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Cadillac ATS strikes a cord

The compact ATS is GM’s first serious attempt to undo BMW’s longstanding dominance of the sport sedan category

Don Adair
I felt a familiar twinge of loss the day I gave up my Cadillac ATS tester. It happens now and again; a car strikes a cord and I don’t want to let go. For me, it’s all about the way the car feels around me, how it responds to what I ask of it, how it reacts to the road surface, what it tells me about what’s going on down there. The compact ATS is GM’s first serious attempt to undo BMW’s longstanding dominance of the sport sedan category, and it makes a strong case for itself. On the street or on the track, it’s the best sport sedan yet from an American builder. Better even than its excellent midsize sibling, the CTS. The ATS is available in rear- and all-wheel-drive configurations and its dynamics are world-class. My tester included GM’s optional Magnetic Ride Control System (MRC) which, under normal conditions, produces a compliant and responsive ride. When pushed, it pushes back — through the hands, the feet and the seat of the pants — communicating the action of the electromagnetic dampers as they fight to keep the tires planted during hard cornering, especially when broken pavement wants to send them skittering. The dynamics are fluid rather than mechanical. As the electrically charged shock fluid thickens, an initial soft response gives way to an instantaneous rush to firmness, the action viscously damped. Even without the trick hydraulics, though, this chassis is well-sorted. Coming from a German maker — read BMW — it would be praiseworthy; coming from GM, it’s revelatory. The ATS is available with three engine choices and three transmissions. The base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder makes 202 horsepower and is paired with a 6-speed automatic. The midlevel, 272-hp, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder comes with a dual-scroll turbocharger, direct injection and variable valve timing, and is the only engine of the three that can be outfitted with either a manual or an automatic transmission. GM’s ubiquitous 321-hp 3.6-liter V-6 is the top-end choice and can be had only with the automatic. My tester had the six, and it’s plenty of engine, strong throughout the power band and showing a happy growl in its upper ranges. No complaints to log about the intelligent 6-speed tranny (driven hard, it shifts down for turns and holds the gear throughout the maneuver), although BMW offers sticks, manuals and clutchless manuals across the 3 Series line. With its comfortable, well appointed and ergonomically sound cabin, the CTS broke new ground for Cadillac. The ATS follows suit, sporting a beautifully crafted dashboard, outstanding materials quality and fit and finish. There’s abundant room for front-seat occupants, who also enjoy contoured and bolstered seats. In back, legroom is tight and ingress and egress is awkward. The trunk is small for the class. CUE — Cadillac’s ambitious voice-activated/touchscreen infotainment system — is a bit of a muddle. Its capabilities are vast, but its learning curve is steep and too often simple tasks require multiple touches. A “serious” driver might still choose a Bimmer for its refinement, wide range of engine and transmission choices and nonpareil drive characteristics; all the same, I can hardly wait for my next chance to miss the ATS.
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