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Full Review of the 2013 Cadillac ATS on the road and on the track

2013 Cadillac ATS Sport Sedan

Car Reviews

Full Review of the 2013 Cadillac ATS on the road and on the track

2013 Cadillac ATS Sport Sedan

2013 Cadillac ATS Sport Sedan

I was excited ever since hearing the news that Cadillac would be building a sedan, smaller than the CTS, to compete more closely with the likes of the BMW 3-Series. When Cadillac started putting out commercials and news media snippets saying that the ATS would rival the likes of the 3-Series, though, I was skeptical. Cadillac has done this with the CTS and even the V-models, but they never really could stand up to the claims of being on the same playing field as BMW. So although I was still really excited about the car, I definitely had my expectations set low.

Upon seeing this car for the first time, the first thing that occurred to me was how outdated the styling of the CTS really was. This car looks much more streamlined, tighter, and just thought through that much more. The headlights are pulled back over the front fenders with the LED daytime running lights reaching up over the front tires. The main lamp is HID outfitted with adaptive forward lighting giving you the best illumination no matter which way your wheels are pointed.

The whole body follows these lines set up by the front-end of the car. It really looks as if the sheet metal was stretched back revealing the true muscle underneath an otherwise normal sedan. The CTS was designed with the thought of an archer pulling back the arrow inside his bow, the design on the ATS conveys that well.

Around the back, you get the same vertical tail lamp design similar to the other models in the lineup. You also get a nice break light that doubles as a functional spoiler. Looking a bit lower, in some trims, you also get a nice dual exhaust setup which really brings the sporty looks of this sedan full circle. If Cadillac is doing anything right, they are definitely excelling in design.

Inside the cabin of the many Cadillacs in the recent past has been an area where they have not been excelling. I remember driving the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze and remarking in that review that the interior was as nice, if not nicer than, some Cadillacs from the same year. Happily, that’s a claim I can no longer make. The interior of this car is top notch. Some of the best I’ve seen out of any American manufacture and right on par, if not even a little better, than what you’d expect from the Germans.


Our tester was fitted with the Light-Platinum leather interior with Brownstone leather accents and Okapi Stripe designer wood trim. What a beautiful combination! The seats were extremely comfortable, but also bolstered to keep you firmly planted during performance driving. The steering wheel has a good, beefy feel in your hands and you get paddle shifters which work well if you opt for the automatic transmission.

If you’re into musical notes more than engine and exhaust notes, you’ll be pleased with the Bose premium audio system. The optional 10-speaker surround sound system really sounds great in this sporty sedan. The center stack consists of the same haptic-feedback controls we complained about in the XTS. Unlike that car, though, I think it makes more sense here. This car is targeted to a younger audience that may be more willing to endure and learn the technology behind the system, although it still wasn’t my favorite feature. The good thing is that most of the controlling the driver needs to do can be done from the steering wheel where you have traditional buttons.

This car is also fitted with Cadillacs new CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system which controls everything from the radio, navigation, phone, and even apps. This is a pretty good system and is very intuitive to operate. It has also improved since its first implementation as our testers system was quicker and more responsive.

Under the hood you have a variety of options starting with a base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. This gives you 202-horsepower and 190-lb-ft of torque. You can get up to 30-mpg with this option, but it’s really not the one to go with if you’re looking to feel the sportiness of the ATS. The next step up is the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that pushes a healthier 272-hp and 260-lb-ft of torque.

The 2.0-turbo was the engine our tester was equipped with. This engine was able to deliver fantastic performance as well as some pretty good fuel economy numbers. Its epa rating is 21-mpg city and 31-mpg highway. It does become difficult to capture these numbers when you’re more worried about having fun, though.

The next big step up in engine options is the 3.6-liter V6 pushing 321-hp and 274-lb-ft of torque. We were lucky enough to drive an ATS equipped with this engine during our annual Auto Roundup at Texas Motor Speedway. That’s where we named the ATS as being Sports Sedan of Texas for 2013. This car, with all of its sporty potential, really comes to life with this V6 under the hood!


Both of the vehicles we were able to test had a six-speed automatic transmission matched up to the engine. This, in conjunction with the superb steering wheel mounted paddle shifters, makes for a great combination. You can have a six-speed manual if you really want to row your own, but this is only available with the 2.0-turbo engine.

Our first experience with the ATS was out on the infield track at Texas Motor Speedway during our annual Texas Auto Roundup. On that day, we put the V6 through the paces. It only took the first two corners for me to realize just how good this car really is. It feels light and agile, able to take the corners like a real sports car with very low body roll and not much fuss anywhere throughout the chassis. Power delivery from the V6 was healthy and smooth so when coming out of the corner, it was easy to slap the paddles around and gain speed with ease. Stopping was achieved with ease thanks to some nice Brembo brakes up front.

Obviously we were impressed, as after a few times of taking a few laps around the track in this car, we collectively named it the Sport Sedan of Texas.

During our week with the 2.0-turbo, the first thing that really stood out to us is that the power coming out of this engine is very close to that of the V6. The delivery of power is different, though, as you don’t have the same low down torque and there is a little bit of turbo lag. Either way, if we were to have this car out on the track, we could easily have just as much fun.

Daily driving is where it’s really at though, and the ATS delivered here once again. As I mentioned before, the interior is comfortable and luxurious giving the driver everything they could want. When you get this sport sedan out on some back country roads that are not maintained as well as a nice smooth track, the magnetic ride control takes over and delivers superb comfort; typical Cadillac.

There’s some stiff and established competition out there for luxury sports sedans including the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class, Infiniti G37 – now the Q50, and the Lexus IS. The Lexus is a nice ride and the latest model has some hot new looks. I have yet to drive the new IS, but I can say that the 2013 was very underwhelming from a performance standpoint and was incredibly tight inside. The G37 has its iconic 3.7-liter V6 and is a great performer. Again, I have yet to get behind the wheel of a new Q50, but I suspect it’ll be pretty good. Mercedes will always make a great automobile and it has its own performance pedigree. The C-Class has a distinguished look, but can be a hooligan all its own. I have heard of a few maintenance issues with it though; something worthy of looking into before making a purchase. Audi has a way of making any interior feel first class and the A4 is no exception. Also, if you’re looking for all-wheel-drive, Audi’s system really is first class. Of course, they do cost a pretty penny these days.

Last but not least, the big dog. The BMW 3-Series has been the sport sedan to beat for almost 40-years now and this year is no different. I started this review talking about how Cadillac is pitting the ATS up against the 3-Series and how I have been skeptical on just how well it would do up against the best. My final conclusion is that it’s not the better car. That being said, it is right up there on the same level. If you’re looking to buy a sports sedan and you want to save a little cash and purchase a product made in the USA, the Cadillac can’t be beat. This isn’t just the Sports Sedan of Texas; it’s one of my favorite cars I’ve driven this year.

Adam was one of the founding members of txGarage back in 2007 when he worked for a Suzuki dealership in Dallas, TX. He is now our Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. He's always been into cars and trucks and has extensive knowledge on both. Check Adam out on twitter @txgarage.

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