As you can see above, there is a new player in the Cadillac lineup. Now, you may be wondering why I focused on this car first with all the other things unveiled in Detroit. To that I say; we don’t need ANOTHER Porsche 911, Acura lost it’s edge a long time ago and it’s perhaps too late to recover, and the Bently Continental is still ugly. I will feature some other vehicles in another post, but this model in particular deserves a feature.
The Cadillac ATS (no idea what that means, but one could correctly surmise that it’s a small version of a CTS) is the herald of a new era in American automotive design, a direction we needed to take long, long, LONG ago. In the 70’s there was a rather unexciting BMW introduced. It was small, not very bold looking, and only looked good in silver or black. The 3 series came to America and took Yuppies by storm. In the decades since we have seen this, once lack-luster, model grow up and become the powerhouse behind BMW’s growth. The X-factor was the idea that a car should be fun to drive, rather than large and imposing. BMW devotes countless man-hours engineering the way the 3 series drives.
Many manufacturers, including Cadillac, have tried to capture some of the 3-series market, and most have fallen on their proverbial faces. They failed to see the X-factor. They built small cars, large cars, tall cars, short cars, convertibles, coupes, sedans, and everything else you can think of. They marketed all of them as competition for the 3-series, and their lies were painfully obvious. Why could none of these manufacturers see that it was about having fun? Behind all the wood, and fancy body panels, the BMW is about fun. Maybe it’s because “we” see driving as a chore. Something we have to do to get to work, not something to do just for the sake of doing it. If this were so true, then why is there such a market for these small and sporty Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus sedans? The obvious answer is that they are bought by people who can’t afford the bigger versions (5-series for one.) This may be true for some, but I think most buyers in this entry-level luxury class are looking for a driving experience. If not, they could have saved some money and bought a boring Lincoln.
Many people ask me why I drive a Saab. My answer, every time, is “it’s fun.” I have driven many many cars since I bought my Saab, and none have made me actually consider selling my Saab to get one. At least, none except BMW, and Mercedes… I think a lot of that comes from the fact that the Saab is front-wheel-drive. Despite the responsive turbo, and superior mid-range acceleration, It limits it’s own driving potential with the heavy front end, and slight understeer.
The ATS design was influenced by what makes almost all European cars more fun to drive. They shortened the car, shaved loads of weight, and actually spent time on a suspension system that could be responsive. This is bright news for people like me, people who enjoy going on a drive, just “to go for a drive.” People who have a passion that is often shunned in America. It is seen as “unusual” to actually want to get off the Interstates, and choose the back roads of Pennsylvania, Tennessee, or western Colorado. The twisting, winding, rising, falling, wonderland that most people in America see as annoying, and time-consuming. I find a long drive on the Interstate to be about as fun as pulling out my own teeth, with a jack-hammer.
I can honestly say that I look forward to seeing this car at a dealership near me, so I can get my hands on one, and see if all the hype is well deserved.
Here’s the highlights on the new ATS:
GM developed an all-new Five-link independent rear suspension, just for this car; which will become the “scale-able” base for RWD platforms GM will produce in the future. There are two suspension options for drivers to enjoy. The “FE2” and “FE3″ will be terms that come up often in the GM future, I predict. The FE2 package comes standard with 17” wheels surrounded by all-season tires, though you can get the “sport package” which changes to 18″ wheels, all-season tires, and Brembo premium brakes. The FE3 option comes standard with 18″ wheels (though, only summer-tires) Brembo premium brakes, and MR variable dampers (Touring, and Sport modes.) The FE3 will also feature wider tires in the rear, which will be something to remember when going to buy the all-season, or winter tires you didn’t get from the factory. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the FE3 was tuned on the Nürburgring. For those who don’t already know, the Nürburgring is the world’s longest track, boasting over 140 corners, and is the place where the likes of Aston Martin, BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus, test their new sporting models. It is literally a “ring” around the area of Nürburg, Germany.
Three engine options:
1) 200 horsepower 2.5-liter Non-Turbo 4-cylinder
2) 270 horsepower 2.0-liter Turbocharged 4-cylinder
3) 318 horsepower 3.6-liter V-6.
For now it looks as if only the Turbo-4 will get the all-new “Tremec” six-speed manual. The other two will have GM’s 6L45E six-speed auto transmission, and gets paddle-shift if you opt for that FE3 suspension I mentioned above. There was going to be an 8-speed version of the automatic, but that has been pushed back due to bankruptcy delays. There is talk of a Diesel option, so let’s hope that comes true as well.
The ATS is significantly shorter than the CTS (8 inches) and has been engineered for 50/50 weight distribution. Front to rear weight distribution is 50/50 in the turbo manual; 51/49 in the automatic models; and 52/48 in the AWD models (yes, there will be an AWD version!). Only the FE3 suspension will receive a Limited-Slip Differential, which help reduce tire-spin and maintain traction under acceleration and/or cornering. All this is built on an aluminum frame which helps keep the weight under 3,400 pounds.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a luxury car without a billion options to check off… Bose sound, satellite navigation, “Cadillac User Experience” (or “CUE”) infotainment center, “Adaptive” cruise control, brake assist, lane departure warning system, and more.
Overall, I think Cadillac is making a proper gamble on the design of this new brute. Rather than trying to emulate the rest of the world, they chose to keep their own identity. the sharp lines, and aggressive edges make this a car for the person who doesn’t want the “same old luxury sedan.” Some will see this as a mistake, but I see it as capturing a rebellious crowd who may not want to appear so “normal” in the corporate parking lot. This modern edgy-ness continues into the interior in fine style. Provided the materials are on par with BMW, or at least Audi, buyers will not feel “left out” in the luxury department. It is a very appealing design (something new for GM) that doesn’t leave you with that feeling of “what’s missing?”. The Corvette is a prime example of this all too common GM blunder. You can actually get a better looking, higher quality, interior in a Kia than in most previous Cadillacs.
The ATS launches as a Sedan, but expect to see: a Coupe, Convertible, and even a Wagon version. I, for one, hope that the term “Wagon” actually means “Hatch” because many people would love to see a luxury “Hot-Hatch” in the states. The Hatch market is largely ignored here. Something to compete with the forthcoming Ford Focus ST would be nice.
I will wait until this car comes to market to make any final judgement, but at first look, the ATS seems to be a winner. I may actually have to change my tune about GM soon.
I have to remember though… Even a broken clock is right twice a day.
All Cadillac ATS, and CUE images used with permission, and are © GM Company.