The Cadillac ATS sits in 10 cm of snow. It's also quite good on clear roads - serious.

The Cadillac ATS sits in 10 cm of snow. It’s also quite good on clear roads – serious.

When most people think of Cadillac, they think of old men with white (or no) hair, skin as wrinkled as the leather on a sofa in a frat house and a smile as straight as an Italian politician.

Generally, Cadillacs were known for being big boats on wheels with handling as nimble as an elephant’s, and luxury as current as a turntable.

photoSo, given the chance to take the new 2013 Cadillac ATS for an extended test drive, I had low expectations – and I was a little anxious.

The weekend I was handed the keys to the car was the weekend I was supposed to head out of town to check out a wedding venue off the shores of Georgian Bay.

Snow was falling in the city and my trusty Audi TT, outfitted with winter tires and Ingolstadt’s legendary Quattro all wheel drive system, would stay tucked away in my parking garage.

So instead of driving the car with four rings, I had a car that GM boasts was developed at the ‘Ring – the Nürburgring, that is.

About three centimetres of snow coated the roads Friday night as I ventured through city streets to pick up my fiance who was meeting me at a subway station.

Cars around me slid to a stop and spun their wheels through the white stuff.

The rear Cadillac logo, a little frosty after a night on the roads.

The rear Cadillac logo, a little frosty after a night on the roads.

This was no ordinary ATS, however. Cadillac had sent me the four-wheel-drive ATS 4. Setting it into Snow mode adapted the ride and power for trudging through the fluffy stuff that most of the other drivers were struggling with.

And that gave me extra time at stop lights to get acquainted with the bells and whistles of the ATS. Seat warmer? Of course. Heated steering wheel? Nice – especially after dusting off the car. More USB charging ports than I can think of using? Check – including one hidden behind the centre console that lets me plug my phone into CUE, Cadillac’s techy  control system.

CUE – while taking some time to learn – offers up a large capacitative touchscreen to control everything from the temperature to the navigation system to my music, tunes which pumped out through a potent BOSE sound system designed to mask the sound of the four-cylinder turbocharged 2-litre engine.

But despite being a gadget guy, I’m also a gearhead. And I wasn’t going to dwell on the gadgetry of this car configured in the Performance trim level.

The rest of the night, I charged on through country roads covered in snow. The Heads Up Display meant I could focus on the road ahead, without having to move my eyes down to the instrument cluster.

It’s not that the rest of the interior is something I’d want to avoid, however. For the most part, it’s built of good-quality materials. Bucket seats keep the front occupants snug in position.

My only complaint about the interior surround the plastic cover on top of the instrument cluster. Everything else feels like it belongs in a modern luxury car, but that one piece of plastic over the instrument panel feels cheap and plasticky.

Twisty roads surround my destination, and clear weather provided the ultimate conditions for putting the ATS through it’s paces. With traction coming from each wheel, I drove into a corner carrying enough speed that would have sent a RWD car into the ditch.

8416544437_28512b1257_oThis ATS 4, however, bit into the snow-covered road with confidence and stability. Later on dry roads with the car set to Sport mode, the ATS 4 planted its wheels into the ground and carved its way around curves with the feel and grip you’d usually get from a sports car – and absolutely no body roll you’d get from a typical Caddy. The amount of power this car lays down is also impressive – with more than 250 horses through a six-speed automatic transmission I left in full-auto mode 90 per cent of the time.

This athletic ride did have some drawbacks, however. After a while along unsettled pavement in the city, the hard ride could have some longing for a chiropractor.

A small errand – running a snow shovel to a snowed-in cottage – did prove challenging. The rear seats equipped with this Performance model don’t fold down, so the shovel had to squeeze in across the back seats. An unploughed cottage road was no problem for the ATS 4.

On the highway, this car sails along smoothly. Adaptive cruise control meant I didn’t need to touch the pedals if traffic slowed down or if a car cut me off.

With sharp looks, clever technology and a suspension setup I could live with, the weekend with the Cadillac ATS 4 is one I could repeat.


The ATS doesn't look as boxy as other members of the Cadillac family

The ATS doesn’t look as boxy as other members of the Cadillac family

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