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2013 Cadillac ATS
The 2013 Cadillac ATS is a strong competitor to prestigious European rivals.

Prices: $33,095-$47,795

The new 2013 Cadillac ATS can equal or match European sports sedan rivals. But, thanks to its mega-horsepower CTS-V, Cadillac is only mildly compared by some to prestigious sporty  Euro nameplates such as Audi, Mercedes and BMW. After all, you can’t build mostly pure luxury cars for about 100 years, then suddenly get a sporty image.   

The $33,095-$47,795 ATS is sold with rear- or all-wheel drive. Its clean styling is handsome, and the car is loaded with comfort, convenience and safety equipment. It includes everything from a keyless push-button start to a premium sound system with steering wheel audio controls.

Safety items include lots of air bags and a back-up camera on some models. A handy safey option, especially in parking lots, is Side Blind Zone Alert. It can prevent you from backing out of a parking spot into a car soon to pass behind you.

Regular options include a $924 sunroof.

The ATS has outstanding handling, with a chassis developed on Germany’s long, awesomely challenging Nurburgring race course. (Stability and traction control help keep things steady in challenging situations.) The firm steering is fast, and the ride is supple. You can get a FE3 performance suspension package, but it’s for car buffs.

My $43,695 test ATS “Performance Collection” V-6 model had powerful brakes that responded instantly to an easily modulated pedal. Why this version is called a “Performance Collection” model is a mystery to me, although I liked the nifty brightly polished dual exhaust outlets tips.

The illuminating door handles were a nice touch, especially at night or in dark parking areas.         

Three engines are available: a base 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 202 horsepower, a turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder with 272 horsepower and a 3.6-liter V-6 with 321 horsepower.

The V-6 is generally the best engine for this car. It’s smooth, responsive and has a linear throttle response. The base engine doesn’t sound strained and is fine for many, delivering respectable performance (but at high revs). Many auto buffs will want the turbo engine, although it’s said to have some turbo lag and an overly compressed power curve. In contrast, the V-6 delivers power more smoothly and increases it more steadily.

Estimated fuel economy with the V-6 is 19 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway with rear-drive and 18 and 26 with AWD. It’s 22 and 33 with the base four-cylinder. And it is  21 and 31 with the rear-drive turbo and 20 and 30 with the AWD turbo.

The turbo engine calls for premium gasoline. Regular-grade fuel can be used with the other engines.  

My ATS came with Cadillac’s new, responsive, smooth 6-speed automatic, which has a  manual shift feature that really is superfluous. Unless you like really shifting gears, the automatic is preferable to the available 6-speed manual gearbox, which is said to be rather clunky. The manual only is offered with the turbocharged engine.
The ATS is specifically aimed at the sporty BMW 3-Series, which has won the “best car” category by many car experts for a long string of years. The Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class also are in the gun sights of the ATS.

The ATS is roughly comparable in size and weight to BMW’s costlier 328i sedan in the  3-Series line. However, the ATS has a slightly shorter wheelbase. That results in a tight rear seat area for a tall passenger in terms of leg room behind the driver and toe room beneath both front-seat occupants. Also, narrow door openings can make it a bit difficult for the less agile to slide in or out of the backseat.

The ATS has a moderately large trunk with a rather high opening but wide sill. There’s a small pass-through area from the trunk. Still, the 328i’s longer wheelbase allows it to have a larger trunk.The ATS rear center armrest contains dual cupholders, and windows roll all the way down.

My test car’s luxurious, quiet interior had a grippy steering wheel, supportive power front leather-covered seats and soft-touch trim. Gauges could be easily read in sunlight. Controls could be quickly reached, but the 8-inch full-color touch display took some time to get used to. Front doors have large storage pockets, but back doors have none. Rear visibility is marginal, so it’s best to use the large outside folding mirrors.

Many will be frustrated trying to open the hood, at least for the first few times. The small inside release is buried deep under the dash—and then even veteran car hikers scraped their fingers trying to locate the outside release lever at the front of the hood. The owner’s manual is of little help here.

The ATS may be the answer to the prayers of those who want a sports sedan but don’t want to deal with a limited number of foreign car dealers and their generally higher maintenance and repair bills.