Good Sport: Brand-new Cadillac ATS sedan counts on flashy looks, comfort to reel in younger drivers

This 2013 Cadillac ATS sedan from Baker Buick GMC Cadillac was parked on a downtown street earlier this week. The new sporty four-door includes a 3.6-liter engine churning out 321 horsepower (Leroy Burnell/postandcourier.com/10/10/2012).

By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

In creating the first-time ATS, luxury carmaker Cadillac had distinct and somewhat divergent attributes in mind to showcase.

For instance, the sedan offers three engine choices: a solid four-cylinder 2.5-liter engine churning out 202 horsepower, punchy four-cylinder 2.0-liter turbo touting 272 hp and powerful 3.6-liter V-6 generating 321 hp.

The four-door is built for ambiance, with sumptuous leather bucket seats in front, multi-directional power seats and ample 10.2 cubic foot trunk; but also for high-techiness such as touch screen audio and navigation controls, smart phone plugs, Bluetooth connectivity, heads up display and Driver Awareness package with lane departure warning and “safety alert” driver’s seat.

Fuel economy can be moderate at 19 mpg city and 28 highway or downright stingy at 22 mpg city and 33 mpg highway, depending on the trim. Style selections include Standard, Luxury, Performance and Premium.

All told, perusers can take home a 2013 Cadillac ATS for as little as $31,275 invoice or as much as $50,500 with scores of extras.

The choice and variety on the brand new model stems from an eagerness to broaden Cadillac’s demographic profile.

“We are going to a younger, affluent car buyer,” said Cliff Tucker, sales consultant with Baker Buick GMC Cadillac in Charleston. “We’re talkingcollege students buying this car.”

At the same time, Cadillac expects its “overall reach of (potential) buyers” to transcend generations, continuing on to customers in their 60s, he said.

Baker Cadillac just received its first few ATS models and has sold one already, said Sumter S. deBrux, sales manager.

The new vehicle is smaller than Cadillac’s XTS unveiled this year and the staple CTS but it’s also quite sporty. The ATS is “more in line” with competitors the BMW 3-series, Mercedes-Benz E Class, Audi A6 and Lexus IS, he said.

Another perk of the ATS is an array of innovative features, similar to the pricier XTS four-door introduced earlier this year. The safety alert system warns a driver when objects are detected by vibrating the seat: a notable example used on TV ads is someone walking behind the car when it is backing out of a driveway.

Another unique adaptation is a metal faceplate underneath the car that cuts down on wind drag, Tucker said. “It’s fun to drive; aerodynamic,” he said.

What convinced the sales consultant of the ATS’ sports car-like handling, acceleration and braking was a “ride and drive” he took part in recently in Augusta, Ga. Set up on a course at the city’s civic center, drivers tested the ATS against its Mercedes, Lexus, Audi and BMW rivals, and the Cadillac outperformed them all, he said.

That’s where the model differs even from fellow Cadillacs. It’s “a lot sportier,” Tucker said.

The carmaker is looking to add an ATS coupe version but not any time soon. “That’s going to be a couple of years down the road,” Tucker said. Cadillac will “stick with the four-door.”

An afternoon drive in a fully-loaded premium ATS priced at $50,500 underscores the model’s special blend of sportiness and sophistication.

Looks-wise, the sedan takes cues from the XTS, tempering Cadillac’s newly classic angular design with a slightly more rounded result. A special White Diamond Tricoat paint added $900 to the vehicle cost.

Inside, the Cadillac artfully contrasted caramel seats, jet black accents and brushed aluminum trim. In its promotional materials, Cadillac notes that buyers can personalize the inside with seven options of seating, accents and trim — including Dark Olive Ash, Sapele and Okapi Stripe.

The interior layout was open and absorbing, marked by 38.6 inches of head room and 42.5 inches of leg space. A disadvantage was the rear seating that while graced with leather, air controls and cup holders, loses nine inches of legroom and 1.8 inches of headroom.

Where the ATS really stood out was its driving capabilities. Handling was tight on lane shifts and sharp corners, and the six-speed automatic transmission provided smooth yet spirited gear changes. For a racing-like atmosphere, the sedan can be shifted into sport mode and controlled by paddles on the steering wheel.

The Cadillac’s four wheel, anti-lock disc brakes grabbed the road on deceleration and stops. At the same time, the direct-injection VVT engine allowed the four-door to pick up speed with ease.

Visibility was good in front and sides but a bit narrow through the rear-view mirror due to the gently sloped roof.

From a convenience standpoint, the ATS proved generally user-friendly with a center console touch screen for audio controls, easy-to-reach dashboard and steering wheel buttons and, like the XTS, a hidden storage compartment behind the center console, which can be lifted up.

Safety features range from the “safety alert seat” that sends pulses through the left, right or both sides of driver’s seat — including when drifting over the lane line on the interstate —- to a multitude of air bags even at knee level.

A practical yet comforting perk is the heads up display, which provides not only the speed you are traveling but the roadway’s speed limit.

To sum up, the electronic assists worked fine but could use a redesign to make them a little less intrusive and more intuitive for the driver.

Cadillac definitely is on the move, considering that the luxury General Motors brand has rolled out two totally new cars this year alone.

With the 2013 ATS, the carmaker again goes head-to-head with brands that have come to hold big shares of the marketplace. At least in this case, Cadillac has made quick forward strides — reminiscent of the model’s full throttle acceleration on an open highway.

To learn more about the car, visit your local Cadillac dealer.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.