The Truth About Cars » curb weight http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 29 Jul 2014 21:42:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » curb weight http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Review: 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2014-jeep-grand-cherokee-summit-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2014-jeep-grand-cherokee-summit-video/#comments Fri, 12 Jul 2013 20:47:00 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=494701 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I got a call from my folks a year ago. It went something like this: “your mom wants a new Grand Cherokee for her birthday, what do you think?” I called up Chrysler and snagged a 2013 Grand Cherokee Overland Summit, the last major Mercedes/Chrysler vehicle to launch before Fiat took the reins. I came to the conclusion the American Range Rover was all kinds of crazy, had drivetrain deficiencies and she should wait until the 2014 refresh. That refresh has landed, so should mom buy one?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Mom [not so] secretly wants a Range Rover, but living in the middle-of-nowhere Texas, the only dealers within 70 miles sell Detroit’s wares. Bang went the Range Rover Sport.

The 2011 GC was a shock to the Jeep faithful. Not because it is the Mercedes ML’s half-brother, which itself is quasi related to the Mercedes E-Class, which is quasi related to the Chrysler 300. (My incest is complicated isn’t it?) What shocked Rubicon runners was the combination of independent suspension and portly curb weight. If you haven’t gotten over that shock, stop reading now.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Exterior, Rear, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Exterior

2014 brings a trimline reshuffle to the GC. The Laredo X is replaced by a cheaper Laredo E, and the Summit ditches “Overland” to become a separate trim at the top of the range. There is more going on here than just trim renaming if you read between the lines. In 2013, the “Overland Summit” was a GC with all the luxury AND all the offroad bits. In 2014, the Summit is the realization that people don’t take their $52,000-$57,000 Jeep rock crawling any more than Range Rover owners joyride in the Sahara on weekends. As a result the 2014 Summit loses the skid plates and tow hooks found on lesser models and doesn’t have an option to add them from the factory.

For 2014 we get a de-chromed tailgate, new bumper covers, exhaust tips and a headlamp re-style. In addition to the removal of the large chrome strip below the tailgate glass, Jeep has gone up-market with more aggressive tail lamps and more differentiated trims. Laredo and Limited models get new bumper covers with round exhaust tips while premium trims get trendy trapezoids. Further cleaning up the Overland and Summit models, the hitch receiver and 4/7 pin trailer wiring connector are hidden behind a panel in the bumper. Speaking of towing, the factory towing setup is no longer available on base Laredo models. Want to haul? Step up to that Laredo E.

The GC’s grille has become less prominent and more integrated. Foglamps have shrunk to an almost cartoonishly small proportion, and the lower air intake gets a more aggressive shape. Overland and Summit models get LED daytime running lamps, headlamp washers and a design reminiscent of the refreshed Chrysler 300. While some of our Facebook users whined about the black strip under the lamp, it didn’t bother me.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

The GC’s interior sees more evolution than expected. 2014 brings a new steering wheel with optional heating, a revised center console with the latest uConnect systems, upgraded wood trim and the same 7-inch LCD disco dash found in other Chryslers. The 7-inch LCD gauge cluster is flanked by a traditional tachometer, fuel and temperature gauge. The unit puts the Jeep well ahead of the competition and, interestingly, a notch below the full 11-inch LCD cluster used in Range Rovers.

Laredo and Limited shoppers get soft touch injection molded door and dash bits, while the premium trims get Chrysler’s latest fix for interior plastic problems: stitched leather. If you look at the photo above, everything above the wood trim is soft stitched leather and everything below is hard plastic. As long as you keep your hands above the meridian you’re in for a premium experience equal to the most expensive luxury cars in America. Drop below and you’re in Chevy-Cruze-land. That’s not unusual for a mass market vehicle however, and 2014 brings near flawless color matching (finally). Our summit tester took things up a notch by coating the hard plastic A-pillars, sun visors and headliner in Alcantara faux suede. The awkward gated shifter is gone, replaced by an Audi-esque joystick affair.  On the down side, the plastic center console trim scratches easily and felt a little cheap. Chrysler: make that center console out of wood and you’ll have a winner.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Interior, Shifter, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

