meant “Mercedes C-class” there.

    As for why the Cadi V-6 is slower than the BMW 335is despite being 200lbs lighter and with similar horsepower, my guess is two-fold.

    First, the BMW has 332 lb-ft of torque vs. Cadi’s 274 lb-ft. That’s a big chunk.

    Second, the BMW is a twin-turbo. Thus it’s power curve is probably a lot better than the Cadi’s, which I would guess is “peaky.” It’s difficult to compare performance based purely on horsepower (or torque) alone, as a single number. You really have to look at how that power is distributed as well. The Cadillac may peak at essentially the same horsepower, but it may not have as high a horsepower number throughout the rev range. Forced induction tends to provide not only more maximum power, it also tends to spread that power out better through the rev range. In mathematical terms, if you look at a dyno sheet, it’s called the “area under the curve” that is important. How much area is covered by the entire usable (between shift points) powerband of one vs. the other.

    As for other factors, I think that the BMW 335is is only available with a 6-speed manual vs. the ATS’s 6-speed auto. Properly driven, a manual tends to be faster than a traditional auto (barring DSG boxes and such), though not always.

    There could also be differences in suspension tuning that permits the BMW to put down more of its power from the rear wheels vs. the Cadi, differences in stock tire grip (the push for fuel economy numbers tends to favor “low rolling resistance” tires which are also lower traction tires), even aerodynamics might play a role.

    All said, I’m glad the ATS is at least making a play here. I have given up on ever buying another Government Motors car on principle, but for the “buy American” types, they at least have a competitive option.

    • As I have explained and cited before on this site/blog, the BMW is a ‘Twin Scroll’ turbo, not a twin turbo.


      Sprint to 60 MPH_ The ATS has taller gearing … 3.27 vs. BMW’s 3.91. Lower gearing helps the launch, but things even up after that. Published track times for the two cars, are nearly identical.

      It is funny how we think low 7 second 60′ times are slow, when those times are faster then my 96′ 328is was, and we were plenty pleased with those times in the day. The old Muscle cars were running 7’s and 8’s in the day.

      I like the ATS, but have some disappointments with transmission options. But, I will probably buy an ATS coupe, if they put an LS engine in it, making up an ATS-V.
      In the meantime, my old 328is with its new M5 drive will offer plenty of thrills.

      • Tre,

        It is good to read you again.

        For me a 10sec 0-60 time is fine.

        I actually timed myself in my current car (Sentra 2.0s).
        Normal driving (under 3000 rpms) 0-60 about 20sec.
        Somewhat spirited (upto 4000rpm) 0-60 about 15sec.

        I generally keep up of pull ahead of most the traffic I drive with on a regular basis.

        I think the only way I could get under 10 seconds with my Sentra was if I shifted close to the redline. I doubt many people regularly drive that way.

        • Back at you Mithrandir. Your comments are always interesting and time well spent.

          I spent some time on the road traveling in the SE(Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas)after I attended the F-1 race in Austin, so didn’t have much time to follow/comment on this great blog.

          Actually, only the fastest of the old Muscle cars would hit 60 MPH in under 10 seconds with stock gearing.

          Have a great new year Mithrandir, and keep it interesting.

          Regards… Tre


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