2013 Cadillac ATS - Four Seasons Wrap-Up

Can you hear that?

David ZenleawriterAutomobile StaffphotographerPatrick M. Hoeyphotographer

Some cars sound a dog whistle that only auto enthusiasts can hear. Cadillac, for most of its history, might as well have been blowing noiselessly through a mouth full of saltines. Yet our ears perked up when Cadillac introduced the ATS, a compact rear-wheel-drive sedan that clearly trained to go 15 rounds with the BMW 3 Series. We ordered an ATS for a full year—our first Four Seasons test of any Cadillac in a decade—to find out whether this sport sedan indeed plays the right notes.

As Cadillac's entry model, the ATS starts at less than $35,000 in base four-cylinder trim, but we opted for the top-spec Premium model with a 3.6-liter V-6. It includes navigation, a 10-speaker Bose audio system, and a head-up display. The price correspondingly balloons to $49,735. Cadillac once positioned itself as a bargain-priced alternative to European marques. No more.

With rear-wheel drive and a 321-hp V-6, the ATS was always ready to play, even when it was carrying two bikes.

The 2013 Cadillac ATS certainly looks the part of a high-dollar sport sedan. We'll admit to stifling a yawn when the ATS debuted at the 2012 Detroit auto show—it's nowhere near as radical-looking as the creases-on-creases Cadillacs of the last decade—but our perspective changed as soon as we saw our silver ATS on the road. The sun highlights the sinew in its bodywork. Optional light strips on the headlights and door handles add drama without cluttering the taut, wonderfully proportioned body. As we drove to cities like Boston and Washington, D.C., where Cadillacs are still thin on the ground, the ATS proved effective at communicating its sporting mission to audiences that still associate the brand with Fixodent and 5 p.m. dinners.

"By the time I reached my exit—goosing the throttle a bit as I turned onto my home street—I'd completely exorcised my workday stress. Then I got pulled over."

The sportiness is more than skin deep. With the ATS, Cadillac fields one of the most athletic cars in a segment that includes some European thoroughbreds. "On driving dynamics alone, I'd take this over a BMW 335i or an Audi S4 in a heartbeat," enthused one editor. Cadillac's brand new Alpha platform, which the 2013 Cadillac ATS shares with the new CTS, gets lots of the credit: Only a few other cars in the segment are this light—our test car weighs 3574 pounds—and feel as rigid. It also helps that the Premium model comes standard with magnetorheological dampers, 18-inch wheels shod in Bridgestone Potenzas, and a limited-slip differential.

More than the fancy hardware, we appreciate the little details Cadillac engineers got just right. The electric power steering is perfectly weighted and delivers a constant stream of information to your fingertips, even at low speeds. The brake pedal is firm and stays that way even after repeated hard stops. Take a few turns quickly, and the six-speed automatic starts offering rev-matched downshifts, the throaty growl of the V-6 imploring you to drive even harder. The driver's seat has several uncommon adjustment points—headrest angle, bolster width, and seat bottom length—that allow you to dial in the perfect position. It all adds up to a car that not only goes fast but makes you want to go fast. Take deputy editor Joe DeMatio's description of a late-night commute home:

"Bounded out of the office park around 10 p.m., dashed through a roundabout, and hammered onto the highway. By the time I reached my exit—goosing the throttle a bit as I turned onto my home street—I'd completely exorcised my workday stress. Then I got pulled over." (He got off with a warning.)

This single-minded focus on looking cool and going fast does mandate some compromises. For instance, the aggressive cut of the rear quarter window—definitely not a copy of BMW's Hofmeister kink—chokes off the door opening. Rear passengers of all heights clocked their heads climbing in, and the parents on our staff struggled to load child seats. Once you've settled into the rear buckets, structural bracing presses against your shins and the high center tunnel robs foot room. The brash aesthetics of the interior—wine-red leather seats, thick slabs of carbon fiber, shiny black plastic, and large shift paddles—likewise say "hot dog sports car" more than "$50,000 luxury sedan."

Of course, we selected the interior color and trim. We also have ourselves to blame for picking the most expensive, least fuel-efficient engine offered. The powerful six-cylinder sucked fuel to the tune of 22 mpg in 27,001 miles. Most editors agreed the 272-hp turbo-four would have been a more prudent choice. "I did enjoy accelerating to 120 mph in our six-cylinder model, though," said DeMatio. The staggered tires that come with the sport suspension also proved costly, as the rears wore out after fewer than 15,000 miles. (For winter, we swapped on Bridgestone Blizzaks and aftermarket wheels from Tire Rack.)