As with most recent Chrysler products, the front seats have a pronounced “bump” in the center of the cushions making you feel like you’re sitting “on” the seat and not “in” the seat. Rear seat passengers will have little to complain about with reclining rear seat backs, air vents and the same soft-touch leather door treatment as the front. New for 2014 are two high-current USB power ports in the center console so your kids can charge their iWidget without cigarette adapters. Since the 7-seat Mercedes ML and Dodge Durango share the same DNA as the 5-seat Grand Cherokee, there is a surprising amount of rear legroom and cargo room for a 5-seat midsize SUV.

Infotainment

uConnect 2 is the first major update to Chrysler’s 8.4-inch touchscreen system that launched in 2011 and the first version of this system the GC has ever had. It couldn’t have arrived any sooner. If you have memories of sub-par infotainment from the Mercedes era, forget them, this is a whole new uConnect. Based on a QNX unix operating system, the system features well polished graphics, snappy screen changes and a large, bright display. For the second edition of uConnect, Chrysler smoothed out the few rough edges in the first generation of this system and added a boat-load of trendy tech features you may or may not care about.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Interior, uConnect 2, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

In addition to improved voice commands for USB/iDevice control, uConnect 2 offers smartphone integration allowing you to stream audio from Pandora, iHeart Radio or Slacker Radio. You can have text messages read to you and dictate replies (if your phone supports it) and search for restaurants and businesses via Yelp. In addition to all the smartphone-tied features, uConnect 2 integrates a CDMA modem on the Sprint network into the unit for over-the-air software updates and access to the new Chrysler “App Store” where you will be able to buy apps for your car. Since there’s a cell modem onboard, uConnect can be configured to act as a WiFi hot spot for your tablets and game devices as well. Keep in mind speeds are 3G, not Sprint’s WiMAX or LTE network.

Completing the information assault is SiriusXM’s assortment of satellite data services which include traffic, movie times, sports scores, fuel prices and weather reports. As with uConnect data services, there’s a fee associated after the first few months so keep that in mind. 2014 also brings uConnect Access which is Chrysler’s answer to GM’s OnStar providing 911 assistance, crash notification and vehicle health reports. Garmin’s navigation software is still available as a $500 add-on (standard on Summit) and it still looks like someone cut a hole in the screen and stuck a hand-held garmin unit in the dash. The interface is easy to use but notably less snazzy than the rest of the system’s graphics. If this bevy of techo-wizardry hasn’t convinced you Jeep is now in the 21st century, consider this: our tester didn’t have a CD player. If the bevy of USB ports has you confused, you can rock your Cat Stevens CD by paying $190 for a single-slot disc player jammed into the center armrest. Excluding the Garmin navigation system, uConnect 2 ties with BMW’s iDrive in my book for the best infotainment system. Add in the somewhat clunky nav software, and it’s still among the best.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Engine 3.6L V6, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drivetrain

Under the hood it’s a new world for the big Jeep. The same 290HP/260lb-ft 3.6L V6 and 360HP/390lb-ft 5.7L V8 are carried over from last year but that’s where the similarities end. In addition to the two gas mills there is a new 3.0L diesel V6 made by VM Motori S.p.A of Italy. (VM Motori is half owned by Fiat and General Motors if you were wondering.) The 24-valve DOHC engine uses a cast iron block, aluminium heads and a single computer-controlled variable geometry turbo to crank out 240 ponies and 420lb-ft. (There’s also the 470HP SRT version, but that’s for a different review.) The V6 is the base engine on all models (SRT excepted of course) and it is the only engine offered in the Laredo and Laredo E for 2014. Limited, Overland and Summit buyers can drop $2,695 for the V8 and $4,500 for the “EcoDiesel” V6.

