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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.

Cadillac ATS: Taming the wild road

In 2002, GM debuted a new suspension technology called Magnetic Ride Control (MRC).

That name sounds like it came rolling straight from the Hype Machine, but MRC was a breakthrough in suspension design. It’s behind the FE3 sport suspension that’s available on the ATS.
So let’s get geeky.
Suspension engineers are challenged with striking a balance between ride compliance — the ability of a suspension to absorb impacts — and the stiffness required to keep the tires firmly planted when the car leans in a fast corner.  
MRC solves the problems with a single, ingenuous solution.
magnetic ride control shock aborbersThe system employs dampers — a fancy word for shock absorbers — at each corner of the car. Inside each damper is a tube which is filled with a fluid in which iron particles are suspended.
A pair of elecromagnetic coils flanks each fluid-filled tube. 
When sensors distributed throughout the car detect body roll, they send electrical impulses to the coils.
Receiving the impulse stream, the coils switch on, creating a magnetic field that shoots through the fluid and causes the iron bits to line up like trees in an orchard. So aligned, they cause the damper fluid to thicken.
The greater the degree of body roll, the greater the degree of alignment. As the fluid thickens, it exerts greater force on the suspension components that steady the wheel.
MRC reads the road every millisecond and can change damping in five milliseconds, says Cadillac.

Cadillac ATS: New kid has attitude

It's all-GM all-the-time this week here at Seat Time.

For the past few days, we've focused on Chevy's new mini-car, the Spark. For the next few days we'll look at Cadillac's newest and smallest, the ATS sport sedan.

We might as well get this out of the way right up top; Cadillac makes no bones of the fact that it benchmarked BMW's 3 Series during ATS development. And why not? The 3 is the world's compact sport sedan of choice; if you're going to pick a target, make it a good one.

The ATS is a four-passenger sedan available in RWD and AWD configurations. It offers a choice of three powerplants - two fours (one turbocharged) and a six - and a wide range of performance enhancements and options.

By its very nature, it's a temptress, beckoning one to places one should not venture — and making sure you love every moment of it.

But more about performance in a later post. For now, we'll say only that the ATS's talents outstrip those of any Caddy before it, save its big brother, the 556-hp CTS-V. Suffice to say, its capabilities also will surpass those possessed by all but a very exclusive handful of drivers.

It's a good one, but so is the 3 Series. We have a shoot-out on our hands, folks.

Before signing off, we'll note that the ATS:

  • is less rougly $2,000 less expensive than the 3, when comparably equipped, says Cadillac;
  • features Cadlillac's new CUE (Cadillac User Experience), an voice-activated touchscreen infotainment system that pairs as many as 10 Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices, USBs, SD cards and MP3 players. You may not love it, but you'll learn to make your peace with it.

Check in tomorrow for a more detailed look at the systems that make the littlest Caddy go.