Detroit: 2013 Cadillac ATS Is New Frontier for Cadillac

It is finally here – a car we’ve been waiting a long time for. Last night the wraps were taken off the Cadillac ATS at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. The ATS is a hugely important product for the Cadillac brand in many ways.

It is the first product aimed squarely at the BMW 3-Series, and has been developed with an uncompromising approach. It is part of Cadillac’s “bookend” strategy for 2012, introducing products at the top (XTS) and bottom ends (ATS) of the market. While there is a lot of marketing hyperbole about new most products, with the ATS it really can’t be stressed enough about what it really means for Cadillac going forward. Keep reading on to see why.

Cadillac = edgy. That pretty much sums up Cadillac’s ethos ever since it debuted its Art & Science design language on the original CTS in 2003. The most recent CTS, introduced in 2008, had even sharper and more defined creases in the sheet metal. The ATS, like the XTS that came before it, shows a more refined and mature take on A&S.

Lines are a bit softer and more organic, while still remaining uniquely Cadillac. The ATS is a looker, although most agree could have been edgier. Cadillac chose to offer a very handsome design with traditional proportions, and the result works brilliantly.

What’s under the skin is of more importance, however. Cadillac worked on the ATS project for two and half years before ever sketching out the design. ATS wasn’t a car built to a design proposal – it began with a set of objectives and the design was made to fit in around that. The ATS debuts an all-new platform for GM – Alpha. It is a scalable rear-wheel drive architecture that will underpin the next-generation CTS as well as other RWD products in the GM stable such as the Chevrolet Camaro. It was purpose built for performance in this application. To compete with the 3-Series requires nothing less than this kind of an effort.

Size wise, the ATS is squarely in the compact category. Cadillac engineers wanted the car to be similar to the size of the E46 generation 3-Series. That goal enabled the ATS to be lightweight and nimble. Apparently the E46 3-Series was benchmarked for handling as well. A good majority of the ATS’ chassis development time was spent on the Nurburgring track in Germany. Its chassis affords it a 50/50 weight distribution, and the base ATS comes in at less than 3,400 pounds. Lightness was clearly a priority – engineers threw out outdated GM requirements and used aluminum, high-strength and ultra high-strength steel in key places to achieve this goal.

The interior is an area where the ATS makes a mark. On a design basis the interior is best-in-segment in our opinion. An extreme level of attention-to-detail is used, similar to the XTS that debuted in Los Angeles. Real-wood, stitching and a clean, upright center stack define the interior. CUE will be offered, bringing what most say is a class-leading infotainment system to Cadillac’s smallest sedan. For those who don’t want infotainment though, Cadillac will have a setup that ditches a center stack screen altogether.

With this in mind, could the ATS be the purest sports sedan in the segment? If you so choose, you can opt for a lightweight ATS with rear-wheel drive, a six-manual and no infotainment system. Surprisingly enough, the ATS could end up being the purists choice. As for us? We’d take CUE – the ATS without a screen looks cheap. In fact, the switchgear looks right out of a Sonic. On upper end trim levels that isn’t the case. The ATS interior offers a variety of interior colors available, including red with a carbon fiber trim finish.

At launch, the ATS will offer three engine options. When the V-8 powered V-Series arrives, that will swell to four. These engine options will run the whole gamut of what people are looking for in this segment. Like the rest, Cadillac ditches standard six-cylinder power for a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 200 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque. This engine will enable the car to offer a low starting price and post attractive fuel economy figures. With a light curb weight, 200 hp should provide adequate performance for many. For instance, the E46 3-Series, which Cadillac likes to talk about as a benchmark, was similar in weight and power figures. For those looking for more, a 2.0-liter turbo four puts out 270 hp and a 3.6-liter six-cylinder ups the ante to 318 hp. The wealth of engine options indicates how aggressively Cadillac intends to compete with the ATS.

The real question will be how it drives. The driving experience is the primary focus Cadillac put on this car. From what we can see in design and specifications, the ATS vaults to the top of its class, passing up the Audi A4, Infiniti G37 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Is it good enough to beat the BMW 3-Series though? The jury is out on that one, but the 3-Series might finally get a good run for the top spot.

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