It might seem odd to pit the 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 sedan against the 2013 Buick Regal GS. After all, the former is a rear-wheel drive luxury four-door aimed at the BMW set, while the latter represents front-wheel drive sport sedan wrapped in a premium package. Dynamically, there are many differences between the two GM offerings, but each is based around essentially the same 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. I thought it would be instructive to take a closer look at what are essentially the two quickest sedans in the General Motors line-up and see how they stacked up against each other in the real world.
With close pricing between the base ATS 2.0 and the GS, it's reasonable to expect that some cross-shopping is bound to occur amongst those seeking an affordable, high class ride. Which one will stand above the other in this battle of in-house rivals when subbing in the turbo Cadillac's priciest edition?
The 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium represents the top tier trim level available with the turbocharged engine. Boasting a starting MSRP of $45,790, the ATS 2.0 Premium offers power front seats, dual automatic climate control, Bluetooth, the CUE vehicle interface, a rearview camera, parking assistance, a folding rear seat, leather upholstery, dual exhaust tips, HID headlights, 18-inch rims, a navigation system, an adaptive suspension system, a limited-slip rear differential, adjustable bolsters for the vehicle's front sport seats, a head-up display, and the contents of the Driver Awareness package, which includes forward collision alert, and a lane departure warning system. My test vehicle also came with the Driver Assist package (blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control) and the Cold Weather package (heated steering wheel and seats), bringing the total price to $48,715.
The 2013 Buick Regal GS is the most expensive version of the Regal available, but it's starting MSRP of $35,875 is leagues below that of the ATS 2.0 Premium and more in line with the ATS 2.0 Standard (MSRP $35,795). The biggest difference between the two cars can be found in the amenities provided, with the Regal GS offering a heated steering wheel, dual automatic climate control, heated leather seats, Bluetooth connectivity, parking assistance, HID headlights, an adaptive suspension system, upgraded Brembo brakes, and the Interactive Drive Control feature (more on that later). A power sunroof can also be added to the vehicle, along with a navigation system and the Buick IntelliLink infotainment system. Pricing for the Regal GS tops out at just under $37,000.
Winner: The $10,000 gap between the two automobiles would appear to heavily favor the Buick Regal GS. Keep in mind, however, that the Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium offers a number of advanced features, including adaptive cruise control and other safety equipment that simply isn't available with the Buick. There's also a respectable amount of brand protection built into the Cadillac's price point. Still, we're giving this round to the Regal GS, as its value for the dollar rises above that of the ATS 2.0 Premium.
The 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium is quite handsome to behold, with its baby Art and Science lines sweeping back across a long hood and a curved greenhouse that disappears almost hatchback-style into a very short rear deck. Unique touches such as headlights that curve their way into the front fenders help to separate the ATS from its large CTS sibling, and in fact brings it closer in line with the recently introduced XTS full-size sedan.
The 2013 Buick Regal GS has been imported directly from Europe, and the Continental influences are quite apparent across its sheet metal. An aggressive front bumper features honeycombed grilles and a number of air ducts that suitably transmit its sporting intentions, while a swept rear fascia houses integrated dual exhaust cutouts that sit underneath the spoiler that emerges from the car's trunk lid.
Winner: The Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium looks every bit the entry-level luxury car that GM intends it to be, presenting a nice balance between the muscular character of the BMW 3 Series and the more formal appearance of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. That being said, the Buick Regal GS is simply more pleasing to look at from almost every angle, with curves and elegance that convey its sense of performance purpose without exaggerating them into caricature. These are both great-looking cars - it is merely the ATS' misfortune that the Regal GS happens to be the most beautiful sedan in the General Motors portfolio.
The 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium's passenger experience is really a tale of two seating positions. Up front, the car's well-bolstered sport buckets (which feature inflatable bolsters for maximum thorax penetration) are quite comfortable on both long and short hauls, and every control surface falls readily to hand. In the back, however, the ATS is tight, especially in the leg room department, with the car falling behind its competitors and making me wish I hadn't ceded the keys to someone else for the duration of my time sitting there.
Fit and finish is quite good throughout the Cadillac ATS 2.0's cabin, with substantial amounts of leather, brushed metallic door inserts, and dark onyx trim on the center console, stack, and steering wheel. The Cadillac CUE interface figures prominently into the sedan's control layout, with a large touchscreen sitting at the top of the dash and a smaller LCD screen positioned directly in front of the driver. The touchscreen worked well, providing 'haptic' feedback when touched (a pulse that indicates when a menu button has been pushed) as well as detecting the approach of a hand or finger and displaying full menu options prior to having actually made contact with the screen. The steering wheel buttons used to interact with the gauge cluster screen were a little less intuitive, but I eventually figured out how to make them dance to my tune.
The 2013 Buick Regal GS offers a nicely-finished interior as well, although it's clearly not in the same league as that offered by the Cadillac ATS. One of the biggest differences between the two vehicles can be seen on the Regal GS' center stack, which offers a mass of buttons that contrasts starkly against the smooth touch surfaces provided by the ATS (something that has been cleaned up for 2014 models). The Buick IntelliLink feature also isn't quite as comprehensive or as intuitive as Cadillac CUE, and lacks the driver-focused gauge cluster screen, making do instead with a lower-rent single-color pixilated display.