A rough idle troubled us early on and stayed until the end—the dealer alternately claimed not to notice it and not to have a solution.

Some, predictably, thought we should have skipped the sport suspension altogether—one editor complained she needed a chiropractor after driving the 2013 Cadillac ATS into work. The adjustable magnetorheological dampers are firm even in Touring mode and become quite stiff in Sport mode. "It's weird to be in a Cadillac that's tuned more for a racetrack than my daily commute," remarked one logbook commenter. Yet on this matter, the Goldilockses on our staff frequently disagree. Regular readers will recall, for instance, that we found the touring suspension on our 2012 BMW 328i too soft. "The ATS finds as good a ride/handling balance as the 3 Series—maybe better," said executive editor Todd Lassa.

The failures in execution are harder to defend. The most glaring example is CUE, Cadillac's infotainment system. Like the notorious MyFord Touch, it relies exclusively on a touchscreen and touch-sensitive controls in place of buttons and knobs. Excoriations fill the editors' notebook. "CUE is the single worst thing to happen to Cadillac since that guy on 'Jersey Shore' showed off his Cadillac logo tattoo," insisted one commenter. That's not to say it doesn't have some good features: The large color touchscreen vividly displays turn-by-turn directions; the voice recognition system understands more than those in most cars; and the lower control panel opens to reveal a useful storage compartment. Yet these niceties hide behind an input method that needs years more development, if not a complete rethink. "An action as simple as switching radio stations proves difficult and distracting," complained Lassa. Adding insult to injury, the glossy center stack—whose aesthetics probably inspired this button-killing crusade—attracts a stratum of dust and fingerprints during everyday use.

If the so-called Cadillac User Experience is needlessly futuristic, the Cadillac ownership experience is depressingly antiquated. Our ATS suffered from three quality issues: an off-center steering wheel, an intermittent power-steering warning light, and a rough idle. These glitches annoyed but did not alarm us, as they had little effect on drivability. (The power steering never actually failed.) They would have merited no more than a brief mention had they been addressed quickly.

Who's afraid of rear-wheel drive? Wearing Blizzaks, the ATS made it through a very snowy winter.

Alas, they were not. Our 2013 Cadillac ATS visited the local dealer five times for these issues, spending more than a month total in the shop. An alignment fixed the off-kilter steering wheel at about 5000 miles, but the problem returned 10,000 miles later, at which point the tech said the uneven wear on the rear tires made it impossible to do another alignment. In any event, the problem disappeared when we swapped on the winter tires. The dealer permanently cleared the power steering light on the third try by flashing the computer and cleaning the relevant electrical contacts. The rough idle, which associate Web editor Jake Holmes identified at 1087 miles as "a noticeable stumble or shudder," stayed with us until the end—the dealer alternately claimed not to notice it and not to have a solution. Cadillac says it has since redesigned the engine mounts and will install them under warranty for customers who complain.

It's true we might have enjoyed better luck at another dealer, but that's part of the problem. Customers of luxury brands expect a consistent, premium-branded dealer experience. To that end, import brands tightly manage a limited number of independent dealers—Lexus operates 234 dealers, 216 of which are Lexus-only. BMW has 338, 219 of them exclusive. Cadillac still has more than 933 stores; 790 of them, including our local dealer, sell and service other GM brands. (All dealer data comes from Automotive News.)

We had mixed feelings about the Morello red leather seats, although we all found them comfortable. CUE looks nice (when clean) but is a pain to use.

And so, at the end of 12 months, we're genuinely torn. As Holmes put it, "CUE is awful, and it's frustrating the dealer hasn't been able to address our issues. But this engine! The handling! The perfect brake feel!"

Indeed, few cars resonate so loudly and clearly with automotive enthusiasts. Yet the truth is that a luxury sedan—even a sporty one—must be able to play other frequencies as well. In order to take the next step forward, Cadillac will need to match its European competitors not only at the Nürburgring, but also in the cabin and on the dealer lot.

