Posts Tagged ‘ATS’

If you’re like me, you’ve read all the glowing reviews of the all-new 2013 Cadillac ATS, the entry level Caddy that was created to slay the mighty Germans, with the BMW 3-series directly in the engineers’ cross-hairs.

The first 2013 Cadillac ATS rolls off the assembly line. It was a great moment for GM's luxury division.

The first 2013 Cadillac ATS rolls off the assembly line. It was a great moment for GM’s luxury division.

I certainly was skeptical. After all, the Bavarian Motor Works has been honing its 3-Series for decades and it’s the de-facto benchmark by which all compact sports sedans must be compared. Cadillac’s engineers tore apart the 3er to see what makes it tick and then built the company’s all-new rear-drive Alpha platform to meet, match or exceed the standards of BMW.

The short answer is that Cadillac has succeeded in making a competitive, first-rate compact sports sedan. Is it a BMW? No, it’s not, but it’s a great freshman entry. It’s not quite carved from one block of granite and doesn’t convey the decades of engineering experience and crammed trophy cases that paved the way for the current (internal code) F30 BMW is built.

A BMW 328i sedan - the benchmark for all compact sports sedans and the target of the 2013 Cadillac ATS.

A BMW 328i sedan – the benchmark for all compact sports sedans and the target of the 2013 Cadillac ATS.

Perhaps I’m biased because I’ve owned at least one or more cars from all the German manufactures. Perhaps I’m predisposed to expect mediocre product from the Wreath and Crest division of General Motors. However, in the ultra-competitive luxury car market, brand image is vital and perception translates into sales reality.

GM’s luxury division is going to have to work magic to get BMW, Mercedes or Lexus owners to cross shop – particularly in a region like Southern California where a Caddy is joke punch line, not something you drive. Cadillac’s customers skew much older and attracting youth to the brand – youth that will appreciate the driving dynamics of the ATS and who will know how to use all the electronic gizmos – will be key to the future of the brand.

I’d like to get past the styling before we get to the actual driving experience. The ATS wears a conservative, toned-down version of Cadillac’s decade-old Art & Science theme. I like the way the vertical headlight array sweeps up the front fenders and the mini fins in back are a Cadillac hallmark. The rear center brake light is nicely integrated into the trunk lid. The whole package works well, but color choice is very important to the overall look.

2013 Cadillac ATS Luxury Sports Sedan

2013 Cadillac ATS Luxury Sports Sedan

Detail of the 2013 Cadillac ATS'  headlight module. Note how the vertical LED running lights sweep up and over the front wheel fender. A nice touch.

Detail of the 2013 Cadillac ATS’ headlight module. Note how the vertical LED running lights sweep up and over the front wheel fender. A nice touch.

The rear of the 2013 Cadillac ATS. You can still see vestiges of fins in the vertical taillights and the center brake light is nicely integrated into the trunk spoiler.

The rear of the 2013 Cadillac ATS. You can still see vestiges of fins in the vertical taillights and the center brake light is nicely integrated into the trunk spoiler.

The ATS’ Alpha chassis is text book sports sedan: Front engine, rear-wheel drive, four-wheel independent, multilink suspension, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and optional all-wheel drive. Like all modern cars, to save weight and engine drag, the ATS uses the latest-generation electric power steering unit from Germany’s ZF.

Cadillac offers three engine options: The base unit is a Chevy 2.5 L four-cylinder unit with direct injection making 202 hp. Next up is a 2.0L turbo four, also with direct injection, making 272 hp and the most potent engine (before the inevitable ATS-V makes its debut) is the familiar 3.6L direct injected V6 good for 321 hp.

The standard transmission on all trim levels is GM’s aging 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters. You can get a 6-speed manual transmission only on the 2.0 turbo models. GM always seems late to the party on transmission. Its competitors have been using 7- and 8-speed automatics for a while now. However there is hope. The just-introduced 2014 Cadillac CTS, which also rides on the Alpha platform, will use an Aisin (aToyota affiliate) 8-speed automatic on some models with V6 engines. The 8-speed should migrate to the ATS in the next model year. Problem solved.

I drove the ATS 3.6 Luxury with a base MSRP $42,090 – much more than the standard ATS 2.5 that starts at $34,000. Aside from the V6, 6-speed automatic and an assortment of other goodies, it come standard with the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) infotainment system (sans navigation). My tester had the optional $845 Driver Awareness Package and nothing else.

