2013 Cadillac ATS compact luxury sedan

Photo: General Motors

From the time the original Seville was launched in 1976, General Motors’ luxury division has tried and tried and tried again to build a no-excuses, no-compromise car in a sensible size.

And with the new-for-2013 ATS, they’ve finally done exactly that, and in the process at long last exorcized the ghosts of such flops as the Cimarron and Catera from decades past.

That’s just not one writer’s opinion, either: The ATS has won a slew of national honors:

• North American Car of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show;

• 2013 Car of the Year by the Motor Press Guild;

• 2013 Urban Car of the Year by Decisive magazine;

• Car of the  Year by Esquire magazine; and

• Popular Mechanics Automotive Excellence Award in the “Luxury” category.

And that’s just the start. The ATS even earned strong positives from the highly influential publication Consumer Reports, which applauded the ATS for its high level of fit and finish, and its nimble handling.

How good is the ATS? Cadillac sales are up 38 percent this year, the marque’s biggest growth spurt since 1976. Cadillac is now the fastest-growing automaker in the United States and 70 percent of ATS buyers are first-time Cadillac owners.

So just what is this new Cadillac that has so captivated critics and buyers alike?

Basically, it’s a compact sedan available in a very wide range of trims and options that competes — favorably — with classic European imports such as the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and C-Class Mercedes-Benz, as well as a whole host of Japanese sedans.

The ATS is available with a choice of rear- or all-wheel-drive, three different engines ranging from 202 to 321 horsepower and a wide range of trim packages. Our tester for this week was an ATS 2.0T Performance Collection package with rear-wheel drive.

The base price was $41,895, but this one was loaded with options and stickered at $50,020. The options included adaptive cruise control, side blind-zone alert, rear cross traffic alert, automatic collision preparation and a special security package. In addition, our tester came with a navigation system, heated front seats and steering wheel and attractive 18-inch aluminum wheels.

 

2013 Cadillac ATS

Photo: General Motors

Cadillac has done an admirable job keeping the ATS as light as possible, which improves performance on every level — acceleration, braking and handling. Weighing less than 3,400 pounds, the ATS is nimble and lively to drive. It can be driven very aggressively with a great deal of comfort and confidence. That confidence is greatly enhanced by the high-performance Brembo brakes, which make stopping from high speeds a breeze.

Suffice to say that Cadillac has never before offered a car of this size that delivered the real-world performance capabilities that the ATS has. Clearly, it’s struck a nerve with buyers, so many of whom have come to Cadillac from other brands.

From a styling standpoint, the ATS is crisp and compact in appearance, using the creased lines and angles that have defined Cadillac models in recent years. Its looks are distinctive enough that it doesn’t mimic everything else on the road, but it’s not so off-the-wall that it will look dated.

Because it is a smaller car by Cadillac standards, the ATS is different inside, too. Ingress and egress into the cockpit is a little bit tight — one of the few criticisms I have of this car — but once inside, head and legroom are ample for the driver and front-seat passenger.

The layout and quality of materials on the inside of the ATS were both first-rate. No corners cut here, no compromises to save a few bucks. The leather-covered performance seats were firm in a European sort of way, offering a lot of support, which to my large frame was greatly appreciated.

 

2013 Cadillac ATS

Photo: General Motors

Cadillac’s CUE system — short for Cadillac User Experience — controls the audio, HVAC and navigation functions and has generated some degree of controversy. Some critics have found it too complicated, but for me, it seemed very intuitive, especially relative to some other high-dollar sedans, so it earned good marks.

All told, Cadillac has delivered on its promise to build a world-class compact sedan that delivers performance and luxury both in a sensibly sized package. There’s little doubt why buyers have flocked to the ATS and why reviewers have loved it, too. Put simply, Cadillac got it absolutely right this time.

VEHICLE TYPE: Four passenger, four-door sedan, rear-wheel drive.

ENGINE: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, 272 horsepower 260 pound-feet of torque.

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic.

WHEELBASE: 109.3 inches.

OVERALL LENGTH: 182.8 inches.

CURB WEIGHT: 3,373 pounds.

EPA MILEAGE RATING: 21 city, 31 highway.

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