Driver's Seat: 2013 Cadillac ATS offers a little bit of luxury


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2013 Cadillac ATS AWD 2.0T Luxury Collection

Price: $47,270 as tested ($41,395 before options, including $845 for Driver Awareness Package, and $850 and $995 respectively for fancy wheels and fancy paint ; a base rear-wheel-drive model could start as low as $33,990. And after finding one for that price, you'd hit the lottery and get struck by lightning.)

Marketer's pitch: "Built to be the world's best."

Conventional wisdom: Small Cadillac? Not a Cimarron, we hope.

Reality: Somehow not as awe-inspiring as the giant XTS, but still a nice ride.

Luxury in a smaller package: The new-for-2013 ATS takes the smallest spot in the Cadillac lineup, but it's definitely no boring econobox. Cadillac has long been trying to take on the European and Japanese premium brands, and has done so with some success.

For a bit of a comparison, Mr. Driver's Seat will put the ATS against a similarly slotted Volvo S60 T5 AWD model next week. Consider it sort of the battle of the premium also-rans.

A very much smaller package: The back seat is almost on the cramped side. The middle spot -- just like the XTS -- sits atop the driving housing, so while a seatbelt is made available, it's useless. Sitting in this spot simply typing a few lines gave me a leg cramp.

Foot room is particularly tight. You're not going to do a lot of moving around to get comfortable. Rear-seat headroom is acceptable but not great.

In the front: Cadillac has performed a dazzling feat by making me happier in the giant-size XTS than in the smaller ATS. I'm usually more attracted to smaller cars (the Mini Cooper and Prius C top my must-have list) but the XTS just feels a whole lot more luxurious. The ATS feels less stratospheric, without the giant-size front seat and spacious cabin of the XTS.

Being a Cadillac, though, the ATS is just as luxurious as its big brother. Walnut trim and leather fill the cabin and the colors are delightful. The seats and steering wheel are heated courtesy of a $600 Cold Weather Package.

Analog: The dashboard is beautiful and informative. The ATS has analog gauges, unlike the XTS's digitally created version of analog gauges. Still, many information settings are available right before your eyes, which are clear and easy to read. This is a thoughtful design.

Tradition dies hard: Cadillac carried real tailfins into the 1970s, and a faux version into the 1990s. The company's current infatuation with angles began more than a decade or so ago and remains strong. So the ATS looks about how one would expect. Pretty enough to behold, though.

On the road: I'm kind of kicking myself for having made few notes on the handling of the car after having it for a week. But that makes my point for me: Neither stellar not pitiful.

It handled nicely on the curves but didn't dazzle on twisty country roads. The all-wheel-drive version hugs the road and the electric steering felt OK, but it's still an American luxury car. I'd slot it toward the Lexus side of things.

In a hurry? The optional 2.0-liter turbocharged engine sure motivates the ATS. The exhaust note is delightful, as has always been the case in GM cars. I'd like to try the 2.5-liter base engine for comparison.

Shifty: The automatic transmission has a shift mode available but the feel is not that sporty.

What's exciting, though, for guys like me is a six-speed manual made available in this little Cadillac. It's only available with the turbo engine and rear-wheel drive, though.

Infotainment delight: I'm not a big fan of whizbang electronics gadgets, but the Cadillac User Experience (CUE) information and entertainment system delights me. I lived with it for a week in the XTS and now again with the ATS.

While it's still light-years ahead of most touch-screen systems, I found I didn't get quite so comfortable this time. I seemed to have a lot more instances where I was pressing icons twice or three times or more before it did what I wanted.

Also, the company has issued a technical service bulletin to its dealers stating that the first version of these systems has not stood up to hot cars in the summer. Hopefully that bug has been ironed out, because this is worth the $1,295 admission fee.

Hideaway tunes: The CD player is in the glovebox. I panned this setup in the VW Touareg, but in that vehicle the CD player sits just out of reach of the driver. The ATS (and the XTS) are both operable from the driver's seat.

The armrest is funny. It'll hold a few CDs but not many. It's too short to stand up a CD case in it and too narrow to lay them down. I almost smashed poor Lou Reed to bits at one point when I came down on the armrest hard with a bag full of work goodies.

Fuel economy: Cadillac's press materials boast up to 30 mpg for the ATS rear-wheel drive with the turbo. I averaged 23 mpg in my usual highway-heavy mix of driving in this AWD version.

Where it's built: Lansing, Mich.

How it's built: It's still too early for reliability ratings on this new model, but the larger CTS has better-than-average reliability predictions for 2013, and Cadillac has done when in new owner surveys.

In the end: This is definitely a lightweight contender and certainly no Cimarron.

Next week: The 2013 Volvo S60 T5 AWD.

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Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at mrdriversseat@gmail.com.


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