Cadillac uses a new vacuum-actuated hydraulic engine mount system on the ATS. Depending on engine speed, vacuum draws on a small diaphragm inside the mount itself, which in turn acts on the fluid inside. At idle, the mounts soften up to soak up as much thrash as possible. The faster the rpm, and thereby the more vacuum on hand, the stiffer the mount. But a smooth idle is hardly enough to give the 2.5 reason to lie behind the crest on the grille. When equipped with the 2.5, the ATS delivers acceleration that is absolutely unacceptable for this class. As hard as Cadillac continues to fight to establish itself as a serious player in global luxury, this engine is a setback.
The ATS also bows with a 321-hp 3.6-liter V6 making 275 lb-ft of torque.Fortunately, buyers don't have to suffice with just one engine option. The 2013 Cadillac ATS is also available with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 272 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Those are solid numbers, and enough to shuttle the machine to 60 mph in a very respectable 5.7 seconds. Power gets put to the rear wheels by either a Tremec six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is also available, though only with the automatic. If that's not enough grunt for you, the ATS also bows with the same 3.6-liter V6 found elsewhere in the GM stable. Expect to find 321 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque on hand, dumped to either the rear or all wheels through the six-speed automatic transmission. There is no manual option for the V6.
There is an astonishing amount of engineering under the belly of the ATS, all designed to even out weight distribution and keep as many pounds off as possible. The sedan uses an aluminum engine cradle and transmission crossmember in place of stamped steel, and engineers worked to balance the sedan's pounds at every turn. As a result, the ATS benefits from a 50/50 weight distribution.
A unique MacPherson strut suspension works to keep the ATS planted up front. Cadillac opted for a double-pivot design that utilizes two ball joints in place of a traditional wishbone. The manufacturer says the set up allows for a better balance between precise handling and a comfortable ride. Out back, the new sedan uses the automaker's first-ever five-link independent rear suspension, complete with a rigid steel cradle. Interestingly enough, engineers opted for a cast-iron rear differential instead of a lighter aluminum chunk. According to Chris Berube, lead development engineer on the ATS, cast iron offers a number of benefits over aluminum. Chief among those is the fact that aluminum expands and contracts to a greater degree with changes in temperature. Opting for the cast iron design allowed engineers to run tighter bearing tolerances, which resulted in better fuel economy, less lash and better throttle response.
Brembo brakes are standard on every model with the exception of the base ATS.The ATS borrowed a page from the mighty CTS-V by using unequal-diameter half-shafts in the rear axle to reduce wheel hop. Having a lighter axle on one side than the other results in the kind of oscillation that engages the vehicle's mechanical rear differential under hard acceleration, resulting in a positive launch.
Once you're done sprinting to 60, the ATS can confidently bring you down from speed. Brembo brakes are standard on every model with the exception of the base ATS. With 12.5-inch corrosion-resistant vented rotors up front and 12.4-inch vented discs out back, the stoppers can haul the sedan down from 60 mph in 129 feet. Not too shabby.
The result of all this engineering is an unquestionably remarkable chassis. We were fortunate enough to sample nearly every drivetrain configuration on public roads outside of Atlanta, and while the 2.5 delivers quiet highway cruising, it simply feels winded everywhere else. The complete lack of acceptable acceleration makes it clear you're driving a price point model despite the six-speed automatic transmission's best efforts and the nicely executed cabin. Here is a car desperately hunting for a better engine.
The majority of buyers will find their way into models equipped with the 272-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder.Even without the optional Brembo brakes, the base model offers a confident pedal paired with an excellently-balanced and rigid chassis. Under hard driving, the ATS pushes into a little understeer before gradually giving way to easy oversteer. Fortunately, the vast majority of buyers will find their way into models equipped with the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder, complete with its 272 horsepower.
All that muscle comes on at 5,500 rpm, which means drivers need to be comfortable ringing the car's neck in order to access maximum thrust. Fortunately, the full 260 lb-ft of torque piles on from as low as 1,700 rpm, which helps get the machine to the upper octaves. We fully expected the turbo four-cylinder to be the sweet spot in the ATS line, and while it feels properly quick, the engine still lacks the buttery refinement of offerings from Audi or BMW. Fortunately, what the engine lacks, the six-speed automatic more than makes up for. Left to its own devices, the gearbox quietly and confidently puts the engine where it needs to be in the rev band without any drama or fuss.
