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2013 Compact Luxury Sedans: The American Face Off

April 1st, 2013

2013_Lincoln_MKZFor 2013, two new American rivals enter the compact luxury sedan arena, a venue long dominated by German and Asian makes.  How do these two, the 2013 Cadillac ATS and 2013 Lincoln MKZ, stack up?  To find out, we assembled over 100 compact luxury sedan owners and had them systematically prod, poke, and rate the two newcomers alongside their formidable rivals:  the BMW 328i, Mercedes C250, Audi A4, Lexus IS250, Infiniti G37, and Acura TSX.  When the owners’ ratings were tallied, the scores reveal the two new Americans to be worthy competitors, scoring solidly mid pack.

Inside, both the Cadillac ATS and Lincoln MKZ beat the BMW, Audi, Lexus, and Acura for quality of interior materials.  Seat appearance, seat material quality, and front seat storage rate ahead of all the German and Asian rivals.  Both ATS and MKZ feature touch screen controls that give the traditional buttons and dials of their competitors a somewhat outdated feel.  This new technology was a ‘wow’ feature for some owners, conferring a clean, contemporary look and feel.  Others found the touch controls unfamiliar and confusing, preferring the more tactile feel of traditional controls.  What seems clear is that the ATS and MKZ are leaders in the migration to new technology that already dominates personal electronics, a path the Germans and Asians seem likely to eventually follow.

But which of these new American challengers is better?  The answer depends on your personal priorities and tastes.2013_Cadillac_ATS

From the exterior, the two models take a radically divergent approach.  From a size perspective, the ATS is a true compact like the 328i and C250.  Like those cars, its rear wheel drive set up moves the front wheels forward, giving what some see as a more athletic stance.  The midsized front wheel drive MKZ looks bigger and heavier than the ATS and the German and Asian rivals.  Compact luxury sedan owners see the bold front grille and chiseled angular ‘art and science’ forms of the ATS as aggressive and masculine, a character appealing to some, but too much for others.  By contrast, the MKZ has soft, rounded lines, which some find appealing, many see as conveying a bulky, heavy look.

The different approaches extend to the interior, where the tighter cabin, limited rear seat room, and smaller trunk of the ATS contrasts with the spacious open feel and cavernous trunk of the MKZ.

Dynamically, the ATS’ stiffer, European-sports-sedan-like ride and handling contrasts with the softer, quieter MKZ.  If exhilarating driving dynamics are your cup of tea, the ATS is your clear choice over the MKZ.  But, if a comfortable quiet ride, carrying adults in the rear seat, or transporting luggage or sports equipment are your priorities, the Lincoln MKZ has the clear edge over the ATS.  In fact, if comfort and room are your priorities, the MKZ is the best sedan of the 8 we tested.

But, whatever your tastes and preferences, our compact luxury sedan reviews confirm the Americans have indeed arrived:  these two new entries are worth a look.