Rear leg room in the Buick Regal is less generous than that found in the ATS, but different packaging makes it feel roughly equivalent. The Regal GS of course features its own take on front sport seating, and although not quite as supple as those found in the Cadillac they are still quite competent at keeping one in place through quicker corners. Aside from a special metallic pedals and a flat-bottom steering wheel there's not a lot that separates the GS passenger compartment from that of any other Regal model, which is a bit of a let-down when purchasing a special model like this one.
Winner: The 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium's meatier MSRP gives us an interior that is a cut above that of the more affordable 2013 Buick Regal GS.
As I stated in the opening section of this comparison, the 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium and the 2013 Buick Regal GS both make use of the same 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Under the hood of the Buick, the unit has been tuned to produce 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, while the Cadillac sees 272 horses and 260 lb-ft of twist.
Why the difference in output? The ATS is also available with a V-6 engine that churns out a mere 274 lb-ft of torque, which means that if the 2.0-liter mill was any more aggressive it would run the risk of chipping away at the prestige of the six-cylinder. The Regal GS has no such halo model to protect, and as such it benefits from a more over-the-top personality.
Each of the two vehicles can be had with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, and the Cadillac throws in the extra wrinkle of optional all-wheel drive. Fuel mileage for the ATS is listed at 19-mpg city and 28-mpg on the highway. The Regal matches the ATS' city number but drops a single mile per gallon during highway cruising.
Winner: It's a tough one to call. The 2013 Buick Regal GS features a loftier torque rating, but it doesn't come with an available all-wheel drive system that can make the best use of all of that full throttle fury like the Cadillac ATS. I'm going to label this a draw.
The 2013 Buick Regal GS is in some ways victim of its own drivetrain. All of that extra grunt that I talked about in the previous section comes back to haunt the front-wheel drive sedan any time one tries to launch the car hard. The vehicle's manual transmission is simply not as smooth as it needs to be when moving through the gears in anger, as the vehicle's gear ratios do not seem to line-up perfectly with the powerband of the car's turbocharged engine. Once you get into the rhythm of moving through the six-speed's gears, it becomes easier to put together a few quick laps of your local back road circuit, but driving around town it's very easy to accidentally choose the wrong cog and end up lugging the motor.
The suspension system offered with the Buick Regal GS is excellent, and makes up for a lot of the abruptness of its gearbox. Torque steer is mitigated by HiPer struts up front, and using the vehicle's dash-mounted GS button adds significant stiffness to the car's adjustable suspension system and provides firmer steering. Braking from the big Brembos is also top-notch.
The 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium features none of the balkiness attributed to the Buick. In fact, whether found in manual or automatic trim, the turbocharged ATS offers rapid access to its 272 horses at any given time, with a surge of power similar to that offered by the Buick but more refined in its final delivery. Using the paddle shifters that came with the automatic transmission on one of my test cars revealed surprisingly broad ratios for the self-shifter after moving past first gear, which had me leaving the unit in Auto with Sport mode selected for most of the week.
The ATS chassis is also remarkably composed, and pushing the car hard on both the track and the street reveals a playfulness and a confidence that had me braking later and turning in far harder than anyone has a right to in a four-door luxury sedan. The vehicle's magnetic ride control suspension isn't quite as good at canceling out bumpier bits of the road as I would like it to be, but combined with the car's limited-slip rear differential it's well-matched to the sporting personality broadcast by the Cadillac.
Winner: The 2013 Buick Regal GS is undeniably fast, but it's not nearly as easy to drive quickly when compared to the 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium. I'm not going to make this a front-wheel versus rear-wheel drive argument, because I honestly think that the Regal GS is an excellent corner carver in its segment. The ATS is simply a more rewarding driver's car, in either base or all-wheel drive trim.
The 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium features a startling array of safety features. In addition to its seat-mounted side airbags, front knee airbags, multi-stage forward airbags, side curtain airbags, and rear seat-mounted side airbags (not found on all trim levels), the car also comes with electronic stability control, traction control, forward collision alert, a lane departure warning system, and a cross-traffic alert system. My test vehicle also came with the optional blind spot monitoring system and brake preparation for its collision detection system.
The 2013 Buick Regal GS features an identical airbag package (minus the knee airbags), as well as electronic stability control and traction control. It doesn't offer any of the active safety systems found on the ATS.
Winner: The 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium overpowers the more affordable Buick Regal GS with its emphasis on advanced safety features.
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium vs. 2013 Buick Regal GS: Final Thoughts
Is it a fair comparison to pit two vehicles with a $10,000 price chasm against each other? Is it surprising that the more expensive vehicle won, if only just? Yes and no. There's no doubt that base ATS 2.0 shoppers would be tempted by the sporty-looking Regal GS parked across the lot, especially when these two editions feature an almost identical price and a better match in terms of equipment. The temptation to load up the Cadillac with features, however, quickly moves it out of the Buick's market space, making it more difficult to keep the cars in the same conversation.
The 2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0 Premium ekes ahead of the 2013 Buick Regal GS in this comparison by virtue of its excellent driving comportment, its long list of available safety gear, and its high end interior trappings. In many ways, the ATS 2.0 represents the next step for Buick Regal GS buyers seeking an upgrade path from their enjoyable, but not quite 'premium' enough luxury sedan. There might not be much more room to be found inside the baby Cadillac, but its emphasis on technology and its well-tuned chassis give it an edge over the powerful, but finicky Regal GS.