Morello Red leather with Jet Black accents is an optional interior on the ATS

Morello Red leather with Jet Black accents is an optional interior on the ATS

The ATS was a delight to drive. If this was around in the Roman times, Mercury wouldn’t have needed wings on his shoes. The 3.6 has plenty of power and a very broad torque range. It effortlessly flew up hills and down wide boulevards. This was a happy time for my right foot; just don’t watch the instant fuel economy readout.

The ATS felt light and nimble, even in “Luxury” trim wearing only standard 17 inch wheels and all-season tires. And I do mean light. The V6 ATS weighs around 3,400 – about 100 pounds less than the comparable BMW 335i. It’s also balanced nearly 50-50 front/rear, long a BMW bragging point. It easily tosses into turns and straightens out without feeling like the mass is still moving in the opposite direction.

A cutaway of the 2013 Cadillac ATS shows how weight was saved by using aluminum and high-tensile steel.

A cutaway of the 2013 Cadillac ATS shows how weight was saved by using aluminum and high-tensile steel.

Fortunately, the Cadillac doesn’t use run-flat tires like almost every BMW. Even on highway braille bumps and uneven surfaces, the chassis was calm, quiet and composed, facilitating a sporty but comfortable ride. It was a joy.

Steering is light, well balanced with commendable road feel. Much can be attributed to the ZF EPS unit, but Cadillac’s engineers really spent bundles of time and untold computing hours tuning the steering – and it shows. There was no drift, and it tracked laser straight and small movements yielded exacting results. I wished for slightly better on-center feel. That said, I wished for the same things when I drove 2012 BMW 328i and it’s the benchmark.

Cabin quality was on par with the competition, but not to the level of Audi. Materials felt rich, plastics were mostly soft to the touch (with a few glaring exceptions) and I liked the French stitching on the dash. Some switchgear felt cheap.

The cock pit of the 2013 Cadillac ATS sports sedan. This one has CUE, Cadillac User Experience, the brand's high-tech infotainment system.

The cock pit of the 2013 Cadillac ATS sports sedan. This one has CUE, Cadillac User Experience, the brand’s high-tech infotainment system.

For me, the cabin was a bit claustrophobic – I’m 6’1” tall, 180 pounds. While I fit in the seat, and I liked the electric adjustments, side bolsters and the manual thigh support extension, I just felt like the passenger and I were too close. There was an unconscious jousting of elbows for the slim center arm rest.

And with me in the driver’s seat, the back seat is good only for small adults or children. There was barely room for our two dachshunds. The BMW 3 seemed to have more space. Trunk space was on par with the others in this category. If your idea of weekend fun is Swedish meatballs and flat-packed furniture, buy an SUV.

Cadillac’s CUE infotainment system is frustrating and might be enough to kill the deal. I’ve driven many cars with more responsive touch screens. I believe Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system that mixes a more responsive touch-screen with old-school knobs and buttons is far superior. While CUE’s haptic feedback is nice, I always felt a hesitation when I punched a function on the slick 8 inch full color screen. It was slow enough to make me almost want to touch the control again. Like many others, I’m used to the instant response of an iPad screen and CUE feels like the design predates the iPad which is already on its third generation.

The capacitive sensing touch screen of CUE.

The capacitive sensing touch screen of CUE.

I also don’t like the lack of physical knobs for things like volume or climate control. While I’m sure you’d get used to sliding your finger over the slick center panel to raise or lower volume, I’m willing to bet users will elect to control that kind of stuff with the redundant hard buttons on the steering wheel.

The center dash touch panel of the 2013 Cadillac ATS has no knobs or physical buttons. Everything is touch sensitive. It's easier to turn the knob to turn the sound up or push it to turn the system off.

The center dash touch panel of the 2013 Cadillac ATS has no knobs or physical buttons. Everything is touch sensitive. It’s easier to turn the knob to turn the sound up or push it to turn the system off.

The very fact that the 2013 Cadillac ATS exists is a minor miracle and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to someone looking for something different from the standard issue (in LA) BMW 328i, Audi A4 or Mercedes C250. But for me, it’s really the Almost There Sedan from Cadillac. It would only be attractive on a heavily-vented short-term lease. I have high hopes for the ATS, particularly when it matriculates to its 2nd generation. Maybe then, some of its freshman flaws will be exorcised and we can call it the All There Sedan.