Click those fancy paddle shifters, however, and the ATS rewards you with impressively fast shifts. How fast? GM says the action is on par with that of most dual-clutch units, and we're prone to agree. Snap back that paddle and the transmission will do the deed nearly before you can release it. That's good enough to hustle the ATS through its gears down a mountain road, and Cadillac was sure to allow the driver to run the engine all the way up against the limiter should you so desire. That's not to say all is right in the automatic kingdom. Cadillac seems very proud of the machine's Sport Mode, which incorporates a system to detect steering angle and g load to tell the transmission when to offer more rapid downshifts and when to hold gears longer out of a corner.
On the street, Sport Mode simply devolves into a button to make the transmission worse.The system would be right at home on a track. Unfortunately, we expect exactly zero ATS owners to use the machine as their weekend apex clipper. On the street, Sport Mode simply devolves into a button to make the transmission worse. The overly sensitive programming will kick down a gear and hold it on mild freeway onramps, sticking the transmission in third or fourth gear and keeping it there long enough for us to wonder if we've broken something. In the end, it does exactly what shift logic shouldn't do: make the driver aware of the transmission.
Throw all-wheel drive into the equation and the ATS feels a bit heavier but no less poised. That initial understeer is a bit more pronounced, though we doubt most consumers will notice or care. Blindfold us, stick us behind the wheel and hold on and we'd be hard pressed to accurately discern between the two drivetrains. Then there's the Tremec six-speed manual. Unfortunately, we only got to sample the row-your own gearbox on the track, where its gearing, soft throw and vague clutch felt out of context. We'll wait for more time on public streets before we throw down a final opinion.
If there's a powertrain in the ATS stable that feels becoming of the Cadillac name, it's the 3.6-liter V6 and six-speed automatic. While the six-cylinder engine doesn't offer all that much more torque than the four-cylinder, the ready horsepower changes the ATS from high strung to more confident. That's true for driving on both public streets and the track. Technically, V6 models weigh in at just 88 pounds more than their turbo four brethren, and we were hard pressed to discern any difference in handling between the two.
If there's a powertrain in the ATS stable that feels becoming of the Cadillac name, it's the 3.6-liter V6 and six-speed automatic.The Environmental Protection Agency hasn't officially released fuel economy figures for the ATS just yet, though GM estimates the 2.5-liter engine to be good for 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway on regular fuel. The turbocharged 2.0-liter, meanwhile, should post identical numbers in rear-wheel drive guise when equipped with an automatic gearbox, and the V6 should yield 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
The 2013 Cadillac ATS starts at $33,990, though that figure will only buy you a 2.5-liter four-cylinder. With no fuel-economy benefit over the turbocharged 2.0-liter and a hefty performance penalty, there really is no reason to opt for the base ATS. Choosing the more powerful four-cylinder will set you back $35,795, including destination, though we feel the ATS to own is the more potent 3.6-liter V6. Unfortunately, this is where the trouble starts. At $42,290, the V6 ATS is within $895 of its larger brother, the CTS sedan. Throw in a $1,295 Navigation and Surround Sound package, a $600 Cold Weather package, a $395 Advanced Security package and an $845 Driver Awareness package with lane departure warning and you have our $47,325 tester.
That's a fat stack of dollar bills, and while the ATS is nicely appointed, we have to feel sorry for the salesman trying to push this V6 model over the bigger CTS. Fortunately, there is enough breathing room between the turbo four-cylinder and its larger brother to make a sales case, and Cadillac has made it clear the 2.0-liter will be the company's volume mover. That may be true, but it's also the model that feels decidedly less premium.
Once GM figures out the engine bay, the 3 Series may have something to worry about.Let's be clear: This isn't the car to waltz up and dot BMW's eye. The lackluster entry four-cylinder and loftily priced V6 are stumbling blocks on that path, but knock-out aesthetics, truly world-class technology and a well-executed chassis make the ATS worth a look. Buyers will undoubtedly respond to those attributes, especially given the fact that the 2.0-liter starts within spitting distance of a topped-out Honda Accord.
There are certainly hitches in this sedan's giddy up, but the ATS is an impressive effort from a brand still struggling to shake off the cobwebs of the past three decades. Once GM figures out the engine bay, the 3 Series may have something to worry about. Until then, the ATS will find favor with the crowd that always wanted a CTS but couldn't come up with the cash.
2013 Cadillac ATS [w/video]