Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cadillac ATS - the car you should at least consider

Interesting set of circumstances led to me having a Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD model as a rental car for a day on a business trip. First of all this is a car I've been interested in driving since it has gotten positive press coming out as a BMW 3-Series competitor, and second I've been interested to experience the "new" Cadillac as a brand. I was more than a little surprised to see this car show up as a rental of all things. That was just the start of the surprises. In summary for those that don't want to read further, the car is very comfortable, incredibly engaging to drive, and is really sharp and attractive inside and out. Just an all around great car and truly reminded me of the "old" BMW driving experience.

 Exterior - it is what it is and what it looks like in pictures. It's the new Cadillac styling and I find it pretty attractive. The rear exhaust treatment and apron I think look fantastic. The car is sporty and shapely without being obnoxious. Not a lot to say about that!

 Suspension- really one of the true highlights of the car. Body roll is nearly non-existant, yet the ride is compliant. It's "sporty" in that you will feel the bumps, but they are damped in such a way they make no real noise in the car, the chassis stays balanced, and they aren't intrusive. The pavement is flat out bad around Madison right now, and I drove over some terrible rodes and was amazed at how well it soaked it all up. Truly impressive to get such a responsive handling and turn in feel without getting a jarring ride. Perfect for driving every day and still being confident in hitting the twisties when the mood strikes.

 Brakes and electronic nannies - the brakes are fantastic, no nose dive, great feel, great linearity. I grouped electronic nannies in here because I have to say the ABS system and traction control were fantastic on some bad ice. Like all traction control it steps in too early and a bit too aggressively, but to my surprise worked genuinely well. And you can shut it off.... that's perfect!

 Transmission/drivetrain - One of the biggest surprises was with this being an AWD model that it wasn't numb. It is clearly rear biased and the rear would start to ease out first, but the traction was there and the steering still engaging. When I've been in AWD BMW's they lose a LOT over the RWD versions. This AWD Caddie was fantastic and so much more communicative than the BMW baseline I'm familiar with. If for some reason the RWD is even more engaging... wow. The automatic transmission (it's a rental what do you expect) was the usual... you don't have the control so the downshifts and the upshifts are never quite what you want. That said the manual mode was actually very good, shifts were quick in response to your request and it let you hold RPM's where you wanted. Again, nicely done.

 Engine - a turbocharged Cadillac. And a good one. No real noticeable turbo lag, a great overall engine tone and exhaust note, strong linear power that is beautifully smooth. Just absolutely impressive. I was in awe of the engine almost as much as the steering and suspension. It's THAT good. At 272 horsepower it's not going to light the world on fire in a 3500 lb car, but it was plenty adequate and truly fun to drive. At highway speed it passed and merged and hustled when you wanted to and how you wanted to.

 Steering - this is one of those things that BMW had the market cornered on before. If you wanted sharp intuitive steering you got a BMW... move over.. get a Cadillac. Best steering I've ever seen in a car. Just perfectly weighted and does what you want before you even think about it. It really gives you confidence to steer through corners and it really feels like the car does everything you want it to.

 Handling - Steering and suspension really cover it, but it's just worth emphasizing again that the car handles beautifully. You just want to carry speed in to corners and feed the throttle in right out of the. Absolutely engaging and fluid and confidence inspiring. Beautiful handling. You have to experience it yourself to really get it, but wow does it drive great!

 Quality - The overall impression of materials and looks is extremely high end. That said there was some quibbles. The steering wheel had a weird plastic click and squeak as you turned it. There as a vent for the side windows that didn't sit truly flush with the dash. The whole center stack is a big glossy plastic piece that while it looks high end is just a lot of gloss and finger print magnetism. There were also some switch buttons that had uneven gaps around them. Overall the look and feel was fantastic, but there were definitely some "I'm American made" type quality gaffs that were a bit jarring considering how great the rest of the car was. There were really nice touches like the leather-esque stitched dash panels. The aluminum brushed trim has polished accent images on portions of it. The dash system has haptic touch and the CUE entertainment center worked great with my phone and overall seemed easy to use.

 When it comes down to it, for about 35K this is a heck of a lot of car that performs fantastic. I haven't been that impressed by a car in a long time. Truly, it is a car you NEED to consider if you are looking at any kind of sport sedan or luxury sport vehicle. Worth the look... or just see if you can rent one for a day from Enterprise ;)