Auto Blog

Cadillac ATS: Meant to be missed

2013 Cadillac ATS

I felt a twinge of loss when it came time to give up Cadillac ATS tester yesterday.
 
It happens now and again, but only when a car strikes a very specific chord. For me, that chord is all about how the car feels under and around me; how it responds to inputs given it via the steering wheel, pedals and, sometimes, the transmission; how it reacts to the road surface and how much it tells me about what’s going on down there.
 
Does it remain alien -- separate from me -- or does it welcome me into its world, invite me into its processes?
 
It’s an esoteric standard, I admit, and presents a high bar that few cars try and fewer surpass.
 
Failed attempts litter GM’s history; at one point, it seemed that every car Pontiac built was going to be a BMW-killer.
 
More recently, Cadillac’s CTS came very close to ringing my bell, but the ATS finally did the trick. Its particular combination of chassis dynamics, mechanics and driver orientation triggered all the right synapses.
 
Its optional Magnetic Ride Control System (see yesterday’s post) is a marvelous innovation that seemingly has lain in wait for the ATS. In this 3,300-pound car it finds its highest expression of compliance and responsiveness.
 
Though its benefits are apparent at any speed, they’re most notable when the driver has committed to a hard corner where the pavement is broken or rutted.
 
When pushed, MRC pushes back -- through the hands, the feet and the seat of the pants -- communicating the action of the electromagnetic dampers as they react to the broken pavement and fight to keep the tires planted. 
 
When one is fully in tune with the car, one can detect the initial soft response -- and its instantaneous rush to firmness.  
 
Initially, this sensation of hydraulics at work is a bit strange but the driver quickly comes to appreciate the stability it provides.
 
Trick hydraulics aside, this chassis has been sorted properly. Coming from a German maker -- read BMW -- it would be praiseworthy; coming from GM, it’s a revelation.
 
There are elements of the ATS of which I’m not as fond. CUE -- the voice-activated/touchscreen infotainment system -- is overly ambitious and a bit of a muddle and the back seat and trunk are smaller than they should be; but this Cadillac is meant to be missed when it goes away.



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