2013 Cadillac ATS: First Drive

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The 2013 Cadillac ATS is off its media embargo, and not a minute too soon. Since late June, we've been waiting to spill all we know about the new compact sport sedan, and frankly, we've been expecting that some other outlet would break the mutually agreed-upon curfew.

It's a small miracle that didn't happen, since there's a huge story here--that Cadillac has nailed the BMW formula for handling that's eluded all the competition. It's elbowed aside the Infiniti G37 as the challenger most capable of displacing the 3-Series as the luxury segment's benchmark four-door. It's picked the most difficult lock in the industry.

Yes. It's that good.

No single thing spells the demise of the 3-Series' iron grip. The ATS just accumulates win after win. There's exterior styling that's admittedly a watered-down version of the aggressive Art & Science theme that rocked Cadillac back into existence in the early 2000s. It's clearly Cadillac, but in silhouette it's a ringer for the BMW as well as the Benz. The ATS' cabin clocks them both, with rich materials and a cohesive looks dominated by CUE, the iPad-like controller that lets go of myriad knobs and buttons and replaces them with a glowing, haptic touchscreen. It frames the Cadillac argument neatly: it's BMW, but beyond.

Without the right running gear, in fine tune, the ATS would fall as flat on its face as the Catera--the Caddy that zagged right into automotive history's footnotes, complete with a laugh track. Consider that passage erased. The ATS is brilliantly composed, with electric power steering and a multi-link suspension that know each other intimately. It's clear from only a mile or two of driving, that this is the most tossable, responsive Cadillac ever built--and that's before you tap the 272 horsepower of the mainstream version's 2.0-liter turbo four, or the throaty 321 hp of the available 3.6-liter V-6. (If you're choosing the base 202-hp 2.5-liter four, you're not even reading this.)

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