First Drive – 2013 Cadillac ATS

Compact Cadillac ATS is aimed directly at the BMW 3-Series

Published: November 3, 2012, 11:00 AM
Updated: May 6, 2018, 11:29 AM

2013 Cadillac ATS - AJAC winner, best new luxury car

MOSPORT, ON - Cadillac has made much of the fact its new ATS is aimed directly at the BMW 3-Series. From the first days of product planning through development on the famed Nurburgring track in Germany, the compact rear-drive ATS has been touted as a capable direct competitor to the BMW widely acknowledged as the bogey in the sports sedan market.

The ATS was unveiled to the North American media at racetracks as well – Road Atlanta and Mosport (now named Canadian Tire Motorsports Park) – two circuits that demand the utmost from a car’s brakes and suspension – and the driver!.

2013 Cadillac ATS - front beauty shot

Most recently, the ATS was pitted against the arch-rival BMW 3-Series at AJAC’s 2013 Canadian Car Of The Year program. And it won!

After four days of intensive back-to-back testing the Cadillac ATS emerged as the winner of the Best New Luxury Car category, defeating not only the BMW but also the new Acura ILS, Buick Verano, Lexus LS350 and Lexus GS.

The newest Cadillac scored 660.1 points, besting the BMW at 655.5 and the Lexus GS with 650.8.


This win is vindication for Cadillac which has a spotty, at best, record when it comes to smaller cars, dating back to the awful 1982 Cimarron.

But we have seen the emergence of a new Cadillac post-GM-bankruptcy. A Cadillac infused with the will to compete globally. It has to, since one or perhaps two generations of consumers do not have the brand on their shopping lists.

The first result of this global approach was the CTS which, despite all the marketing talk, was not really suited for duty as a compact sports sedan. Bigger, heavier and more cumbersome than needed for that duty, it was nevertheless engineered to a fault to compete.

2013 Cadillac ATS - side view motion

But with the ATS, Cadillac engineers were able to take a clean sheet approach starting with GM’s vaunted "Alpha" global platform developed in Germany. The ATS is so closely-focused on the BMW, it comes within one centimeter of the 3-Series in every dimension except wheelbase.

More significantly, the development centered around weight. And instead of weight reduction, which has been the Cadillac way until now, this time the development team focused on weight prevention, right down to the nuts and bolts, literally.

The result is the first truly svelte Cadillac, tipping the scales at a mere 1503 kg. Light weight benefits ride and handling. It allows smaller and more fuel efficient engines. With a near 50-50 weight balance, five-link independent rear suspension and standard Brembo brakes, this Caddy is willing to play.

Cadillac style

Visually there is no mistaking the ATS for anything but a Cadillac from the big, grille-mounted "Wreath & Crest" logo to the vertical taillights. The shape is an evolution of the "Art & Science" design language with softer edges.

2013 Cadillac ATS - detail grille badge

The interior is similarly pure Cadillac, but in this case the designers played with a variety of tones and finishes – and ensured the customer could personalize the ATS more than has been the case for other Cadillac models.

One can choose from seven different interior color combinations, from black on black to red or light platinum. My personal favorite is the caramel with jet black pairing.

Real wood, metal plating, carbon fibre trim and a "cut-and-sewn" instrument panel that sweeps into the doors send the message that this is a luxury car.

The ATS features Cadillac’s new "CUE" (Cadillac User Experience), an all-encompassing infotainment system that mimics those offered by other companies with a giant color screen and voice-control technology for everything from audio to HVAC and wireless functions.

2013 Cadillac ATS - steering wheel and centre stack

I’m not a fan of these systems, including CUE, since they divert your attention and eyes from the job of driving. Simple functions like changing the temperature or radio station can be done via rotary knobs that you reach instinctively without having to touch a screen or verbally work your way through a variety of screens and functions.

The front seats are great, with a decent amount of bolstering to keep you in place during the spirited driving this car invites. Those used to the spacious rear seats associated with the Cadillac brand will find those of the ATS a bit confining, but no more so than the competition in this class.

The trunk, because of a very short rear end, is also not as commodious as one would expect.

Three engine choices

The ATS is available with three different engines and two transmissions. The base combination is GM’s 2.5-litre Ecotec four, as found in the new Chevrolet Malibu. It produces 202 horsepower and is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission.

2013 Cadillac ATS - rear 3/4 view motion

Next up is a turbocharged and intercooled 2.0-litre four-cylinder belting out 272 horsepower. It can be had with either manual or automatic six-speed transmissions.

The top offering is a 3.6-litre V-6 with 321horsepower and six-speed automatic transmission. Both the 2.0 and 3.6 are available with all-wheel-drive, paired with the automatic transmission.

The ATS comes in base, Luxury, Performance and Premium trim levels starting at $35,195 and running up to $53,450 when equipped with the V-6, all-wheel-drive and a variety of option packages.

Many of the available packages include performance-related items like magnetic ride, control, limited slip differential, sport suspension, high capacity cooling system and summer-only performance tires.

The ATS is a first for Cadillac – an award-winning smaller sports sedan!