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Cadillac’s award-winning ATS|Does it make the cut?

On the heels of the announcement of the Cadillac ATS as the 2013 North American Car of the Year, I had the opportunity to drive one for a week. This was, admittedly, my first time with a Cadillac for any real period of time. I was curious to find out if the car measured up to all the auto rag chatter, and of course, the award honors.

General Motors delivered a pearl white 2013 ATS 2.5 Liter to my place of work (the day job). I was disappointed when I got in and realized there was no clutch; I was hoping to run through the gears myself. My disappointment did not last long, however, as I embraced the chance to Cadillac’s entry-level compact four-door to the test - six-speed automatic transmission and all.

Photo credit: Cadillac

A need for speed, er, driving

I recall that Monday being an intensely full day at the office. I went for a drive to relax, heading southbound to I-395 where, to my surprise, traffic was clear. I checked the mirrors to assess my company on the highway, and then I let the ATS loose.

Acceleration from the in-line four cylinder engine was silky smooth, gently thrusting the car forward with a reasonable amount of pressure on the throttle. “This thing has torque,” I thought to myself.

I flung down I-95  uncertain of how far I’d go before turning around. I was enjoying the ride way more than anticipated. Maybe this car is as incredible as everyone says it is. Just maybe GM has a real hit on their hands.

I enjoyed the drive for a few more miles before changing course back to Arlington. The car had transformed my stress into energetic sports driving and I was loving every mile of it.

Photo credit: Cadillac

Interior comfort and function

Sitting in the ATS, with its emphasis on the ‘cockpit’ feel in the interior design, was reminiscent of some of my favorite sports coupes and cars of the 1990s.

Regardless of price point, drivers who crave a sporty driving experience want to feel surrounded by the car, not just plopped down in the middle of it somewhere.

Unlike some other vehicles I have had on loan, I wanted to take the ATS everywhere – the grocery store, errands, you name it. I liked this car so much that I didn’t even mind forking over the cash to park it in the city during the week. I volunteered the Cadillac to drop my husband off at the airport, and I drove the chic, petite sedan to the ‘burbs for a friend’s baby christening.

I kept getting tricked into thinking the ATS was a coupe because of the sleek design and the compact, yet comfy, interior. I love that close-quarters feeling with the added ease of functionality in a car – fold down seats, adequate trunk space, and room for passengers (although there wouldn’t be much room for more than a six-footer in the back seat).

The CUE system worked pretty seamlessly, even with my voice commands. I enjoyed the ease of hands-free technology via my iPhone’s bluetooth connectivity. It took me a little while to figure out the functions on the steering wheel and how they controlled the interface, but once I did they were simple enough to use.

My only bone to pick with the ATS was the annoying reminder I got via GPS when I drove westbound on the Dulles Toll Road. The road had a lot of split offs and exits; therefore, the GPS voice repeatedly, and unnecessarily, reminded me to “keep driving straight” and to “stay straight on I-66″. I couldn’t turn it off without completely quitting the GPS instruction. The system was like a broken record, repeating itself every third-of-a-mile.

Photo credit: Cadillac

Meshing with the ATS

I wanted to spend as much time as possible in this car. I saw myself as a potential owner while driving it (music to Cadillac’s ears I’m sure). It just fit. I thought about how this would have been a good step up from my 2007 Honda Civic Si sedan – a little roomier, a lot fancier.

All in all, the ATS surprised me. I’m not sure I have driven enough cars to say whether or not the ATS is worthy of its multiple awards, but I can say this…the ATS and its smooth transformation from city traffic dodger to highway bullet is, in my mind, a recipe for success. 

Let’s just say if the ATS had been around in 2007 and my budget had been $15,000 more, the ATS would be parked in my garage today. And take my word for it, this four banger has enough punch to get you in a little bit of trouble.

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Melanie Batenchuk

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