Back in the day, son, things were simple. If you were coming up on a Lincoln, a Buick, or a Cadillac, you had to make plans to pass it, because someone who could remember voting for James Garfield was likely driving it. Then Cadillac released the CTS and its short-tempered brother, the CTS-V, and you could no longer profile pass by brand. Now Cadillac is seeking to simplify things again, but in the other direction. They seem to be turning all of their cars into beastly machines who eat German luxury cars for elevenses, and they’re the ones doing the passing.
Their latest step in this caffeinated direction is the ATS, and if it’s your grandfather’s Caddy, we want to hang out with that old guy.
Earlier this year, Cadillac killed their STS and DTS barges, the rear-driving hulks that had catered to the more seasoned among us for decades. They were gorgeous, smoky-voiced behemoths, carved by time and erosion rather than computers. But their time had come, and the sales figures admitted it.
Now Cadillac is rolling out their XTS, a tall, slick operator that shines best in black. It looks like a mobstermobile, giving you the tingle you got when you first saw the Chrysler 300. Yet most will be FWD, and there’s no word (yet) of any bellicose V version. And when you think about it, this isn’t really a problem, since most of the XTS’s predecessors rarely saw enough pedal-stomping to even shift the weight rearward. The XTS will serve the STS/DTS set quite well.
It leaves a bit of a hole, though, in Cadillac’s market. What if you want a rear-driving Caddy that doesn’t look like an Australian supercar? We can’t imagine that you would, (and we’d take the diamond-chiseled CTS-V any day of the week) but Cadillac put that question to their pencil-draggers, and what they came up with was surprisingly impressive.
The Cadillac ATS is, quintessentially, rear-wheel-drive. There will be an AWD option, but Cadillac built this new small car to take on the BMW 3 Series and the corresponding sedans from Mercedes and Lexus. We all remember, and wish we could forget, what happened the last time Cadillac tried a compact, and that other time, too. Stand up and splash some cold water on your face, because the nightmare is over.
The ATS has a little heart that revs high. The 2.5 liter Ecotec four, perfect for fleet and rental cars everywhere, only deigns to release 200 hp, but the 2 liter turbo version (A turbo in a Cadillac? Yes.) whistles out 270. And the 3.6 liter LFX V6 tops out at 318 hp, more than enough to get the 3,400 lb four-door moving in short order. Bolt on a six-speed manual (or automatic, pops) and you’re set up for soul.
The unique styling is just a bonus. It’s not eye-catching, not even overtly attractive at first, but it is very pretty. It’s well proportioned, a modest channel for Cadillac’s high-mileage Art and Science movement. But look at it a moment longer and you’ll see those features you’ll adore forever: the daring, jut-back headlights and the clean six-line. And you know you love that mile-wide C-pillar, evocative of the even fatter one on the CTS.
It all looked good on paper, but thankfully, that wasn’t enough for the suits in Detroit, so they sent the ATS, with a team of engineers specifically selected for their driving skill, to the middle of a German forest, because there’s a racetrack there. Yes, they tuned the ATS on the Nurburgring, and they have an attitude about it.
But why shouldn’t they? It’s a fairly bold statement, even a challenge to the balking American sedan market. With a RWD platform and a pansy-proof stick, they’re attempting to put horsepower and negative G back where they belong: under the right soles, and right palms, of the people who actually want it. It’s no hunk of luxo-muscle like the CTS-V. It’s a proper performance luxury sedan from America. It asks us, eyebrows raised, if we can handle it. We wish we could speak for the whole market when we lay down a definitive “Yes.”
The Cadillac ATS will peel its dealer plastic this summer, and though the price hasn’t been announced yet, it’s expected to start at around $35,000.