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ROAD CARS: Cadillac ATS and CTS
Strange things have been going on at GM these past couple years. As Buick’s sedans have headed upmarket and Chevrolets have gone from anonymity to discreet handsomeness, Cadillacs have become an acquired taste in the looks department. Of course, aesthetics are purely personal and we should all be grateful to the few brands who are determined to be distinctive, but the latest CTS is surely one of the more divisive current designs among car enthusiasts. If you like straight lines applied with vigor, you’ll probably love it.
From outside the car, the CTS (RIGHT) doesn’t click for me from most angles. Its imposing and substantial body appears to overwhelm its wheels from side-on; and the front-end, while ensuring its association with – but distinctness from – its smaller brother ATS, has too many hard lines and indentations, to my eye. Confession, however: I loved its predecessor so much, and not just in high-performance CTS-V form, that I was going to struggle to love the third-gen car when it had been redesigned so comprehensively.
The ATS, however, running the same GM Alpha platform but on a 109.3-in (as opposed to 114.6-in.) wheelbase has cleaner styling, and promises a more sporty experience as it aims squarely at the BMW 3-series and Audi A4. In that purpose, it’s successful, despite (because of?) our version’s 3.6-liter V6 engine that sounds perhaps too intrusive for a Cadillac and a six-speed gearbox that is not the most prompt at kicking down. But, if you’re really going for it, presumably you’d use its lovely magnesium paddle-shifters, and in this semi-auto form, the car behaves how it should, and won’t override your choice of ratio. With 321hp towing around 3400lbs, the ATS (BELOW) is fast – think 5.5sec 0-60mph – but its behavior around turns is what really puts it into BMW 3-series territory. Its steering is not as communicative as its German rival, but then Bimmer probably has the best electric steering out there. The Caddy’s is at least direct, weighty and rapid. More importantly, the chassis doesn’t struggle to keep up with it.
The magnetic ride control, GM’s wondrous bit of kit remains…well, wondrous, and ideal in this application. It provides the wheel articulation necessary to absorb the worst ridges you’re likely to find, but remains firm and resistant to roll. The Sport setting of the suspension needn’t be touched unless you’re on a track day, however. In touring mode, you can throw this car hard through a sequence of unfamiliar corners and know that a mid-turn bump or hole isn’t going to throw you off line. It feels like the ATS was designed by enthusiastic drivers, because its major controls – pedals, steering, gearing (in semi-auto mode), and phenomenally good brakes – work in harmony. In short, with the ATS, it’s very easy to get into a rhythm on a long, twisting road.
The CTS, belying its greater size, weight and emphasis on luxury, is remarkably agile too. It’s slightly quicker to slip into understeer, as you might expect, and its responses are a little more muted, but the payoff is that the longer wheelbase allows a smoother ride than in the ATS. Yet the biggest progress the gen-3 CTS shows over the gen-2 is in its body control in high-speed cornering. Where you could feel the older car wobble a little during rapid changes of direction, or give a little shudder over ridges, the new car is more fluid. Despite the low profile tires on both our cars, they showed no tendency to just follow road indentations, and the lack of torque steer thanks to rear-wheel-drive is always welcome.
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