Wheel Adventure: Caddy's cool comeback

It may be time for the reigning champ of the small sports sedan category to step aside. BMW’s stellar 3 series has owned the niche for pretty much forever, but a worthy competitor is growling in the wings and has the Bavarian giant squarely in its sights: Cadillac.

You read that right. Cadillac’s resurgence over the past decade has been nothing short of amazing. When the fearsome CTS-V set a record at Germany’s fabled Nurburgring for the fastest production sedan in 2008, the antiquated Caddy catchphrase “Standard of the World” suddenly seemed a lot less hubristic.

And now the ATS beckons. Whether you love or hate the edgy Cadillac look, you’ll admire how well the ATS designers synthesized all those dramatic angles. Even sitting in the driveway, it’s sharp and soft all at once and beckons for a quick sprint to somewhere, anywhere.

Inside, the cabin is a subtle swagger of classic Cadillac comfort, from the super-nice leather and precise stitching to the exotic woods, aluminum or carbon fiber accents. Whereas Mercedes and BMW cabins tend to be a bit spartan, the ATS, with its center console lines echoing its exterior, is definitely on the shiny side.

And driving is where the ATS really shines. Smaller engines are available, but the optional 3.6-liter, 321-horsepower, 28-mpg V-6 slaughters pavement and actually pairs nicely with the 6-speed automatic, although a custom-built manual shifter (by Tremec) is also available. At less than 3,400 pounds -- about the weight of a 1960s-era Coupe DeVille spare tire -- the ATS can hang with the BMW 3 in handling. Seriously. Slip into sport mode, and tackle even the most torturous turns with honest-to-goodness feeling and emotion. Brembo brakes bring it all to a whoa in a hurry.

The new Cadillac ATS is so good it’s been named the 2013 North American Car of the Year by a panel of 49 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada. The criteria include “innovation, comfort, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction and value for the dollar.” (MSRP is $33,095-$47,795.)

Esquire magazine also named it car of the year, writing that the ATS “is perhaps the single most important thing Detroit has built in years, and it is one hell of a car to boot. We’re more than a little proud.”

Motor Trend also picked it as the winner of an admittedly subjective comparison against the 2013 Mercedes C350 and the 2012 BMW 335i.

Add it all up, and you get a vehicle that should once and for all bury the image of Cadillac as a lumbering land yacht for octogenarians. The ATS is a solid, well-thought-out global contender in the uber-competitive sports sedan category.

Welcome back, Cadillac. We missed you. 

Where to find it:
Miller Bros. Cadillac
9035 Baltimore National Pike
Ellicott City

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