Review: 2013 Cadillac ATS – What It Takes to be the Benchmark?

2013 cadillac ats 2.0t awd profile wheels

The 2013 Cadillac ATS is an all new vehicle and it already carries a heavy burden. It takes direct aim at the benchmark entry-level luxury sport sedan, the BMW 3-series. This was the price of entry into the segment. If you cannot challenge the leader, then is it even worth entering this competitive playing field?  Can the ATS succeed or does it miss the mark? Lets break down the details and find out.

STATS Starting Retail Price As Tested Price HP / Lb-Ft
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD $37,795 $48,395 272/260
EPA Rating MPG As Tested MPG
Rating: BUY IT! 20/30 Combined 24 Combined 23.6

First on the agenda is the styling. After all, first-look impression lasts the longest. Cadillac really did a great job in this department. This iteration of the “Art and Science” design philosophy draws a clear family lineage but still leaves the ATS distinguishable from its siblings. I could name some other luxury brands with sedan ranges that look too similar to each other. I am looking at you BMW, Audi, and Lexus… The ATS has strong and muscular appearance from any angle, and actually appears compact from a distance. This is refreshing among many other sedans with ever-growing dimensions that can look bloated. I especially like the front and the profile views, and I am still impressed with how well Cadillac uses the sharp edges and the triangular design element throughout. Well done!

The ATS doesn’t only appear small, it actually is small. It’s a couple of inches smaller than its competitors in most dimensions and thus has a little less passenger and cargo volume (though it’s not the smallest, see Competitor table below). Even so, I took my family to Winter Park for a day of skiing and the car swallowed up all our gear. I was even able to get two sets of skis inside via the ski pass-through. The fitment was tight, but the ATS did the job.

2013 cadillac ats 2.0t awd interior steering wheel

The leather is high quality, the fit and finish is very good, and the driver’s seat is comfortable and supportive enough to be sporty. Rear legroom was barely enough when I tried it, and my 6’2” frame did not have enough head room back there. This is the price to pay for the stylish and sleek profile.  If you plan to regularly carry four adults, you should consider stepping up to the CTS or the XTS. Nonetheless, I was able to adjust the driver’s seat and the steering column just like I wanted, and still had enough legroom in the back for the kids.

The “Art and Science” design theme continues on the inside. The ergonomics are good throughout and I even got some hints of 1920s Art Deco influence from the Cadillac CUE center stack. Most reviewers don’t have good feedback about Cadillac’s new CUE user interface. I learned the system relatively quickly after just a couple of outings. Once you realize that the touch sensitive buttons below the screen require a firm touch, you have a lot easier time with it. The touch screen works very well and I found the 3D navigation system view accurate and high quality. Check out the image below as we go over Berthoud Pass on the way to Winter Park.  There was one instance where I noticed a glitch with the 3D map graphic, but I did not experience any computer system freezes or crashes. Voice activated commands also worked as expected. Overall, I give the CUE system a B grade. I cannot give it an A, because the touch buttons take some getting used to and software can still be better. And I will not give it lower than B, because I applaud Cadillac for taking a risk with making a unique looking and stylish interface.

2013 cadillac ats cue interface system

Now, lets really get into the meat of the issue. Is the ATS better than its competitors, and specifically the benchmark 3-series? The ATS is very well tuned in the steering and handling department. The steering wheel feels good in hand, the car feels nimble in the corners, there is very good steering feedback, and the chassis is very well balanced. It’s evident that Cadillac engineers spent a lot of time making sure the chassis and every aspect of feel and handling is top notch. Still, I would not put it above BMW. I would put it a equal.  I would say this Caddy is 99% as good as the best of this class. In order to put the ATS over the top, I would have added the heavier feel of the BMW steering and the superior sport suspension tuning of the Audi. The ATS ride felt a little too on the firm side (this test car rode on 18 inch wheels).

2013 cadillac ats 2.0t awd engine motor

How about the power and drive train? The ATS has this covered as well. It comes with a choice of three engines and two transmissions. My test car is the 2.0 liter turbo four with 272 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, backed by a 6-speed automatic and Caddy’s AWD system. This combination puts it head-to-head against the Audi A4 Quattro, BMW 328i xDrive, and the Mercedes C300. And while nearly every competitor uses an 8-speed, the 6-speed in the ATS is just fine.  The AWD system saved us on our Winter Park ski trip as we got caught in a blizzard over Berthoud pass.  The test car had all-season tires that did not provide great snow and ice grip.  Nonetheless, this ATS never faltered.  The AWD system kept us moving up and the paddle shifted manual mode helped slow us down.

The 2.0T motor has a nearly linear power delivery and makes this relatively light sedan quick. The ATS 2.0T AWD is the lightest of all competition.  However, I have one nit to pick with this motor. Many engineers pride themselves on the car being a complete package, and to me the complete package also include how the car sounds. The turbo charged four cylinder in this $48,375 premium sport sedan simply does not sound premium or sporty. I may be being too picky, but I would have preferred the exhaust to be either louder or deeper in tone. If the folks at Fiat can make the tiny Abarth turbo motor sound exotic, then so should Cadillac be able to make this turbo sound more interesting.


Starting Retail Price City/Hwy MPG HP / Lb-Ft Curb Weight
2013 Cadillac ATS4 2.0T $37,795 20/30 272/260 3,543
2013 Audi A4 2.0T Quattro $34,600 20/30 211/258 3,685
2013 BMW 328i xDrive $38,850 22/33 240/255 3,595
2013 Lexus IS250 AWD $37,525 21/27 204/185  3,651
2013 Mercedes C300 4Matic $38,950 20/29 248/251 3,726

On the TFLcar scale of:

  • Buy it!
  • Lease it!
  • Rent it!
  • … or Forget it!

I give the 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD a Buy It!

The Cadillac ATS is competitively priced.  However, I still find it difficult to believe that an entry level luxury sports sedan can cost nearly 50-grand.  The ATS does not set a new benchmark, but it comes in on equal footing with the leading 3-series.  And this is no small feat to accomplish.

Check out this TFLcar Mashup video between the 2013 ATS and the 2013 BMW 3-series.