All four engines (yes, even the SRT) are mated to a ZF-designed 8-speed automatic. V6 models use the low torque variety made by Chrysler while V8 and diesel models use a heavy-duty 8HP70 made in a ZF factory. If you’re up to date on Euro inbreeding, you know this is the same transmission used by BMW, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover and Rolls Royce. To say this is a step up from the vilified Mercedes 5-speed or the Chrysler 6 speed (the 65RFE featured some of the strangest ratio spacing ever) is putting it mildly. Fuel economy jumps 9% in the V6, 10% in the V8 and the diesel model claims 30MPG on the highway. No small feat in a 4,500-5,400lb SUV. Thanks to the heavy-duty cog-swapper, towing jumps from 5,000 to 6,700lbs for the V6 and the V8 and diesel hold steady at 7,400 lbs in RWD form and 7,200 lbs for the AWD model.

Our Summit had the optional Quadra-Trac II AWD system which uses a 2-speed transfer case to split power 50:50 for normal driving, features electronic locking, and provides an improved 44:1 low range for off-road use (up from 30:1 in 2013). Jeep’s variable height air-suspension dubbed “Quadra-Lift” is option on Limited and standard on Overland/Summit allowing you to air-lift your way from a parked 6.7 inches to 11.3 (0.6 more than last year.) Of course those numbers are only valid if you: A. remove the air dam properly before you go off-road, or B. slam into a rock and rip the air dam off while off-road.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

If you think a transmission doesn’t make much difference, drive the 2013 and 2014 Jeeps back-t0-back. Not only is the 2014 V6 model 2/10ths faster to 60 than last year’s V8, the on-road feel has been substantially approved. The old model felt like it was never able to find the right gear for anything, while the 8-speed seems psychic in comparison with the right gear ready and engaged before you knew you needed it. That’s a good thing, because a 5,000+ pound SUV with 260lb-ft and an 8-speed with a tall overdrive gear are a recipe for frequent shifts. Indeed on Highway 101, the transmission would routinely downshift to 7th to go up freeway overpasses. Quick shifts and a wide gear-ratio spread pay dividends when towing. I hooked up a 5,000lb trailer and the V6 Summit had no problems hauling it up and over a 2,200ft mountain pass.

In a sea of sharp-handling FWD crossovers, the GC is practically the only mid-size 5-seat SUV left that still drives like a truck. The soft suspension, over-boosted steering and tall ride have a positive effect on highway ride quality, but take a toll on handling. Despite wearing wide 265-width tires, the GC will only carve corners in the off-road-incapable SRT model. Still, that’s not this Jeep’s mission. Much like a Range Rover, the Summit’s raison d’être is to drive like a Barcalounger regardless of the road surface. Mission accomplished. Sort of.

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Exterior, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Weight is something you can more easily ignore on-road than off-road. Why? Because the traction surface is predictable and grades are never going to approach the GC’s advertised approach/departure angles. Off road, I got the Summit stuck twice on a moderate trail I am very familiar with (my neighbor has a private 380 acre off-road park that is his “backyard”). The lighter Jeep Patriot had no troubles on the same course. Yes, tire choices have a huge impact, but keep in mind the Patriot had road rubber as well. The first problem was a log about 9″ in diameter. The GC climbed over it but couldn’t reverse off of it. The suspension clearance wasn’t an issue, it was weight and traction. Again, better rubber would have helped, but so would a lighter curb weight because the Patriot didn’t have the same issue on the same log. The second location the GC got stuck for a while was on a steep and “gravely” slope. Again, the lighter SUVs on the same trail had no issue. Yes, QuadraDrive II excels in situations where you have one or more wheels in the air, giving you a very smooth transition of power that can’t be matched by slip-and-grip systems. But seriously, how often do $57,000 SUVs encounter that on the school run?

