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This is the last car you'd expect from Cadillac

Executive wheels: A caddie that goes clunk

Jeff Rundles //December 11, 2015//

This is the last car you'd expect from Cadillac

Executive wheels: A caddie that goes clunk

Jeff Rundles //December 11, 2015//

I grew up in a General Motors town, so of course, Cadillac was the ultimate car. Because of that, I have always had a soft spot for the make, and I have been rooting for Cadillac to make the kind of comeback against foreign upstarts like Mercedes, BMW and Lexus that would make American manufacturing proud once again.

So when I heard I was going to drive the 2016 Cadillac ATS sedan, I was excited. I want to like the Cadillac; it’s part of my heritage. So if I were in the market for a smaller sedan luxury car it would start out with at least a slight advantage.

Unfortunately, driving it for a few blocks took away the advantage. Driving it for a week removed it from my consideration list.

This ATS is clunky. It drives clunky. The technology in it operates clunk-ily. The Cadillac website made a big deal about how engineers had removed all the excess weight to make the car more nimble, but I hate to think how un-nimble it was before the transformation, because it isn’t nimble at all.

If you want to compete against “The Ultimate Driving Machine (BMW),” and I assume that is what Cadillac is after, then you better make it drive like a BMW. This ATS does not. That’s the interesting thing, really: They say on the website that they have made the ATS the lightest vehicle in the class, yet in my experience it feels like the heaviest vehicle in the segment.

I noticed it right off. It drives heavy and handles poorly. On city streets, it feels like a burden, as if you have to fight against the car to keep in in your lane. On the highway, it’s worse. I have no other word for it but clunky. The ATS is not a smooth ride.

It is, however, relatively quick. While in a base model you can get a four-banger, in this Premium edition they put a 3.6-liter V6 with 335 hp and the car has plenty of get-up and go. The 8-speed automatic transmission is smooth – I really didn’t notice the shifts – and I was, to be fair, impressed with the performance aspect of this car.

It’s the handling and the heaviness that bothered me. At least, that’s what bothered me in the driving. What bothered me more was the technology. I am not really surprised by this bother, in that the technology in most of the luxury cars on the market, particularly BMW, strikes me as over the top. Modern car engineers have decided that one way to express “luxury” is to make everything in the technology feel like it is special and above the norm. It is above the norm, but unfortunately it is also cumbersome.

People all time the time talk about things, particularly technological things, that have been “dumbed down” so regular people will feel comfortable with them. I would describe this Cadillac, and many other luxury vehicles, as being technologically “dumbed-up,” as if what they were going for was the feel of the cockpit of a private jet. Hey, really, I don’t want a jet – I just want to drive, enjoy the drive, and have easy access to the accoutrements like heat and AC, radio stations or other audio media, simple Bluetooth and hands-free calling, and to get from A to B in style.

 In this Cadillac, I was constantly distracted by slider bars to adjust volume, and unnecessary steps to get radio stations and an over-the-top heads-up display that gave me so much information (speed, lane departure, local speed limits and more) that I found myself looking at the readout and not the road. It is a clunky operation.

On the plus side, this is a very handsome car. Cadillac has softened the lines from a few years ago that gave its vehicles a very cut, geometric look that resembled a Cubist painting. The interior is also striking, with some of the nicest leather upholstery I have ever sat in – a two-toned black/brown ensemble accompanied by black trim on the dash and console. I found it unusual that they also put some wood trim in – usually a nice touch – but here there were only very small wood trim panels on the doors and nowhere else. Strange.

One of the best touches, a feature I have never seen before, is that the car knew what the temperature was, so when it was cold it automatically turned on the heated seats, and then only if there was a person seated there. This was the first vehicle I have ever seen that required me to turn off the heated seats rather than turn them on.

There’s no point in going on about all the features: the 2016 Cadillac ATS Premium Sedan has every luxury feature and safety feature you can imagine and at the high end (e.g. Bose surround sound audio), and packs it all in for a base price of $48,110 – which for what is here is a highly competitive price vis a vis the competition. On my rear-wheel-drive test model they added an another $6,325 in options – things like adaptive cruise control, a power sunroof, auto-tightening seat belts (disconcerting at first), and heated seats and steering wheel – and then $995 in destination charges. The bottom line was listed at $55,430.

But as much as I wanted to, I didn’t like the car. I want so much for there to be a historical American nameplate luxury car that would rival the Japanese and the Germans, and the closest thing I have seen is a Buick – ironically a car made by the same company as Cadillac, GM.

My advice to Cadillac: Concentrate first on the driving experience and build the luxury around that. Unfortunately, with the ATS, they skipped the first step.