Editor's note: In the first annual CultureMap Auto Awards, automotive writers Nic Phillips and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top 2012 cars and trucks and explain why they're deserving of a good, hard look. CultureMap's pick for Car of the Year is the most significant all-around new car.
Car of the Year: 2013 Cadillac ATS
Target the benchmark, bring something unique to the mix, now hope people will give it a chance. That's what Cadillac did in 2002 when it introduced the CTS, indicating the direction the storied brand take to shake its old-people-only image. It's been largely successful in doing that — our fanatical support of the super hot V-series is no secret — but the CTS suffered from being just that: large.
Although priced like a BMW 3-series, it's more 5-series in dimensions and, V-series aside, is dynamically not quite up to the BMW or Audi competition.
ATS changes all that, proving that America "really can do it" — build a compact luxury sedan that bests Germany's current offering. Dimensionally ATS is within an inch of the BMW 3-series, nearly an exact copy, except in the all-important weight and style categories; Cadillac takes the lead looking better and weighing less. Dynamically the ATS is a match for the 3-series, with nimble handling and a suspension properly sorted to hold the vehicle to the road without crashing over the bumps.
Whether in 4-cylinder turbo or naturally aspirated V6 form, the ATS has more horsepower and a decidedly American exhaust note.
The interior doesn't disappoint, blending "art and science" styling with a decidedly sporting character that has more personality than any other sport compact today. The Cadillac User Experience (CUE) tablet-like display dominates the dash, and its multitouch interface, coupled with a full color screen in the instrument cluster, go a long way in making passengers feel like they are in the most modern car on the road.
What's one greatest shortcoming of the ATS? Probably the perception of the Cadillac brand not being completely cleared of the aged clouds of the past for the younger, luxury sport sedan buyers. "Why would I drive a Cadillac when everyone I know drives a 3-series, A4, C-class?"
Get over it, buck the trend, support an American brand doing the right thing and get in the ATS. It's the real deal.