Nobody likes the drive downtown.
But chances are it’s worse in some vehicles, better in others. We’ll see.
This morning, we’re driving a Cadillac ATS into the heart of Toronto’s sprawl, a car that in an earlier drive established itself as a rival to the likes of the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Should we emerge unscathed from this City Drive, we’ll sample a range of dissimilar cars and trucks as the weeks go by, always taking copious notes the better to report back to you.
First challenge in the case of the ATS: the controls. Westbound on Highway 401 after starting from Port Union Road, I suddenly realize I’m cold. Twin readouts show 19.5 degrees Celsius on passenger and driver sides. Adjusting the thermostats should be easy.
A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE
Dashboards increasingly ape smart phones. You need to have read the driver’s manual in order to drive safely: I haven’t. My focus on the road ahead wavers as my eyes lock on to the control panel.
The ATS is a post-knob luxury car. It’s a tap-the-dash luxury car and you really need to have learned how before trying it at 120 km/h. Pecking at the shiny strip between red and blue markings on the shiny black console has no effect other than taking my eyes off the road. Pecking on the red itself, no change. Pecking on the black plastic screen itself adjacent to the red, finally, success!
Warming up to the car itself comes naturally, from the on-ramp to the 401 beginning this drive to downtown Toronto. Turning the wheel alters direction precisely, no fuss, no lean. Acceleration eases the car forward without the lag and surge associated with small turbocharged engines. I like the car.
If European road manners are to your taste, this American car will impress with its firm ride and slotted feel. If what you’re really yearning for is a Cadillac de Ville of old, though, look elsewhere.
FEEL THE BUZZ
The first time the driver’s seat bottom buzzes – the bolsters on both sides vibrating, not the centre, thankfully – your eyes open wide.
This nanny feature warns the driver who wanders out of his or her lane. But it’s overly vigilant. The ATS’s lane-paint sensors react more often than those in cars I’ve driven in Europe; traversing even broken lines sets aquiver the bum.
Approaching the Don Valley Parkway South, the lanes funnelling together so you keep changing lanes, gives new meaning to the phrase seat-of-the-pants driving.
ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
There needs to be at least one good reason to drive downtown. Picking up opera tickets is one. Beyond that, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound friend has agreed to try on the ATS for size and it, too, like Lucia di Lammermoor, is a spectacle.
The ATS is too tight for comfort. His shoulder is jammed uncomfortably against the pillar between the front and rear doors; he’s that far back as a result of adjusting the seat rearward for adequate legroom. Also, the headliner brushes his hair. Getting in and out is difficult because the door is too far forward and too small.
He could drive an ATS, he says, but uncomfortably, just the way he feels in a Mini. For your 5-foot-8, 180-pound reporter, the ATS interior works well (albeit a little shy of toe-room in the rear). Somewhere between 5-8 and 6-5, tailored clothing and large sport utility vehicles fit best.
A REUBEN REWARD
The close calls on this drive, whew, but then anyone who drives into the city knows close calls. But consider this: not only do the seat bolsters buzz if you change lanes without signalling, on top of that, the heads-up display simultaneously flashes in alarm, if the sensors determine you’re about to rear-end the vehicle behind which you’ve just pulled. Like your first vibrations, it gets your attention.
Opera tickets picked up, time for lunch at Caplansky’s Delicatessen, an experience unavailable in Pickering or even Whitby and the third good reason for this drive downtown. Trouble is, looking for parking on College east of Bathurst mid-day is like canoeing the Niagara River and looking to land, fast-moving with few possibilities.
On nearby Major Street, however, a gap appears in the line of parked vehicles that’s tight but no challenge in the ATS – the reverse camera and proximity warning system eases the process – and it’s free. There is no cash-grabbing machine. None of the other cars display tickets or tags. I love driving downtown at moments like this. Free! The Reuben is the special of the day, the coffee outstanding and freely poured. A piece of sour cherry pie and I’m ready for Scarborough and beyond.
ESCAPE ON AVENUE ROAD
Last time I drove north on Bathurst, the stop-and-go was worse than Queen’s Quay this morning. So taking Dupont to Avenue Road becomes our natural mid-afternoon alternative, and mercifully there’s more 40 km/h cruising than stuttering along between red lights. At some point nearing Lawrence Avenue I notice that, at 40 km/h, the ATS’s engine barely runs faster than idle speed – 1,200 rpm, which is surely a large factor in the car’s impressive fuel efficiency.
On Highway 401, the engine is hardly more stressed. Cruising at the speed limit – rare as that may be on the 401 – it’s 1,800 rpm; at 110 km/h, it’s 2,000 rpm; at 130, 2,500. It’s a quiet, comfortable cocoon of a car.
Unstressed is the word for me as well, returning to our starting point at Port Union. Rare as that is after a drive downtown, it’s a compliment to the Cadillac. For me, at least, the ATS has proved to be a near-perfect fit.
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0L Turbo
Type: Four-door sedan
Base price: $46,660; as tested, $55,865, including destination charge ($1,650), excluding taxes
Engine: 2.0-litre, direct-injection, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 272 hp/260 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Natural Resources Canada rating, 10.3 city/6.6 highway; in our city area driving, 10.8; premium gasoline recommended
Alternatives: BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-class, Audi A4, Lincoln MKZ