If you’ve viewed television on any of the major networks over the course of this year, you’ve probably stumbled across a Cadillac commercial or two. Chances are the ad that stuck in your head was of a test driver ripping through the narrow corridors of a zigzagging foreign road as though it were extra footage from a James Bond film.
Travel fanatics and motorsports enthusiasts have both been gobsmacked ever since the ads started running, wondering where the footage was shot. It was a clever plan on Cadillac's part, to market their new ATS with a series of jaw-dropping "road test" ads. What better place is there, after all, to show off a "turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive" than on four of the craziest, most dangerous, and infamous roads in the world. The result? The now famous “ATS vs. the World” series of Cadillac commercials.
Aerodynamics Test: The Patagonia region of Chile in South America
Extremely windy roads in Patagonia, Chile — Photo courtesy of teosaurio
Chicago, eat your heart out. Patagonia is one of the windiest places on earth, with winds routinely blowing steadily at forty miles per hour. The test for the Caddy was pretty simple: drive in a straight line for three miles at one hundred miles per hour. See? Simple. However, the problem is there is a forty-five mile per hour cross wind and the road is paved with gravel. Remember that the winds are so powerful here that trees cannot grow against the wind and the plants are shaped accordingly.
Nature's unforgiving gails have this tree and the ones around it pointing towards the prevailing wind direction — Photo courtesy of bibliojojo
Although Patagonia is mostly barren due to the wind currents beating down almost all large plant life, there are many people who live in this region and call it home. Due to the expansive and relatively flat valley floors, herding and ranching is the traditional method of sustaining a living. So an interesting travel note: although the ATS utilized roads for its test, the preferred method of transportation in the area is the La Trochita, or Old Patagonia Express, a steam engine-powered railroad service. However, even the multi-ton steam train has to take wind speed into account when determining its cruising speed.
So, how did the ATS fair? Well, thanks to being about 200 years more technologically advanced than the steam engine, it easily traversed three miles at one hundred miles per hour without the driver so much as twitching the steering wheel to remain on course. Very impressive, but how will the plucky little red sedan fair against the Atlas Mountains?
Brakes Test: The Dadès Gorges of Morocco in North Africa
There’s no question that mountain roads provide some of the most breathtaking scenery one can imagine. They’re also some of the toughest roads for your car to traverse. The one-two punch of having to slow down and immediately speed back up can make even the most battle-hardened gearheads break into tears. Not to mention the road is framed by just a foot-high wall.
Pictured: some poor guy's daily commute — Photo courtesy of Rosino
The test was to reach the bottom of this series of switchbacks and go back up twice. A total of one hundred turns at more than a mile-high elevation is beyond ridiculous for most vehicles, but the ATS is up for the challenge in barren rocky high desert.
Believe it or not, this region is heavily populated with all kinds of life despite its arid environment. The region looks like Sedona, Arizona on steroids and with a bad attitude, with its treacherously high mountains, red earth, and pueblo-style housing. The culture of the people living here is an interesting mix of Middle Eastern, African, and Spanish influences that displays itself in the cuisine, architecture, and art.
Test number two was one heck of a doozy for any vehicle, but the sedan nailed the death-defying course in just a bit over three minutes. That’s a whale of a performance from a straight four engine at more than a mile of elevation on a road that looks like the Dades Gorge.
And they had to do it twice.
Horsepower Test: The Monaco Grand Prix Circuit
Even if you don’t follow Formula One racing, you’ve probably seen a snippet of one of Monaco’s street races. The annual event has been put on every year from the 1930’s, except during World War II.
To be fair, it's hard to concentrate on racing when there are nazis shooting at you — Photo courtesy of Europeo
Just look at how narrow those streets are. It’s like trying to race with someone through a hallway. On most tracks there’s grass flanking either side of you just in case you mess up, or at least some other form of runoff room, but at Monaco, you’re racing on hundred-year-old streets designed for horse-drawn carriages. There is absolutely no margin for error, so why not have a horsepower test and see how fast you can go? Brilliant idea.
The playground of the rich and famous is as varied as it is tiny. The entirety of the country consists of just one city, making it one of the few city-states still in existence. French culture is predominant, but Italian and English influences can easily been seen as well. The atmosphere and cuisine of the city is some the greatest in the world, so it’s no surprise that this is the number one place where Europeans come to live out their retirement.
In its horsepower test the ATS did exceptionally well for a little four cylinder: a top speed of 108mph without incident. Not a single flake of red paint was shed upon the walls and it was all done at more than twice the legal speed limit. Not bad at all.
Suspension Test: Guoliang Tunnel in East China
Comfortable suspension is usually the hallmark of any luxury car and Cadillacs are no exception. However, there is a trade-off. A comfy suspension will be slower in a racing setting, while a harder suspension will be faster. Finding the delicate balance between the two is what can make a decent car a great car, and the ATS is ready to prove that it is indeed a great car. But where to test a suspension with speed as a factor? The Guoliang Tunnel in the Taihang Mountains is just the perfect place.
Part of the 1200 meter long tunnel in Hunan province of China — Photo courtesy of pickchur.com
Most tunnels cut straight through a mountain with the floor of the tunnel being paved. However, the Guoliang Tunnel is far different. The tunnel was carved into the side of the mountain and fits the contours of the mountain itself so that windows on the side of the mountain could let light in. Also, the floor of the tunnel is simply mountain rock with no paving. This makes the floor very bumpy and the margin of error is even narrower than the streets of Monaco.
The test was to traverse the tunnel and turn around and do it again, a distance of a mile and a half at an elevation of over 3,000 feet. The ATS did it in two and a half minutes without incident, and the drivers rarely even felt the jolts in the rocky unpaved mountain road.
If there’s anything to take away from this series of commercials, it’s that not only is the Cadillac ATS quite the impressive piece of machinery, but that the roads that people travel can be as jaw-dropping as the earth that surrounds them. Whether it’s the ancient North African mountains or the wind-battered plains of Patagonia, there’s a little piece of insanity lurking around every curve and bump. So, when you go out in search of a great road - and an even greater journey - take care, enjoy every moment, and make sure your car is up for the job.
The all new 2013 Cadillace ATS — Photo courtesy of Hartford Guy