Friday, January 13, 2012

First Impressions - 2013 Cadillac ATS

2013 Cadillac ATS

In the world of compact luxury sedans, the BMW 3 Series has reigned supreme for a number of years. It has successfully fended off competitors like the Infiniti G sedan and Lexus IS that repeatedly attempted to knock the 3 off its pedestal. The trouble with being King of the segment is that you're effectively a bulls-eye for would-be rivals. Nothing has come close to the Bavarian's apparently perfect mix of ride and handling (even though said competitors would have you think otherwise). Some rivals have tried to meet the 3 Series head on like the Lexus IS, even spawning the IS-F to take on the M3. Others, like Infiniti and Cadillac have gone the "tweener" route: cars that are larger than the 3 but smaller than the next level, the mid-size segment. Cadillac tried this option with its original CTS and met with success but over the years, even it realized that a more targeted response to the 3 Series was needed.

Meet the 2013 Cadillac ATS

Designed from the ground up to be a direct competitor to the Bavarian, the ATS is built on an all new RWD platform codenamed Alpha, that is said to be both lighter and stronger than the 3 Series, yet offer the same subtle ride/handling balance that has come to characterize BMW. The exterior styling, like other Cadillacs, can not be mistaken for anything else, except a slightly smaller CTS. Employing the brand's "Art & Science" theme of its big brother, the ATS rounds off some of the sharper edges, giving the sedan a slightly curvier look than the razor-edged CTS. The overall look is elegant, yet engaging and sporty.

However, one of Cadillac's main design briefs with the ATS was its performance; more to the point, that it be equal or better than the competition and the ATS more of less achieves this goal on paper. Spending considerable development time on Germany's Nurburgring race track, Cadillac engineers honed the ATS' platform and engines to better that of BMW's offerings (using the previous E46 version as inspiration). Equipped with GM's Magnetic Ride Control (dampers filled with magnetorheological fluid that change in viscosity when passed through a magnetic field) and 50/50 weight distribution, Cadillac promises the ATS will be light, nimble and seriously fun to drive.

2013 Cadillac ATS

The 2013 Cadillac ATS will be equipped with three different engines at launch. The base ATS will have a 2.5 liter, naturally aspirated inline 4 cylinder good for 200hp and 188lb-ft of torque and 30mpg on the highway. The serious enthusiast though will look to the upper level engines for serious fun. Slotted above the 2.5 liter is a 2.0 liter turbocharged and direct injected 4 cylinder putting out 270hp and 260lb-ft of torque, an effective challenge for the new BMW 328i's turbocharged, 2.0 liter 4 cylinder. Topping off the range (at least until the inevitable monster ATS-V) is the ubiquitous 3.6 liter direct injected 318hp V6. Cadillac has recently announced a diesel engine for the ATS at some point in its first life cycle, although it isn't confirmed if it will be offered for the American market. Transmissions will be a choice of either 6 speed manual or automatics.

On paper, the ATS looks to be a credible competitor in the compact luxury sedan segment. With claims of lightness, sportiness and efficiency, Cadillac's newest offering has the potential to accomplish what the tweener CTS hasn't quite been able to do.
Can't wait to see what the ATS-V will be packing. Stay tuned for a first drive!

Check out Cadillac's Super Bowl ad for the new ATS here.

[UPDATE] Cadillac has launched a new configurator for the ATS that allows you to mix and match options, just in case you were wondering about that manual transmission options availability on the 3.6 V6 (it's not...sorry). Pricing hasn't been included (coming later).

Images courtesy of and

Monday, January 9, 2012

First Impressions - 2013 Ford Fusion

2013 Ford Fusion

The mid-sized car segment has been a hotly contested part of the automotive scene for decades now. The addition of newly excellent Korean cars like the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima only serve to fuel competition within the segment and force long time stalwarts like Honda and Toyota to make improvements to their respective Accord and Camry models in order to fend off the newcomers. Ford was once a leader in this class when it debuted its brilliant Taurus sedan in the late 80s, which quickly shot to the top of sales charts to become Ford's best selling sedan. The Taurus was however quickly surpassed by the Japanese and despite numerous attempts to regain honors, Ford broomed the nameplate in the early part of the last decade. Taurus however would resurface in 2007 to tackle the full sized sedan segment, leaving the Mazda 6-based Fusion to compete in the mid-sized segment. After 6 years on the market, the Fusion has been redesigned under CEO Alan Mullaly's 'One Ford' concept on the same platform as the European Mondeo sedan.

Ford Evos Concept

The overall exterior design borrows heavily from the Ford Evos concept car, a striking design exercise that debuted at the 2011 Frankfurt International Auto Show. A grille design very similar to Aston Martin products (but no less handsome) frames the front end along with narrow slit headlights. Nix the Ford badge and the Fusion could actually pass for an Aston Martin Rapide. Whereas the 2012 Fusion was a bit overwrought in styling, the new model strikes a more handsome, reserved yet bold pose. The steeply raked windshield and fast roofline work to give the new Fusion a coupe-like appearance without a dramatic dent to interior volume.