[Editor’s note: March 2013 sales were announced two days ago. Cadillac’s March 2013 sales were up 55%. The ATS had its best month since launch, with 3,587 units sold – outselling the Audi A4/Allroad, but still a distance from the BMW 3-series with nearly 9,000 unit sales. Ward’s Automotive reports that 70% of ATS sales were “conquest sales” from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus.  Fifty percent of ATS sales were with the 2.0T engine, with the remaining half split evenly between the base 2.5L I4 and the 3.6L V6 engines. ]


The 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show opened today with a slew of introductions. I’ll try and go through as many as I can with some color commentary:

Art Center College of Design always has some excellent concepts that the automotive design students present.  This Hybrid Sports Bicycle (HSB) caught my eye. The concept design and body fabrication was done by Tomas Bubilek and the chassis design and fabrication was done by Michael R. Bowser.

Concept Hybrid Sports Bicycle presented by Art Center College of Design students.

I also liked this Mazda concept 3-D mock up:

Mazda Design Concept

Acura: Honda’s luxury brand has a lot of work to do to regain sales that its lost over the past decade by not focusing on a brand image and just phoning in the cars and going a little off the range with the famous Acura Beak aluminum grille.  Acura introduced a new flagship, the 2014 RLX. No, it’s not rear drive, and in some ways it seems like a face lifted all-wheel drive RL, but it does look better. I’m simply not impressed. Maybe it drives well.

2014 Acura RLX – Front. I do like the all-LED headlights.

Rear taillight detail for the 2014 Acura RLX. I like the light show in the rear too, if not the overall look of the tail.

The interior of the 2014 Acura RLX, the brand’s flagship.

Audi: Audi really had nothing new to show the world at the LA show, so instead we were graced with the announcement that Audi would sell the A6, A7, A8 and Q5 with a 3.0L V6 TDI engine. The clean diesel power plant will likely sell well given the significant increase in fuel economy over the gasoline analogs.  This lovely A8L TDI should get 24 mpg city and 36 highway — stunning numbers given the heft of Audi’s flagship.  The diesel engine is rated at 240 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque and powers all four wheels through an 8-speed ZF automatic.  Audi says it will do 0-60 in 6.4 seconds.

The 2014 Audi A8L TDI

This A8 had the rear seat package that makes for a very comfortable passenger. Check out the controls for the passenger!

The driver of this 2014 Audi A8L TDI is in the lap of luxury. Audi still sets the bar high for luxury interiors.

Bentley: If you want something a bit more rarefied than an Audi, the Volkswagen Group owns Bentley too. Not much new for LA, but we got another iteration of the company’s Continental GT. This is the “Speed” version with Bentley’s 6.0L twin turbo W12 engine making 616 ponies with 590 lb-ft of gut-wrenching torque to go from zero to 60 in 4 seconds flat and top out at 212 mpg. It’s at least $225,000.

2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed.

If you have a bit more money to burn, Bentley also showed the 2013 Mulsanne. It’s sort of the old school Bentley using a thoroughly updated 6.7L V8 making a healthy 505 hp and a stunning 752 lb-ft of torque. It is all channeled thorough the ZF 8-speed automatic used in several other VW Group products.  You get the feeling of a locomotive when you’re behind the wheel because the Mulsanne weights in at 5,700 lbs. Yikes! But if you can afford the $296,000 (before options), who cares?

2013 Bentley Mulsanne. Check out those Gatling Gun headlights!

You may not mind being stuck in LA traffic if you are sitting behind this wheel. Beautiful real wood and top quality switchgear.

BMW: Our friends from Munich showed off the latest iteration of their upcoming i3 electric car. The i3 Concept Coupe is really just the standard i3 less two doors and some length. Still, it looks nice. I’d love to know what the final production version will look like when it shows up sometime in 2014.

BMW i3 Concept Coupe, front.

BMW i3 Concept Coupe side, from the rear.

If you’re not as interested in the i3, BMW dragged out the i8 Concept that was last seen a year ago in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. So just to tease you again, here are some pictures. It won’t look quite this amazing and flamboyant when it finally shows up for sale, sometime after the i3 goes on sale.

BMW i8 Concept Hybrid.

The i8 Concept Hybrid certainly has the futuristic interior to match the great exterior.

How about a BMW you can actually buy? This 2013 Gran Coupe is certainly a looker, particular in this expensive matte finish:

This lovely 2013 BMW 650i Gran Coupe starts at $87,395. The Frozen Bronze Metallic paint is a $3,500 option.

The Gran Coupe has one of BMW’s most sumptuous and well-crafted interiors. You won’t (and shouldn’t) find any cheap plastics inside here.

BMW likes to show off expensive cars, and this auto show is no different. How about the M6 and M5 in the background? If six digit prices offend you, avert your eyes.

The price of the 2013 BMW M6 starts with a six digit number.

