New Car Review: 2013 Cadillac ATS AWD 3.6L

Silver 2013 Cadillac ATS
The 2013 Cadillac ATS.

Journalism (automotive and otherwise) is not a great profession if you expect to be told the truth. Oh, sure, it's your job to find and report the truth, but being told it...that's another thing altogether.

Not that the un-truths come in bald-faced lies. Not always. There's a spectrum. For example:

With the Cimarron, Cadillac told us it "behaves like a civilized car should" and "beats the imports at their own game". A bald-faced lie, as those who parted with $12,131 in 1981 dollars for a tarted-up Chevy Cavalier learned the hard way.

A decade and a half later, they told us once we experienced the Catera's European luxury and performance, we wouldn't want to let go. That wasn't true, either, but really wasn't a bald-faced lie. The Catera was European (an Opel with Cadillac badges stuck on it), and the rest can be excused as opinion.

Then came the original CTS. By this point, advertising had matured to the point where it dispensed with hyperbole and just showed us quick cuts of a CTS driving quickly while Led Zeppelin's "Rock And Roll" played for 30 seconds. And then a font that said "Cadillac. Breakthrough."  The implication was that Cadillac had finally found the formula that would let them stand toe-to-toe with BMW.

Not true. But that one we can chalk up to optimism and wishful thinking.

Don't get me wrong. The CTS was then a good car and has gotten better every year since its introduction. But the driving dynamics just weren't there...as good as they have become.

That's why, as I walked to the Cadillac ATS for the first time, key fob in hand, I was prepared to be mildly disappointed. This was the car that, no excuses, was to be Cadillac's answer to the BMW 3-Series. And there was just no way...it was bound to fall short somehow. Most likely in the steering.

Holy crap.

They did it.

No, you won't mistake the ATS for a 3-Series, but that's not the point. Cadillac has come up with a car that is different from, but feels as strong, good and capable as, the legendary BMW small sedan.

Our tester was the 3.6 liter V6 all wheel drive. I sincerely hope Cadillac sends the other flavors. But what I can tell you is that the engine is quick, responsive and silky. The sound it makes is glorious. The six-speed automatic transmission benefit from a performance algorithm that wastes not a single rev yet allows serious gas mileage (EPA estimate 18 city/26 highway).

For $43,195, you get the above plus a sport suspension, ZF premium electric variable steering (the best steering in any American car I've ever driven and on par with most imports), dual exhaust, 17-inch wheels with all-season run-flat tires, Brembo performance front brakes, Stabilitrak and tire pressure monitoring.

2013 Cadillac ATS interior
The 2013 Cadillac ATS interior.

Inside? The materials are different from...but every bit as good as...and in some cases, maybe better than...BMWs. Now, that's my opinion, based entirely on touch and feel. We'll have to see about long-term issues like use and wear.

But the leather is handcrafted and sewn, you get power 8-way driver and passenger seats, LED interior lighting accents, leather and wood...and CUE.

CUE is, as we discussed in the recent review of the Cadillac XTS, the Cadillac User Experience...the color screen that controls audio, navigation, climate control, and communications. It is, as in the XTS, essentially modeled on a sideways iPad. And it has the same drawbacks in the ATS that it had in the XTS. You're touching a smooth glass surface with multiple icons. Despite haptic feedback that vibrates to confirm, you only know what you're touching if you look. And that means taking your eyes off the road. The good news about CUE in the ATS is that it is an option. You can save $1,295 and get knobs and buttons by simply not ordering it. That does mean skipping navigation.

Ours had CUE and one other option, a cold weather package that heated both front seats and the steering wheel for $600.  Total, with destination charge of $895: $45,985.

For a car that I couldn't wait to drive every day and hated to give back. And only $2K and change more than the 4-cylinder BMW 328i.

Winner? King of the Hill? No. But for once, Cadillac is in the game. An American car is in the game. The ATS is for real.