I must now comment on QuadraLift. Yes, you can increase the suspension height to 11.3 inches, but most people I encountered had no idea what this does to the geometry. Allow me to explain. This GC has four-wheel independent suspension. That means each wheel’s suspension hinges at a point near(ish) the center line of the vehicle. At “normal” ride height, the suspension is in the middle of it’s travel. Lower it for parking mode and the wheels move “upwards” toward their bump-stops. Raise the ride height and the wheels move “downwards” in the wheel wells pushing the car up. When you’re in Off Road II mode at 11.3 inches, you’ve pushed the wheels as far down as they can go nearly hitting their lower maximum travel. This leads to some very peculiar off-road manners, some loud bangs as the suspension hits its lower stops in off-camber situations and a rough ride. Compare that to something like an FJ cruiser which has more suspension travel at similar ride heights and the FJ is going to be the more comfortable off-road companion. How much of a problem is this? Not much, most Grand Cherokee buyers think of their gravel driveway as “off-road.”

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The Grand Cherokee is deeply conflicted SUV if we look at it through the lens of modern crossover comparisons which have eschewed every reason the SUV was invented except for ride height. If however you’re a shopper that expects a 5-seat SUV to be able to tackle more than a gravel road or the occasional speed bump, tow 7,000lbs and accommodate a winch, you don’t have many options. In truth, the Grand Cherokee is one of the best handling “traditional SUVs” ever made, it’s just that the competition has moved toward on-road performance. Sound like a Range Rover to you? It should and Jeep knows it.

Although the Summit has become a tad pricier this year, it’s still $13,000 less than a Range Rover Sport.  Brand image is important, but the Jeep-Range Rover delta is strangely not as wide as the Dodge-Jaguar delta, especially for folks like my mom in the middle of the country. What about me on the left coast? I own a 2001 GMC Envoy (gasp) that has 140,000 miles on it. I’m that 1% that actually tows with their SUV. Frequently. A pickup truck doesn’t fit my lifestyle and I find my 14-foot box trailer more useful for farm/ranch/construction duty (I built my own home and everything arrived on-site in the trailer). When my GMT360 SUV grenades its fourth transmission, I’ll need a replacement. My options: The VW Touareg or the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The options may be narrow, but they have never looked better.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • Best interior Chrysler has ever made. And they didn’t even use Corinthian Leather.
  • The V6 and 8-speed will make you forget the thirsty V8 exists.
  • Oil burners rejoice!
  • High tow ratings are incredibly rare today.

Quit it

  • Curb weight is a real problem for this Jeep both on and off road.
  • The V8 is still thirsty.
  • Some interior plastics are still too cheap for $57,000.

 

Chrysler provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.57 Seconds

0-60: 7.09 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 15.33 Seconds @ 77.5 MPH

Average Observed Fuel Economy: 19.8 MPG over 768 miles

 

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Review: 2013 Cadillac ATS http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2013-cadillac-ats/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/review-2013-cadillac-ats/#comments Mon, 23 Jul 2012 15:13:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=453789

Smaller grille than CTS, but clearly a Cadillac.

Size and weight are a big part of GM’s DNA. They beat Ford not with a frontal assault on the Model T but by offering a larger, heavier, flashier car. They thought they could do the same to BMW. But, even as the Bavarians packed on the inches and pounds, car buyers “in the know” saw the additional size and weight of Cadillacs as a sign that the General either lacked technical competence or just didn’t “get it.” Well, maybe the “new GM” really is different. With the 2013 Cadillac ATS, the company has pulled out all the stops to directly challenge the BMW 3-Series with a rear-wheel-drive car that is—surprise—a few tenths of an inch smaller and a few pounds lighter. Could the people who tried to sell us the Cimmaron have gotten this one right?

Standard 17-inch wheels.