2013 Ford Fusion Interior

The interior itself is a good improvement over the 2012 model. The 2013 Fusion debuts the second generation of the MyFord Touch infotainment system, with a new dashboard design, enhanced controls and a more friendly user interface that should supposedly make operating the system less of a chore. The materials are said to be first rate and while not as design-centric as say, the Hyundai Sonata, the interior is overall elegant.

Ford joins a growing number of automakers that are ditching V6 power in midsized sedans in favor of smaller powerplants. Not only will the Fusion have an all 4-cylinder lineup, but the hybrid will reappear alongside a plug-in electric version as well. The standard Fusion starts of with a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder making 170hp and 170lb-ft of torque mated exclusively to a six speed automatic on base S models. Next up will turbocharged 1.6 liter EcoBoost 4 cylinder producing 179hp and 172lb-ft of torque available with a choice of either a six speed automatic or manual transmission on SE models. Up-level Titanium models come standard with a turbocharged 2.0 liter Ecoboost 4 cylinder with 237hp and 250lb-ft of torque mated exclusively to a six speed automatic with the option of adding a rear biased all wheel drive system.

Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford Fusion Energii

The Fusion hybrid will again be available boasting fuel economy that is poised to beat those of competitors from Toyota and Hyundai. Power for the new hybrid comes from a downsized 2.0 Atkinson -cycle version of the previous model's 2.5 liter engine paired with an electric motor, lithium-ion battery packs (details to come later) and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Ford is touting a class leading 47 mpg city/44 mpg highway rating with the combo producing a total power output of 185hp. If a plug-in hybrid is more your thing, Ford will introduce an all new variant of the hybrid called the Energii. This model uses a plug-in variant of the Hybrid's powertrain and brings with it the ability to go short distances on pure electricity. The details surrounding this powertrain are still a bit murky, but Ford is already boasting the Energii's mpge (miles per gallon equivalent) rating as beating that of the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius plug-in.

2013 Ford Fusion

Ford is certainly making a big splash in the midsized segment with the 2013 Fusion. With handsome styling, fuel efficient powertrains, perhaps the techy-est infotainment features and a choice of hybrid models, the Fusion looks set to take the fight to Toyota and Honda while fending off newer competitors from Korea.

Images courtesy of

First Impressions - 2013 Dodge Dart

2013 Dodge Dart

I never really was a fan of the Dodge Caliber (the raucous Caliber SRT4 being somewhat of an exception). Meant to compete with Civics and Corollas, the Caliber never made much of a dent in the segment due to its uninspiring driving dynamics, cheap interior and overall oddness. The introduction of the new 2013 Dodge Dart aims to right the Caliber's flaws.

2013 Dodge Dart rear

Look closely at the Dart's profile and hints of its Neon predecessor can be seen. The car's greenhouse, low nose and upwardly angled belt line are clear indications that Dodge took a page out of the Neon's book as far as aggressiveness is concerned. The Dart appears to be what the Neon would look like had Dodge not stopped the car's development. The exterior design is overall handsome, especially in R/T guise with the blackened signature Dodge crosshair grille front and center framed by a gaping lower opening and flared headlight clusters. Want to know how you can tell you're approaching a Dart at night? the racetrack-designed rear lighting system is a dead giveaway (though it could be mistaken for a Charger at a distance).

Alfa Romeo Giulietta

The Dart chucks the Caliber's flaccid platform in favor of the Fiat-designed underpinnings used by the Alfa Romeo Giulietta's, although stretched in all directions and strengthened for American standards. The Guiletta is a great starting point as it offer's Italian levels of strength, stiffness and rigidity. Thus the Dart should compete very well in the compact segment, equaling or besting interior dimensions of competitors like the Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus.

Inside, the Dart reflects Chrysler's new level of interior quality. The instrument cluster presents a seven inch TFT (thin film transistor) screen that is customizable by the driver and in the center is a huge 8.4 inch screen that serves as the interface for Chrysler's UConnect infotainment system. Material quality should match those offered by the peers of the segment.

2013 Dodge Dart Interior

Power for the 2013 Dodge Dart comes from a new range of 4 cylinder engines dubbed 'Tigershark' (!!??) by Chrysler. Anchoring base models is a 2.0 rated at 160hp and 148 lb-ft of torque while mid-levels carry an optional 2.4 Tigershark equipped with Fiat's Multiair variable intake valve system rated at 184hp and 171lb-ft of torque. The headline engine however is Fiat's turbocharged Multiair 1.4 producing 160hp and 184lb-ft of torque, aiding the Dart to achieve its 40mpg combined rating. Manual and automatic six speed transmissions will be available with a six speed dual clutch automatic expected to be paired exclusively with the 1.6. A nine speed (!) automatic will be introduced for calendar year 2013.

From an initial standpoint, the 2013 Dodge Dart looks to make a serious presence in the compact segment and finally offers Chrysler a substantial product miles ahead of the dowdy Caliber.

Stay tuned for my test drive later in the spring.

Images courtesy of

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Short Take - 2012 Cadillac CTS

2012 Cadillac CTS sedan

Cadillac has been on a roll lately. Chances are if you asked your grandfather what a Cadillac means to him, he would describe something along the lines of pink colors and huge fins (and a plush ride to boot). Show him a picture of the car above telling him that THIS is a Cadillac and he'd likely yell sacrilege.

