Despite advances in stability control electronics and tires, rear-wheel drive still scares away drivers who live in snowy regions. That apparently includes ATS buyers. Cadillac says about 60 percent of them opt for all-wheel drive with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder and 3.6-liter V-6. (The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder is only offered with rear-wheel drive).
Automobile Magazine, not surprisingly, would have none of this. Our 2013 Cadillac ATS sends all of its 321 horsepower to the rear wheels. To restrain that power in wintry conditions, we’ve fitted the ATS with eighteen-inch Bridgestone Blizzaks from Tire Rack.
“People say, ‘My car is terrible in the snow.’ No, it’s not. Your tires are terrible in the snow,” says Woody Rogers, product information specialist at Tire Rack.
Our performance package-equipped ATS comes from the factory with Bridgestone Potenza RE050A summer tires that are staggered – 255 section width in back, 225 in front. For winter, Tire Rack recommends 225-section-width rubber on all four corners. That effectively creates a longer, narrower contact patch for the rear tires and offers more traction for accelerating and braking at the expense of some lateral grip. Using the same size on all four corners also increases the life of the tires, because they can be rotated front to back. (Our rear summer tires are down to their wear indicators after a little more than 15,000 miles—“not uncommon” for powerful rear-wheel-drive cars with staggered tires, says Rogers.) Our Blizzaks came mounted on eighteen-inch MSW-brand aluminum wheels that weigh 25.45 pounds each, about half a pound more than the factory wheels.
The new wheels and tires arrived not a moment too soon: the ATS, with this writer at the wheel, encountered an early snowstorm on a nighttime drive through Buffalo. Even with snowplows on constant patrol, enough white stuff accumulated to completely obscure lane markers, and there was also a strong crosswind. Not quite Iceland, but quite dicey nevertheless. The ATS tracked straight through it all, with none of the tail-out squirminess rear-wheel-drive cars sometimes exhibit on slippery roads. The ice/snow setting for the traction control system further helped minimize wheel spin by softening throttle response and starting from second gear.
Beyond getting through winter without any unintended off-road adventures, we were also concerned with maintaining dry-road handling—this sport sedan’s raison d’etre. Our specific model of Blizzaks, LM-32, is designed for performance cars. Nevertheless, it features smaller tread blocks and more grooves (sipes, to use official tire terminology) than a summer tire. Rogers says this “dramatic change in tread construction” gives the winter tire more bite on cold and wet roads but leads it to flex more than a summer tire on dry roads. Opinions have been mixed so far regarding how much the tires blunt the car’s edge.
“The Blizzaks felt squishy on my slightly-above-freezing commute to work,” copy editor Rusty Blackwell opined. “They take away a lot of the driving enjoyment.”
On colder days, though, the sporting character seems mostly intact. The steering wheel still provides a live feed from the front tires to your hands, and the magnetorheological dampers retain an iron grip over body motions.
On an unrelated note, we are still experiencing a slightly rough idle from the 3.6-liter V-6, as we first reported back in September. After two visits to our local dealer with no resolution, we ended up taking the ATS to a Cadillac dealer in Toledo, where the service technician informed us that this is an inherent issue with the ATS and the new 2014 CTS sedan. He added that Cadillac has issued software updates addressing NVH issues in the 2.5-liter and 2.0-liter ATS, but has not yet done so for the 3.6-liter models.