From looking at the ATS, you’d never guess that GM was swinging for the fences, because the exterior designers weren’t. Instead, they were instructed to bunt. The first CTS was a brash yet largely successful attempt by Cadillac to carve out a new visual identity. The second one smoothed off the first’s edges, but its muscular fenders and enlarged grille oozed swagger. Many people loved it, but some also hated it. The ATS’s leaner, less dramatic body sides and trimmer grille are better for aero, packaging efficiency, and not scaring off buyers who want to blend in. The longer you look at it, the better it looks, but such subtly stylish sheet metal won’t sell the ATS all by itself. Instead, it might maximize the number of people willing to check out the rest of the car. This is the opposite of GM’s past practice, where often the hope was that dramatic styling would lure buyers to overlook the rest of the car.

Red interior with real carbon fiber trim.

Crack open the front door, get in, and the ATS’s second impression is a strong one. Nothing crazy here either, but the design and materials are at least as good as others in the segment. No direct competitor has fully upholstered the upper surfaces of the instrument panel and doors. This covering has a tighter, more precise fit than in the CTS. Seven different interiors are offered, and all are attractive, some strikingly so. The large screen for the touch-based “CUE” infotainment system (standard on all but the base trim) has vibrant graphics that combine the visual punch of Ford’s system with the superior usability of Chrysler’s. I noted only one part of the interior that appeared cheap, a faux chrome start button. They’re already planning to change the finish.

Black interior with real aluminum trim.

Look forward over the hood, and the driving position could hardly be better. The instrument panel seems lower and less massive than in a BMW, the A-pillars are downright dainty by current standards, and, in some refreshingly original thinking, the armrests are at different heights to support the left arm while steering and the right arm while shifting. The steering wheel has a smaller diameter than the standard GM tiller, and its rim isn’t overly padded. The front seats could be better. With headrests that adjust fore and aft and side bolsters that, on the top two of the four trim levels, adjust in and out, the right boxes were checked. But even at full-tight the bolsters provide only middling lateral support. They’re undersized and the center of the seatback feels slightly convex instead of concave. As with the exterior styling, GM has avoided driving away any potential buyers (in this case the widest ones). They could have offered more aggressively bolstered seats as a standalone option rather than making these “sport buckets” mandatory on the top two trim levels, but this would have driven up build combinations (more on this later).

Front seat set for 5’9″ driver. Can go back 2-3 more inches.

Jump from the front seat to the back, and if you’re over six feet tall (luckily, I’m not) you’ll wish you hadn’t. Second row leg room isn’t far off that in a Mercedes-Benz C-Class or Audi A4, but the latest BMW 3-Series has vaulted well ahead of the field in this area. Multiple ATS team members confided that they hadn’t foreseen the 3er getting so much bigger than their car. When I pointed out that the F30 is only three-tenths of an inch longer than the ATS, 182.5 vs. 182.2, and so still far from CTS territory (191.6), one of them noted that overall length isn’t the best indicator, as the small Cadillac has pointier ends. The BMW’s wheelbase is significantly longer, 110.6 vs. 109.3, and the additional inch-plus seems to have gone entirely into rear seat knee room.

Intrusive suspension and goose neck hinges.

But rear seat room isn’t the ATS’s largest weakness. The Cadillac’s trunk volume barely tops ten cubic feet. This is a fair distance short of the previous-generation 3’s twelve (matched by the C-Class and A4), and far less than the new one’s seventeen. What happened? Judging from the intrusiveness of the rear suspension, GM might have given ride and handling much higher priorities than cargo volume when making tradeoffs.

Note holes punched to save weight.

Actually, there’s no question that handling was the team’s top priority. They wanted to beat the 3-Series in direct competition, by being better at what it does best, and the BMW hasn’t dominated the segment for three decades by having the biggest trunk. The ATS team designed every excess gram out of its body structure and employed significant amounts of high-strength steel, aluminum, and even magnesium to get the curb weight to 3,315 pounds with the 201-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder base engine, 3,373 with the 272-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four, and 3,461 with the 321-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. A CTS with the same V6 weighs nearly a quarter-ton more. A 240-horsepower BMW 328i automatic weighs 3,410 pounds, a 300-horsepower 335i weighs 3,555. The ATS team is rightly proud of this win. Beyond curb weight, the team fitted a BMW-like double-pivot front suspension, developed Cadillac’s first five-link rear suspension (a mere 30 years after the pioneering W201 Benz), optimized the angles of all of the beautiful alloy suspension links, and forward rack-mounted an electric power steering (EPS) unit by ZF (which also supplies Audi and BMW). They then called on the same people who made the heavyweight CTS-V dance to fine tune the half-ton-lighter new car.