Buick: It was kind of lonely at the Buick booth. I mean, LA is not very friendly to Buick. There aren’t many Buick dealers and the brand hasn’t sold well here in decades.  GM’s wants its near-luxury marque to appeal to a budget-minded Lexus customer.  That’s a tough hill to climb, given the years of neglect and the 25 years Lexus has been honing its luxury credentials.

However, to entice younger buyers, Buick is introducing a small crossover called the Encore.  Opel sells a version of it called the Mokka in Europe and, like the Mokka,  the Encore is imported from GM’s South Korean subsidiary.

2013 Buick Encore

2013 Buick Encore – from the rear.

The interior of the Encore is nice, but built to a price. I mean, this is a car in the $20,000 range, so you can’t expect top quality plastics. GM did go to great lengths to make the colors pleasing and the dash is distinct, if not a stand-out.

Space isn’t bad for a little CUV. I’m not sure if a young family with no kids and a dog will want this of if empty-nest retired baby boomers will go for it. Time will tell.

Cadillac: Another GM division that’s got fresh product is Cadillac.  The all-important, all-new rear-drive ATS was introduced earlier this year to much fanfare and pretty good reviews. The ATS’ stated target is the BMW 328i and it’s the first time Cadillac has real skin in this game.  While the press is slobbering all over the ATS, I’m not impressed by the interior. The plastics feel cheap, the wood looks fake (even if it is real) and the shiny digital center console with the “Cadillac User Experience” (CUE) featured prominently only looks good when it’s turned on and the sun isn’t shining on it.  The hepatic touch-control feedback is overrated and feels clumsy. Certainly not something I’d like to futz with while driving. Maybe I’ll enjoy the driving experience.

2013 Cadillac ATS

The cockpit of the 2013 Cadillac ATS with CUE. This one looks better without the wood inserts.

The rear seat of the ATS isn’t any worse than the BMW 328i or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Chevrolet: Not to be left out, GM’s mainstream division, Chevrolet, has new product too. First, the “big deal” is the 2014 Impala. It’s basically the Chevy version of the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS. It’s big and it looks it. No more rental fleet for this Impala, right? Time will tell.

The 2014 Chevy Impala. Big. New. But I just don’t care, sorry, guys.

Chevy picked LA to show off its new 2014 Spark EV.  The Spark is the smallest car Chevy’s ever sold. It’s a product of GM South Korea (a.k.a. Daewoo). It’s better than the Aveo, but still a bit too rental for me. The EV is a big deal because California requires all the major manufacturers to sell zero emissions vehicles by a certain date. I think the first two markets for the Spark EV will be California and Florida. What it has going for it is price. It’s cheap, as far as EVs go – below $25,000 after a federal tax credit.  The electric motor is good for 120 hp and a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque. The Spark EV is quick too – GM says zero to 60 is 8 seconds.  But the big news is the fast charging system. The Combo DC Fast-Charge system promises to deliver an 80% charge in just 20 minutes.  We haven’t seen range figures yet, but the magic target is usually 100 miles per charge.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

The 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack adds a whopping 560 lbs to the Spark. But that weight on the floor should make for a great low center of gravity and add to stability.

The 2014 Spark EV is a bit spartan, but interior parts painted in the exterior color ads some visual interest. It’s not bad for the price point, but there are lots of hard plastics.

This 2013 Corvette ZR-1 is always a crowd-pleaser with its striking good looks, carbon fiber bits and a 6.2L LS9 V8 supercharged engine producing 638 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque. It can go from zero to 60 in 3.4 seconds and its top speed is 205 mph. Take that, Viper! A bargain at a base MSRP of $112,600.

2013 Corvette (C6) ZR-1 from its sexy rear.

The front end of the 2013 Corvette ZR-1. Next year, the all-new C7 (7th Gen) Corvette will be introduced to the world.

Prepare to yawn.  Here is the 2013 Malibu. It should be a contender in the large mid-size family sedan segment, doing battle with the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata; however, I think the Malibu will continue to find its place in the rental fleets.

Here it is: The all-new 2013 Chevy Malibu.

The best viewing angle for the 2013 ‘Bu is definitely from its rear.

It’s the best interior of any Malibu in the past 40 years, but that might be damning with faint praise.

Chevy recycled some concept cars too. Both the Code 130R and Tru 140S appeared nearly a year ago at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January. Nice to see them in the flesh, but they are old news. What remains to be seen is if GM will do anything with these concepts. Of particular interst is the small rear-drive platform for the Code 130R.

Chevy Code 130R Concept. Love the paint.

Chevy Tru 140S Concept

More to follow…..