Cars

Cadillac’s ATS shows why it’s Car of the Year

Today’s test car—the 2013 Cadillac ATS— looked right at home among the decidedly upscale vehicles on the road in Naples, FL, this winter.

The ATS won the prestigious North American Car of theYear Award at January’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A week at the wheel of the ATS convinced me the jurors made a good choice.

There’s a lot to like on the car, which is better suited for use as a sports sedan for two with occasional rear-seat passengers than as a daily family hauler.

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Cadillac designed the ATS to compete in the entry-level luxury market, specifically targeting BMW’s perennial segment-leading 3 Series. The ATS clearly is more American than German but it is a worthy rival in a market segment that also includes the Lexus IS 250, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, and Infiniti G (soon to be rebadged Q50) sedans.

Our test ATS had a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated with six-speed manual transmission—a rare but fun-to-drive combination. We suspect most buyers will opt for the 3.6-literV-6 and six-speed automatic. All-wheel-drive is available with either of these engines but not with the base (non-turbo) 2.5-liter four.

Buyers will get an array of electronic gadgetry at all levels, a neat magnetic ride, Caddy’s current “hardedged” design style, and nice use of LED lighting (including the door handles). Testing suspensions at home in New England generally involves finding some potholed sections of road plus some of the well-worn and plowdamaged diagonal expansion joints on highway overpasses.

In Florida, the best I could do were some well-marked neighborhood speed bumps. Taking them at speeds increasing in 5 mph increments gave me an appreciation for the magnetic ride. Instead of standard shock absorbers, this highly adaptive system relies on four electromagnetic dampers (shocks) and an electronic control unit. Increasing the current to the magnetically charged fluid in the shocks instantly changes the ride. While local drivers slowed to 10 mph for the speed bumps, we basically ignored them—in the name of testing of course.

In parking lots, the ATS got a surprising amount of attention from auto-savvy Floridians and Snowbirds—generally folks who knew the differences among the Cadillac marque’s CTS, XTS, and now-discontinued DTS and STS sedans.

Our turbocharged four-banger might not appeal to a lot of these buyers. After all, the move from a V-8 to a V-6 already has been a big-enough change for them in recent years.

However, the four-cylinder’s performance only reinforced my feeling that these engines are the power plants of this era.

Our turbo produced 272 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s rated at 19 mpg city and 30 mpg on the highway with a 23 mpg combined figure.We did a lot of good-weather driving and wound up with a 25.6 mpg figure.

Florida cities are a network of wide roads with stoplights at regular intervals. The 2.0-liter engine and manual transmission got plenty of work around town, but it wasn’t the leg-wearying type of constantly-onthe-clutch driving that you get in stop-and-go highway conditions back home.

On a cross-state trip to Miami, we eschewed Alligator Alley—the now four-lane, 75-mile stretch of I-75 between Naples and Miami’s western suburbs—in favor of the old two-lane Tamiami Trail (Route 41). That road actually now is more the true alligator alley.

Driving the two-lane stretch gave us numerous opportunities to downshift and pass slower traffic. Those Everglades sightseers had plenty to see besides the alligators in the roadside waterways. We passed numerous airboat rides, souvenir shops, and wildlife viewing areas plus a pair of Ochopee, FL, attractions—Joanie’s Blue Crab Café (try the swamp plate if you dare) and the world’s smallest post office (7x8 feet).

Inside the ATS, we learned to like the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) navigation/audio system. The control buttons work fairly well in a finger-slide fashion (think an iPad or iPhone). We thought we’d been clever in figuring out a few local shortcuts on local roads, but it turned out that the CUE system knew them as well as we did.

Our test car had an MSRP of $44,315 (adding the $895 destination charge and taking a $1,475 deletion for the manual transmission). Options included an advanced security package ($395), Crystal RedTint paint (worth the $995), 18-inch wheels ($850), and a $600 cold-weather package that added heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Bottom line: $47,155.

The interior was appropriate for a nearluxury vehicle with comfortable leather seats. Steering feel and feedback were, to my tastes, perfect.

The ATS is available in standard, luxury, performance, and premium dress, and both all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive. The manual transmission only is available in RWD configurations.

Our test car was the premium version, which added a terrific programmable Head-Up display, navigation, sport suspension, limitedslip differential, and driver awareness aids, including adaptive cruise control and blind spot information.I became an immediate fan of the Head-Up display.

There also wasahill-start assist; however, short of parking garages, boat ramps, and a few overpasses on the major roads, even minor inclines are non-existent in Florida.

Rear legroom was tight even though we regularly put two adults back there, and virtually everyone who got in back bumped their head on the roof.

Trunk space was adequate. But, most important,the driving experience was world class

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