Cadillac's CTS has been sold as a competitor for both the compact and mid-size German and Japanese luxury cars, because until now, GM didn't have a choice. The current CTS is a half-size larger than the smaller cars, a bit smaller than sedans like the 5-Series and E-Class.
And that's why ATS. It's a true compact sedan, sized directly against the Mercedes C Class, Audi A4, Infiniti G37, and just slightly smaller than the brand-new BMW 3-Series. That gives the next CTS--due in the 2014 model year--the room to grow up into the mid-size class.
By the numbers, the ATS measures 182.2 inches long, and rides on a 109.3-inch wheelbase. It's 55.9 inches tall, 71.1 inches wide. Cadillac takes pride in its low curb weight, which ranges from 3,315 to 3,629 pounds, depending on drivetrain configuration. And in terms of interior space, the ATS checks in with 42.5 inches of front leg room, 33.5 inches of rear leg room, and 10.2 cubic feet of trunk space.
Against most of its competitors, the ATS' front passenger space and seats compare very well. Its base front buckets are good enough to be compared to the German school of firm and fine; the optional performance seats have very supportive backrests, are thinner in profile, and have adjustable thorax bolsters and thigh cushions. Depending on the presence of a sunroof, the ATS has decent to good headroom for a six-foot adult, and comparatively, as much or more leg and knee room than its competition.
It's in rear-seat room and trunk space where the ATS suffers. The C Class has about the same back-seat space--tight--while the slightly larger A4 and the noticeably bigger BMW and Infiniti are closer to practical for regular adult use. The ATS just can't handle four big adults at once, unless the front passengers are willing to put their knees close to the dash, and its rear doors don't have very large openings. From the same overall length, BMW seems to have extracted more usable space inside, and much more trunk space--17 cubic feet, to the ATS' puny 10.2 cubic feet, the smallest cargo bin in the segment.
The ATS makes up for those slights with plenty of in-car storage. Behind the CUE infotainment screen is a storage bin almost 2 liters large; it's accessed by a tap on a metallic trim piece just under the CUE screen. The panel rotates smoothly out of the way, and a soft ambient glow lights up the bin. It's big enough to hold phones, radar detectors, a Rubik's Cube or two.
The ATS scores again in trim quality and coherent design. It's on a different vector, but on the same plane, with Audi's latest A4, for attention to detail, while the laggard 3-Series feels built to a much lower cost. Real magnesium shift paddles, the haptic interaction with CUE, the coordination of CUE's graphics and icons across both its screens, even the high-quality look of the base leatherette interior all speak to a level of attention that mostly escaped today's CTS. There's no illogical spray of single-function buttons, no fits of grey painted plastic, just some small pieces of piano-black trim that serve as a reminder of the price point to which the ATS is built.
On a less visible quality note, weight was a hefty issue with the ATS. At about 3,400 pounds, Cadillac proudly says it's lighter than the A4, and squarely in line with the C-Class and 3-Series. Holes are drilled throughout its body structure to remove mass wherever possible, so it can be re-added where needed--like in the cast iron rear differential, which engineers say is better for durability, heat dissipation, and distributes weight best, or in maintaining glass thickness, for better soundproofing. The ATS doesn't have the rock-solid door sound of some old-school German sedans--but have you heard the clang of a new 3-Series door banging shut lately?