Ever seen the cartoon where the protagonist just can’t catch a fly, even when he resorts to a shotgun? That’s more or less been our experience trying to fix a few bugs in our 2013 Cadillac ATS.
Our Cadillac ATS has suffered nearly from day one with three issues: a slightly rough engine idle, off-center steering, and an intermittent power-steering warning light. At 5000 miles we addressed the latter two with our local dealer, a large franchise that sells Chevrolets (and, at one time, Saabs and Hummers) out of the same storefront. The dealer performed a $90 four-wheel alignment to center the ATS’s steering but was unable to duplicate the issue with the warning light. We brought the car back about a month later to see what could be done for the rough idle, which associate web editor Jake Holmes describes as a “noticeable stumble or shudder (for instance, when sitting at a red light with your foot on the brake).” The dealer noted that there was an update for a rough idle issue in four-cylinder cars but none for six-cylinder cars and that, in any event, they could not duplicate the problem. At 14,088 miles we returned again—the rough idle had persisted and the steering was again off-center. We told the service representative—who, we should note, has been very courteous through the whole process—to keep the car until everything was fixed.
A front-end alignment and newly installed winter tires (see previous update) seemed to straighten the crooked steering wheel once more, but the rough idle remained a mystery. The dealer paperwork noted, predictably, that the tech was “unable to replicate” our problem. We decided it was time to place a call to Cadillac’s customer service line. A representative from General Motors is supposed to work with the dealer to resolve the issue. Our rep took note of all our issues and promised we’d hear from our dealer within forty-eight hours. We never did.
Growing impatient, we researched alternate service locations and found a promising, Cadillac-only store with positive reviews. The downside? It’s in Ohio. Desperate times call for desperate measures, though, so we drove an hour and a half down I-75. What a difference from our local store—rich wood paneling, leather couches, and brick pavers. The tech at least recognized our idle issue, noting that he’d seen it on other cars, but could offer no fix.
No sooner had the Cadillac ATS returned to the fleet than multiple editors reported seeing the power steering warning light flashing. We returned to the first dealer, which cleared a code but says the steering angle sensor would need to be replaced if it came on again. It has. The ATS is back in the service bay as this article is being published.
For definitive answers, we consulted with Cadillac engineers (we avoided doing this initially in order to pursue the issues as would a normal owner). Regarding the idle, they have, in fact, identified a “calibration issue” affecting a “small frequency” of cars. The fix includes a software update and minor revisions to the engine mounts. It should be available for six-cylinder cars later this year. The power steering warning light, meanwhile, is likely an overly sensitive sensor.
These early quality issues have been annoying but not crippling—the steering itself has never been affected, the engine has never stalled, and we’ve never been stuck on the side of the road. We’re more frustrated by the drawn out, inconclusive service experience, which highlights the somewhat dated nature of the brand’s dealer network. Cadillac currently has more than 900 dealerships in the United States, according to Automotive News data. Of those dealerships, fewer than 150 sell only Cadillacs. By comparison, Lexus—which sold nearly 100,000 more vehicles than Cadillac in 2013—runs fewer than 250 dealers, the vast majority of them standalone. This legacy of Cadillac’s heyday, when it regularly sold more than 300,000 cars per year, makes it difficult for the brand to present customers a consistent, premium identity.
The dealers provide a somewhat sobering contrast with the Cadillac ATS itself, which clearly evinces a newer, better Cadillac. “This car feels far more connected to the road than a Lexus IS, an Infiniti Q50, or even a BMW 3 Series,” notes executive editor Todd Lassa.
We’ll let you know how the ATS—and Cadillac dealers—perform through the final four months of our test.