Lots of aluminum.

Jump back into the front seat to evaluate their work, and you’ll find a very balanced, highly precise, fairly agile, and altogether pleasant-handling car. Damping seems much better than in the latest, looser 3-Series even without the FE3 suspension’s magnetic ride control shocks, and especially with them. With rear-wheel-drive and a limited-slip rear differential (included with the FE3 suspension or the manual transmission with either suspension), the rear end can be rotated progressively with the throttle much like in the CTS. (As in the larger car it helps to switch the stability control out of its slightly too conservative default mode.) The front brakes are strong Brembos with all but the base trim 2.5. This is an easy car to drive quickly along a curvy road.

What you won’t find, due to a combination of EPS and a desire to appeal to mainstream luxury car buyers, is steering that communicates every nuance of what is going on where the rubber meets the road. I suspect they’re withholding this for a future V. Even as it stands, the Cadillac’s moderately light steering feels at least as good as that in the Audi or BMW, much less the hopelessly numb Mercedes. It’s a precision instrument, just not an overtly engaging one.

Five links.

On the streets of north Georgia, the ATS rode well, even with the firmer FE3 suspension. Aiming for the largest road imperfections, I failed to elicit a harsh reaction. But the largest road imperfections in north Georgia aren’t very large. A more thorough ride evaluation must await a week-long test in Michigan. Noise levels aren’t the lowest, but they are fairly low, partly due to active noise reduction (via the speakers). As in many cars, rough concrete poses the toughest challenge.

It’s tempting to write off the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (a new generation Ecotec) as suited only for people who care nothing for performance. But, facing the lowest expectations, it actually performs well enough in the ATS that in the north Georgia hills I didn’t find myself wishing for one of the others. Refinement is also very good for a four—and better than with the turbo 2.0-liter (also new, not the same engine found in the Buick Regal GS).

The boosted engine definitely feels stronger, but not to the extent suggested by the specs or the stopwatch (5.7 vs. 7.5 seconds to 60), and it sounds buzzier when revved. It’s not the sort of racket produced by earlier GM fours, just a soundtrack more suited to basic transportation. A car that performs as well and costs as much as the ATS deserves a less pedestrian-sounding engine. The V6 feels stronger still when revved (GM claims 5.4 seconds to 60, and it makes a larger difference over 60), but it lacks the midrange punch of the boosted sixes in the Audi S4 and BMW 335i. The V6 has a much throatier sound than the fours, but also could sound more like well-tuned high performance machinery (the heretofore unmentioned Lexus IS gets a win in this area). All three engines are passable, but none stands out the way the chassis does. If you want the well-executed manual transmission, then your decision among the three engines is made for you. The base four and V6 are auto-only.

Set well back, for 50-50 weight distribution with manual transmission.

EPA ratings with the three engines, automatic transmission, and rear-wheel drive are 22/33, 22/32, and 19/28, respectively. The fours are close to the admirable figures achieved by the latest BMW, the V6 not so much. GM notes that the ZF transmission in the BMW has two more ratios, for a total of eight, but there’s more to the story than this. The far heavier CTS tests nearly as well, 18/27. Reasonably precise real world figures will require more time in the car. Hustling a 2.0T ATS with all-wheel-drive through the hills, I observed low twenties on the trip computer. In straight highway in an all-wheel-drive V6, I observed 26. While the automatic transmission functions well in performance driving, it needs more ratios to deliver class-leading fuel economy.

At Atlanta Motorsports Park.