Indeed folks, the first generation CTS was the car (with some help from its bling bling truck brother, the Escalade)that brought about Cadillac's success within the last decade. When the 2003 CTS burst on the scene, it signified a change in General Motors' direction for the luxury brand. No longer content to build cars for the Palm Beach retirement community, the powers that be decreed that Cadillac would now be a performance oriented luxury brand, one that would be the equal of the German bluebloods. Going so far as to tout the CTS' European-tuned suspension (developed almost exclusively on Germany's fame Nurburgring race track), the CTS was such a RWD shock to the segment (the first Cadillac in decades equipped with a MANUAL transmission) that it proved widely successful. It debuted not only Cadillac's new performance mission but the styling theme dubbed 'Art & Science', and edgy direction composed of sharp angles and creases, not unlike the U.S. Air Force F-117 Stealth Fighter.

So successful was the CTS that Cadillac endeavored to polish the rough edges and continue the performance mission and the second generation debuted to much fanfare. Pitted as a BMW 3 Series 'fighter', the CTS dwarfs the smaller German in size if not in price, and seems more of a 5 Series competitor. In order to more effectively battle the European set on even terms (and to extend the CTS's profit margins) Cadillac now offers 2 other body styles apart from the sedan: a positively stunning 2 door coupe and (surprise) a 5 door station wagon. To this blogger's eye, the sedan as sharp as it is, looks quite pedestrian next to its coupe and 5 door brothers. The sport factor is also enhanced by the addition of the V Series (think BMW M or Mercedes AMG) which substitutes the regular 318hp, 3.6 V6 for the supercharged 6.2 V8 from the Corvette ZR1. Slightly tamed in CTS-V form, (due to the loss of an intercooler and dry sump oil system) this monster of a powerplant churns out 556hp and 550 lb-ft of torque, enough to see off both the BMW M3's paltry 414hp V8 AND the BMW M5's 507hp V10 (the new M5 counters with a 560hp twin turbo V8).

2012 Cadillac CTS Sportwagon

2012 Cadillac CTS Coupe

I recently had the chance to take a short drive in all iterations of the CTS (except the V Series, bummer) during a public demonstration on the beautiful streets of Fort Lauderdale.

Approaching the CTS, I got the feeling that Cadillac spared no expense in the exterior design. It's next to impossible to confuse this for anything other than a Cadillac (your grandfather might think differently), the CTS sits purposeful with a wide stance and a form that hints at solidity and stability. Getting inside, I was met by high quality materials and a dash design that complimented the exterior. The center stack had a lovely V shaped design that encompasses the climate controls and buttons for the Bose 5.1 sound system in a logical fashion. Dials were ringed in real chrome and the entire console was flanked by vertical air vents on each side. An analog clock sits squarely in the middle with the navigation screen rising from the top of the center console. When stowed, the visible top quarter of the screen functions as an information center.

2012 CTS-V Interior

The front seats were plush and offered good support, plus heated and cooled functions for both driver and front passenger. Cadillac obviously neutered the bean counters when opting for high quality. The rear area offers good legroom and general space for passengers. The coupe, with its style-over-functions, is less accommodating but if you're buying a 2 door you already know this. The 5 door wagon however offers similar rear passenger accommodations as the sedan but also comes with vastly more cargo room thanks to the artfully styled rear end. Cadillac's styling theme lends itself rather nicely to the wagon's handsome, long and lean appearance. The coupe however is the hands-down looker of the trio.

2012 CTS Coupe rear

3.6 V6, 318hp, 274lb-ft of torque

All CTS models (except the V cars) are powered by General Motors' 'high feature' 3.6 V6, equipped with direct fuel injection, continuously variable valve timing and all-aluminum construction. This powerplant kicks out 318hp and 274lb-ft of torque and can be equipped with either a 6 speed manual as standard equipment or an optional 6 speed automatic (the only transmission on the regular wagon).

Pulling out of the parking lot, the 3.6 provides ample thrust for strong acceleration helped by the automatic transmission doling out torque in equal amounts. Due to the urban nature of the test area, I wasn't able to fulling exploit the handling limits of the CTS, but in some instances, long sweeping corners exposed the stability offered by the car's suspension and resistance to body roll. The steering was quick, offered the right amount of assist and communicates what the front wheels are doing to the driver. The CTS strikes a great ride/handling balance: sporty and firm, but not excessive as to register rough roads to passengers. The suspension is damped enough to acknowledge bumps as distant 'thuds' without upsetting the ride's balance. One strike noticed however was the V6's graininess at high RPM during one full throttle run using the auto transmission's manual function. Above 5000 rpm, the 3.6 sounds unrefined, quite unlike the silky growl of BMW's straight sixes.

Overall, the 2012 CTS is yet another shot across the bow of the European luxury marques. Equipped with a design that is unabashedly American and a platform that equals the ride/balance of its competitors, the CTS is yet another home run for Cadillac, now available in 3 sizes for every taste and with 2 powerplants for every level of leadfoot.