Cadillac isn't taking any chances that the 2013 ATS will get lost in the din of entry-luxury sedans, in terms of features. It's packaged the compact sedan in as many configurations as any of its competitors--and capped it with the coup de grace of CUE.
CUE, if you haven't seen our review of the 2013 Cadillac XTS, is the new Cadillac User Experience. It's a touch-and-swipe interface that replaces many buttons and switches on the center console, and augments them with steering-wheel controls and voice commands. It's fairly dazzling in action: CUE senses when a hand approaches the screen, and responds by displaying primary command icons for audio, climate, phone, and navigation. It can be configured with preset buttons for any function it controls--not just radio stations. It reads out inbound text messages from Bluetooth-tethered smartphones as voice messages, and can respond with pre-set responses. It can read music or video from SD cards, DVDs, or CDs, and stream audio from mobile apps or a music player via Bluetooth.
If it sounds like Ford's MyFord Touch, they may be conceptual kin, but in action, CUE comes off much more slickly developed, and radically easier to use than MyFord Touch -- if only because its beautifully rendered display looks much friendlier to touch and use, while the Ford system seems to actively encourage voice control over everything else. Its touch-sensitive screen also enables some of the same pinch-zoom-scroll commands familiar to Apple iPad users.
There's more distinction than just design, though. CUE's magnificent blue-ringed icons and matching gauges broom lots of ancillary buttons, but add some haptic feedback to confirm actions. Like the seat vibration that's triggered by a lane departure on some ATS sedans, it's the right kind of motion in the right context. CUE also retains some hard buttons for major functions, skipping the learning curve that all the other luxury brands have had to learn the hard way, on their road to reducing clutter while exponentially increasing functionality.
We've played around with CUE in beta form and in the XTS a few times, and think it's the clear winner among all the advanced infotainment interfaces available from the luxury brands--the roller-controller set included, with the possible exception of the Tesla Model S. You can read more about CUE in our XTS review, and in our first hands-on test of CUE in prototype form. We'll leave our ATS experience aglow, with a caveat: a sensitivity to heat extremes that showed up on one early-build test car we drove. In that car, CUE stuttered through navigation, eventually seizing altogether and dropping its Bluetooth audio stream. It required a full shutdown for ten minutes before all systems responded; other cars we drove behaved normally.
CUE isn't standard on all models, but it's available on all versions of the ATS. The new sedan comes in four different trim levels: standard, Luxury, Performance, and Premium. The base 2.5-liter ATS comes only as a standard or Luxury sedan, with rear-wheel drive and an automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four spans the widest range of trim levels: it comes in standard, Luxury, Performance, or Premium trim, and can be had in rear- or all-wheel drive, with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions. The 3.6-liter V-6 comes only with the automatic, with rear- or all-wheel drive, and only in Luxury, Performance, or Premium trim.
Those trim levels stock nearly every standard feature needed to make the ATS the equal or superior of the A4, C Class, 3-Series, or G37. The standard ATS comes with Bose audio with a single-CD player; Bluetooth; 17-inch wheels; a leatherette interior; power windows, locks, and mirrors; cruise control; and climate control. It's the only version to offer the basic radio, but Cadillac took time to integrate the simpler unit into the dash so it wouldn't look like an afterthought. Still, they expect most buyers still will opt to add CUE to even this version--along with the bundled 8-inch LCD screen, HD Radio, Bluetooth with audio streaming, rearview camera, and voice controls. Other options on this trim will include a sunroof, and a cold-weather package with heated seats.
On the Luxury package, leather seating becomes standard, along with 10-way power front seats with memory; a rearview camera; front and rear parking sensors; a fold-down rear seat; Brembo brakes and polished 17-inch wheels; and the CUE package offered as an option on the base model. Options on Luxury cars include a Driver Awareness Package with a lane departure warning system, forward collision alerts, rear side airbags, rain-sensing wipers, and a haptic safety seat that vibrates the bottom cushion when the car crosses out of its lane; a navigation system; a sunroof; and a cold-weather package.
All the Luxury features are standard on the Performance model, except the fold-down rear seats don't--they have only a pass-through. A Performance Package is added, including adaptive HID headlamps; aluminum sport pedals; front sport seats with power-adjustable bolsters and thigh supports; and on automatic-equipped cars, paddle shift controls. The Performance model also includes the Driver Awareness Package and a Driver Assist Package with blind-spot monitors; adaptive cruise control with front and rear automatic braking; and a head-up display that can be reconfigured to the driver's taste. Options include the navigation system, cold-weather package, and 18-inch run-flat tires.
The Premium model includes everything but the Driver Assist Package, a cold-weather package, and a sunroof. It also gets a full fold-down rear seat.