So, how much are those upholstered interior panels, fancy suspension bits, and pricey alloys going to set you back? The Cadillac ATS starts at $33,990. Add $1,805 for the turbo (available with all four trim levels), but deduct $1,180 for the manual transmission. Add $2,000 for all-wheel drive, which can’t be paired with the manual transmission or the base engine. For leather, you choice of interior trims (wood, aluminum, carbon fiber), a folding rear seat, CUE (optional on the base trim), additional amenities, and the option of adding the V6 for another $1,800 on top of the turbo four, step up to the $38,485 “Luxury” trim. For the sport buckets, xenon headlights, and shift paddles, you must opt for the $42,790 “Performance” trim. This price also includes the formerly optional turbo four, Bose surround sound, and a basic safety package. The last includes forward collision alert and a lane departure warning that vibrates the seat instead of beeping—much less annoying. But the folding rear seat is lost. To regain the folding rear seat, and add magnetic ride control shocks, quicker steering, firmer FE3 tuning, and a head-up display, you must get the $45,790 “Premium” trim (deduct $1,475 for the manual). This price also includes 18-inch wheels and navigation, both optional on the mid-level trims. Put another way, to get the best-handling ATS you must also get the most expensive ATS.

Sound like BMW territory? Close, but not quite. A 2012 328i starts nearly even with the 2.0T ATS, $35,795, but includes less standard equipment. Equip the BMW to the same level, and it lists for $2,545 more than the Cadillac. But adjust for remaining feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the Cadillac’s advantage is a mere $1,290. Load both cars up, and this advantage becomes more substantial, with a sticker of $47,440 vs. the BMW’s $52,310 (for a difference of $4,870). The adjustment for feature differences is negligible. Other competitors cost less than the BMW. The Infiniti G37 remains the segment’s bargain play.

Tan interior with real wood trim.

Overall, the Cadillac isn’t priced low enough to sell based on price alone, but isn’t priced so high that even those who prefer it will opt for the much more established BMW…unless you happen to require the most athletic suspension, and little else. In this case, the BMW lists for over $5,000 less with a manual transmission, and over $6,500 less with an automatic. Yes, the Cadillac includes about $7,000 in mandatory additional features, but some enthusiasts won’t want them.

I pressed a number of ATS team members about this inflexible packaging. Their response was that they had to keep the build combinations very low, 915 to be precise. GM feels that matching the BMW’s 1.2 million build combinations would substantially drive up costs and harm quality. I believe that they believe this, but I’m nevertheless skeptical. How does it significantly help cost or quality to always install nav when you install the FE3 suspension? I don’t doubt that reducing manufacturing complexity helps, but I don’t think all additional build combinations are equally harmful (as assumed by GM math).

Another rationale makes more sense. One team member said that they’re undercharging for the adaptive shocks and other FE3 bits. Since these are deleted when AWD is added, some easy math yields a $900 price. This is cheap. To make this low price financially viable, they must force you into a heavily optioned (and so more profitable) car to get it. Personally, I’d much rather see the FE3 suspension available on lesser trims, even if it then had to cost more. Until then, I’d advise people uninterested in all of the Premium’s features (or at least uninterested in paying $45,000+) to settle for an FE2 car. I drove the two suspensions along the same road, and while the FE3 car handles better the difference is far from night and day. The character of the car remains the same.

Aside from rear seat room, trunk capacity, and option packaging, the Cadillac ATS approaches, meets, or beats the 3-Series in every area. The car’s curb weight might be only a little lower than the BMW’s, but even this represents a seismic change for GM. A large number of details done right suggests a well-functioning team that intensively studied the market. Interior styling and handling are clear strengths. I had hoped for a more visceral driving experience, but luxury car manufacturers typically reserve such an experience for special performance variants with stratospheric price tags. If I had to choose from among the cars that are actually available in the segment, this would be the one.

Cadillac provided the tested cars, fuel, insurance, airfare to Atlanta, one night in a nice hotel , very good food, and five laps around Atlanta Motorsports Park (two of them with a driver far more skilled than I am).

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online source of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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