Running Costs

Mileage 27,001

Warranty
4-yr/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper
6-yr/70,000-mile powertrain
12-yr/unlimited-mile corrosion
6-yr/70,000-mile roadside assistance
4-yr/50,000-mile maintenance
Scheduled Maintenance
7688 mi: $0.00 (oil change and tire rotation)
16,884 mi: $0.00 (oil change and tire rotation)
24,925 mi: $$0.00 (oil change, air filter change, and tire rotation)
Warranty Repairs
4877 mi: Diagnose power-steering light
8220 mi: Diagnose rough idle
14,088 mi: Diagnose rough idle and fix off-center steering wheel
17,256 mi: Reprogram power-steering control module
20,317 mi: Reprogram power-steering control module; clean and retighten related electrical contacts
Recalls
None
Out-Of-Pocket

4877 mi: 4-wheel alignment, $89.95

14,222 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance Bridgestone Blizzak LM-32 tires on aftermarket MSW wheels, $1,978.35

21,754 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rear tires, mount front tires, $982.07
Observed Fuel Consumption
Observed: 22 mpg
Cost Per Mile
(Fuel, service, winter tires) $0.28
($0.81 including depreciation)
Trade-In Value

$34,475*

Pros & Cons

+ Nice to look at
+ Even better to drive
+ Strong engine
- Cramped back seat
- Persistent quality issues
- Fussy infotainment system

  • Our Test Results
  • 0–60 mph 5.5 sec
  • 0-100 mph 13.4 sec
  • 1/4–mile 14.0 sec @102.1 mph
  • 45-65 mph Passing 2.7 sec
  • Peak Acceleration 0.72 g
  • speed in gears

    • 1) 39; 2) 66; 3) 102; 4) 136 136136 136;
    • 5) 152; 6) 152 mph
  • Cornering 0.93
  • 60-0 mph Braking 116 ft
  • Peak Braking 1.2 g

*Estimate based on information from intellichoice.com

Overview

  • Body style 4-door sedan
  • Accommodation 5-passenger
  • Construction Steel unibody
  • Base price (with dest. ) $47,590
  • Price As tested $49,735

Powertrain

  • Engine 24-valve DOHC V-6
  • Displacement 3.6 liters (217 cu in)
  • Power 321 hp @ 6800 rpm
  • Torque 275 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm
  • Transmission 6-speed automatic
  • Drive Rear wheel
  • EPA Fuel Economy 19/28/22 (city/hwy/combined)

Chassis

  • Steering Electrohydraulically assisted
  • Lock-to-lock 2.7 turns
  • Turning circle 36.0 ft
  • Suspension, Front Strut-type, coil springs
  • Suspension, Rear Multilink, coil springs
  • Brakes F/R Vented discs
  • Wheels 18-inch aluminum
  • Tires Bridgestone Potenza RE050A
  • Tire size 225/40R-18 88W/255/35R-18 90W

Measurements

  • Headroom F/R 38.6/36.8 in
  • Legroom F/R 42.5/33.5 in
  • Shoulder room F/R 55.2/53.9 in
  • Wheelbase 109.3 in
  • Track F/R 59.5/60.9 in
  • L x W x H 182.8 x 71.1 x 55.9 in
  • Passenger capacity 90.9 cu ft
  • Cargo capacity 10.4 cu ft
  • Weight 3461 lb
  • Weight dist. F/R 51.5/48.5%
  • Fuel capacity 16.0 gal
  • Est. fuel range 350 miles
  • Fuel grade 91 octane (premium unleaded)

Equipment

  • standard equipment

    • Adaptive suspension dampers
    • Limited slip differential
    • Stainless-steel dual exhaust
    • Brembo performance front brakes
    • 18-inch aluminum wheels w/performance tires
    • Leather-trimmed interior
    • Power front seats
    • Split-folding rear seats
    • Cue w/8.0 –inch touchscreen
    • Navigation
    • Bose surround sound audio system
    • SiriusXM satellite radio w/3-month trial subscription
    • Leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob
    • Bluetooth audio and phone connectivity
    • Magnesium paddle shifters
    • Aluminum pedals
    • Automatic dual-zone climate control
    • Auto-dimming rearview mirror and exterior mirrors
    • Rain-sensing windshield wipers
    • Keyless entry and ignition
    • Front and rear parking assist
    • Dark-chrome grille
    • Rearview camera
    • Hill-start assist

Options

  • Power sunroof $750
  • Cold weather package
  • $600
  • Heated steering wheel and front seats
  • Rear spoiler $480
  • Front license plate bracket $15

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