2013 Cadillac ATS strikes the perfect balance

The combination of luxury and performance in the

The combination of luxury and performance in the 2013 Cadillac ATS is "just about right." (Credit: General Motors)

Goldilocks would love the 2013 Cadillac ATS. So will any number of devotees of compact sport/luxury sedans, including some already in committed relationships with BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

The ATS is the baby bear of the genre. The ride is neither too hard nor too soft. The steering feel is neither too stiff nor too slack. The back seat is neither too big nor too small.

The list goes on. Mainly, the combination of performance and luxury is just about right. The ATS invites cliches, the most overused and annoying of which is "fun to drive." Just say that it has a personality that keeps the driver involved and interested.

This is a car unlike any Cadillac has ever produced. Always with a reputation for luxury, and sometimes even for performance (with a few missteps here and there), the luxury division of General Motors until recently never directly challenged the best that Europe offered.

That changed with the introduction of the CTS and its high-performance CTS-V model, a midsize car that could credibly match up against the likes of the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the Audi 6 models.

Now the ATS arrives with the avowed purpose of taking on what Cadillac calls "the world's most significant luxury car segment." Be that as it may, it was designed specifically to compete directly against the vaunted BMW 3-Series, the Mercedes C-Class and the Audi A4.

It looks the part. The exterior styling is a somewhat subdued and rounded off version of Cadillac's unmistakable "art and science" design, with its sharp edges and creases. Following sports sedan fashion, the track is wide and the wheels are pushed out to the corners to give the ATS a coiled, ready to spring look.

Inside, however, the aggressiveness gives way to pure luxury, American style, with materials like polished wood and shiny piano black surfaces interspersed with prominently stitched soft leather -- all obviously intended to please the senses.

As with other aspects of the car, the front seats are supportive but neither too hard nor too mushy. In back, there is space for two average-sized humans, as long as they are no taller than about 5 feet 10 inches. There's a center seating spot that should be immediately forgotten and never used.

The ATS comes with a choice of three different engines: 202-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 272-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, and the subject here, a 321-horsepower V-6. Power surges to the rear wheels or all four wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode operated by paddles mounted on the steering wheel.

Customers who like to shift by themselves also can order the ATS with a six-speed manual gearbox, although it is available only with the turbo four.

There are four trim levels: Standard, Luxury, Performance and Premium. The test car was a Premium with rear-wheel drive. It had a starting price of $47,590 and, with a cold-weather package, 18-inch polished aluminum wheels and a $995 "thunder gray chromaflair" paint job, topped out at $50,035.

Oddly, there was no sunroof. However, the test car did have the CUE (for Cadillac User Experience) system, which incorporates entertainment and information from up to 10 mobile devices that use Bluetooth wireless communication. It can be ordered with or without navigation.

The system works well enough once you learn it, but it can get squirrely if the operator is not precise and, like other modern systems, can be distracting. It operates with both a touch screen and buttons that vibrate back when you touch them or even just pass by them. It's too easy to inadvertently touch something you don't want.

On the road, throttle response is instant and strong, and the suspension system is supple enough to soak up bumps and keep the wheels planted even while accelerating around a corner. Tactile sensations feed back through the steering wheel, which is connected to one of the better electric power steering systems extant.

The main jarring note in the overall experience was a lane-departure warning system that vibrated the driver's seat when the ATS strayed to the left or right. It was erratic in operation, though it did deliver some tingling excitement in the body's nether region.

The left-lane driving British have a saying that although Americans drive on the right side of the road, they drive on the correct side.

Cadillac's new ATS drives both right and correct.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model: 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Premium four-door sedan.

Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 321 horsepower.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.

Overall length: 15 feet 3 inches.

EPA passenger/cargo volume: 91/10 cubic feet.

Weight: 3,400 pounds.

EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/28/22 mpg.

Base price, including destination charge: $47,590.

Price as tested: $50,035.

Comments or suggestions? Contact Frank Aukofer at driveways6(at)gmail.com

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