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2013 Cadillac ATS Overview
Cadillac is betting BMW missed the apex with the latest 3 Series and is looking to fill that void with a compact luxury offering of its own: the 2013 ATS. Taking aim at the 3 Series is not for those with weak constitutions. After all the 3 Series is no sacred cow, untouchable because of respect and tradition. No, the 3 Series is untouchable largely because it can’t be caught.
For the task, Cadillac started with a whole new platform designated the Alpha. The ATS will be the first vehicle to take advantage of this new platform, but it has a busy future, forming the basis for the new CTS as well as the Camaro. While this will be a truly flexible platform, capable of modular scaling in both directions, its existence was always for a sole purpose—taking out the 3 Series. Begun by Holden nearly 8 years ago, it finally comes to life in the ATS, mined from the annals of GM’s holdings.
If there was any doubt the ATS was created solely to take on the 3 Series, a simple look at the dimensions should quiet such suspicions. The ATS comes within a half-inch of the 3 Series in regards to height, width and length. And then there are quotes like this, from ATS and CTS-V lead development engineer Chris Berube: “We’re going to outrefine the 3-series. We'll have similar or better performance, but we'll have that silk glove of Cadillac laced over it."
There were many benchmarks to meet with the ATS, but of primary importance was weight. Eclipsing 3,400 pounds was not an option, as the ATS needed to come in under the 3 Series’ 3,406 curb weight. To achieve this, some unusual methods were used—like suspension bolts one size smaller than in previous applications. More benefit comes from lighter components using thinner-gauge metal, such as in the control arms, yet the use of high-strength alloys still produces individual components that are stiffer than their CTS counterparts. Engineers apparently went through six different systems in order to arrive at the current 5-point multi-link setup in the rear and dual lower ball joint with strut front suspension. They call it a mass-efficient suspension geometry. We just care if it corners better than the German competition.
To continue with the efficiency of design, the ATS was conceived with 17- and 18-inch wheels in mind, rather than the bulky, heavy 19- and 20-inch absurdities that cars are being routinely slapped with today. No comment on the fact that 18-inch wheels are considered a sacrifice for performance these days.
German luxury performance sedans are known for their handling, but the ATS would go nowhere if it couldn’t compete in power delivery as well. On paper, Cadillac has again delivered. Three engines are available for the ATS: a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, a 2.0-liter turbo 4 and a 3.6-liter V6. The base 2.5-liter engine is the baby here, a naturally aspirated version of the Gen II Ecotec with dual overhead cams, direct injection, variable valve timing and 4 valves per cylinder. It debuted in the Chevy Malibu, but shows up in its most powerful guise yet in the ATS, with 200 hp and 188 lb-ft of torque. More attention will be paid to the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder with its 328i-beating 270 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, which offers the widest application across RWD and AWD configurations as well as the coveted 50/50 weight distribution. Finally, a 318-hp 3.6-liter V6 offers 267 lb-ft of torque, enough to best the 335i.
Two 6-speed transmissions are available, but the intention for the ATS was originally to be fitted with an 8-speed unit. GM’s bankruptcy woes weren’t enough to kill the ATS project, but the 8-speed was put on hold for the first year of production. Expect it soon, around the time the coupe, convertible or V versions show up. Still, even short two cogs the ATS is claimed to best 30 mpg in at least one configuration.
Even though performance was the ultimate concern with the ATS, Cadillac knows that in order to beat BMW and the rest of the German gentry, a nod to luxury is in order. To that end, the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) debuts in the ATS with touch-sensitive controls and a capacitive touchscreen like in modern tablet computers, rather than the older resistive units used in most other automobile manufacturer’s systems. And interior materials are similarly luxurious, with a soft leather dash and the choice of real wood, metal or carbon fiber in the pre-production models displayed.
If Cadillac is right and BMW has truly deviated from its intended path, the ATS has a choice spot on the couch all warmed up for it. The numbers are right, showing up weighing less and with more power than the 3 Series, but so much of what makes the 3 Series great is feel. Test drives are forthcoming, and until then we’ll have to be satisfied with straight facts, but hopefully the ATS won’t follow the same route as some of Cadillac’s past attempts at greatness, like the XLR, STS and the Cimarron.
A CarGurus contributor since 2008, Michael started his career writing about cars with the SCCA - winning awards during his time as editor of Top End magazine. Since then, his journalistic travels have taken him from NY to Boston to CA, completing a cross-country tour on a restored vintage Suzuki. While his preference is for fine German automobiles - and the extra leg room they so often afford - his first automobile memories center around impromptu Mustang vs. Corvette races down the local highway, in the backseat of his father's latest acquisition.