The Cadillac ATS has been built from the ground up with just one goal in mind: to outdrive the BMW 3-series. Cadillac has been chasing German benchmarks for some time now – even going so far as to put its vehicles through the Nürburgring – a Grand Prix race track located in Nürburg, Germany. The ATS debuts GM’s new, lighter “alpha” rear wheel drive platform which will also underpin the next CTS and Chevy Camaro.
The ATS’ pricing presents the buyer with a dizzying array of possibilities spread over 9 different trims: 3 different engine choices, a choice between 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, a choice between RWD and AWD, several wheel and tire combinations, 6 different paints, 4 different premium paints, 5 different interior colors, a choice between wood/carbon fiber/ aluminum trim, 2 performance package choices, real leather/ faux leather, a limited-slip differential and a partridge in a pear tree. If I bothered to list all the possible combinations I’d be writing for hours, so instead, I’d simply recommend you visit Cadillac’s web page and use their configurator to build the ATS to taste.
ATS in its cheapest configuration is roughly $35,000 (give or take dealer fees/add-ons/etc) and comes with a 2.5-liter I4, RWD, and a 6-speed automatic. AWD can be added for $3800, but is only available with the 2.0-liter turbocharged and 3.6-lite V6. Cadillac’s infotainment system adds $1350 to any of the trims. A fully optioned out RWD 3.6-liter will cost slightly north of 53,850. Add AWD and you’ll be looking at closer to $55,000!
My main tester was the 3.6-liter V6, automatic transmission, and featured Cadillac’s infotainment center. The other model available to test was a base model.
I don’t bother mentioning exterior design anymore because I offer pictures and video. Either you’ll love it, or you’ll hate it. Exterior designs are so polarizing nowadays that it’s asinine to expect everyone to fall in love with Cadillac’s stealth-fighter-with-wheels body cladding. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts! Right?
The ATS is classified as a compact luxury car. Enthusiast drivers will appreciate the excellent view outwards, the supportive seats and the high end upholstery whose color is available to taste. Whether or not it upstages the BMW’s is pure opinion. I personally feel a hollowness and a cheapness in the ATS’ materials which I don’t feel in the BMW 3. Power adjustable headrests and massage motors in the lumbar would change my opinion had they been offered somewhere in the ATS’ bazillion possible combinations.
As far as interior space goes, this car is only fit for short, small framed people. 4 full sized adults might be able to survive a short car pool, but anything longer than that will require either a chiropractor or relationship counselor. The BMW 3, which has recently grown larger offers more forgiving space for a load of adults. Smallness continues to the trunk which is rated at just 10 cubes. Only 3 overhead travel bags can be squeezed in, but there’s no way I could get 2 pieces of my luggage back there. The BMW 3, with 13 cubic feet, will fit my luggage just fine. TECHNOLOGY SUITE
There are two radios available: a 4.2” screen radio on the base model and a full featured “CUE” infotainment center for the "luxury" trims with an 8” touchscreen. For now the ATS misses out on the XTS' virtual guage cluster, but even with the standard unit: all important information such as tire pressure, mileage, tachometer, the speedometer, fuel levels and engine temperature are easy to read, bright and vivid. There is even a link to GM’s App Store where you can download apps specifically for this car. Radio info in both the driver’s gauge and center screen display a song's title, track and genre.
“CUE” (Cadillac User Experience), has been developed in the same mold as the refreshed “My Ford Touch” which I’ve sampled in the 2013 Lincoln MKS
and Ford Taurus SHO
. CUE looks luxurious, but sadly suffers from the exact same problems which cost Ford precious points in consumer reliability surveys.
Cadillac has done its best to make CUE feel like using an iPhone
. The new voice technology allows for natural speaking in a manner similar to SIRI and the touchscreen functions much like iPhone with pinch-to-zoom and press-and-hold app reconfiguration. Unfortunately, the graphic user interface runs considerably slower than even the slowest smartphones and is in desperate need of overclocking. In one of my Youtube videos I demonstrate some of CUE’s shortcomings. The plastic touch panels currently being used by GM and FORD are horribly irresponsive. Even though CUE offers haptic feedback – which *bumps* the screen to let you know you’ve entered a command, the panels do not pick up progressive finger inputs. Simply trying to raise the volume in a single swipe results in nearly having to rub out the button before giving up and simply using the steering wheel controls.
It also doesn’t help that the touch sensitive areas are above
chromed spacers which at first glance appear to be buttons you should aim your finger for. It would have been so much better if the chrome spacers were touch sensitive buttons themselves. In CUE’s defense: switching modes between navigation, phone calls and radio functions on the gorgeous 8” touchscreen is simple and intuitive. CUE even has proximity sensors that detect your hand approaching and brings up or hides menus appropriately - only showing certain info when necessary. Connections to smartphones (GalaxyS3
tested well) go smoothly and without a hitch. Listening to digital music is best done with a USB thumbdrive. DRIVING IMPRESSION
The Cadillac ATS is available with 3 different engines.
Cadillac’s base engine is the 2.5-liter which offers 202 horsepower/ 191 pounds of torque. The middle engine is Cadillac’s turbocharged 2.0-liter which offers 272 horsepower / 260 pounds of torque. Step up to Caddy’s 3.6-liter V6 and you get 321 horsepower/ 275 pounds of torque.
The BMW 328i offers an inline-4 with 240 horsepower / 260 pounds of torque. The 335i offers an inline-6 with 300 horsepower and 300 pounds of torque. While Cadillac can boast about power output advantages over the BMW 3 on paper, they can also claim a power-to-weight victory: The heaviest ATS weighs in at about 3561 pounds with the automatic transmission - which is about 33 pounds less than the BMW 335i (3571lbs manual/3594lbs automatic) . On the low end, the 2.5-liter ATS is about 3315lbs while the 328i is about 3410lbs (3461 with automatic transmission).
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve tested the same “LFX” V6 in other GM cars which were heavier. The engine was a perfect match for the current CTS, but disappointingly slow in the XTS
. The ATS presents the V6 with considerably less mass to move and allows it to be considerably faster off the stop light. A sprint from standstill to 60mph takes slightly less than 6 seconds and the quarter mile is eaten in about 14 seconds. Unfortunately, the engine gets really loud when you attempt heroic launches. Far louder than you’d expect a “Cadillac” to produce. Some people want a car to get loud on demand. This, however isn’t a throaty roar – it’s more of a “Will it Blend” whir. Exhaust note tuning would have been nice. ATS is speed limited to 152mph while the BMW will continue to 155.
ATS has two types of suspension: the FE2 - with Macpherson struts in front and Cadillac’s all-new 5-link independent rear and the FE3. The FE3 offers magnet ride control with shocks similar to what I’ve experienced in the CTS/Coupe
. The FE2 suspension is standard fare for Cadillac in terms of ride quality – good, but not perfect. While the FE3 suspension allows you to adjust the car's agility for a sportier or more relaxed feel, I felt the magnetic shocks take away more road sensation enthusiasts might actually want. In comparison to the BMW 3, the ATS’ ride is less harsh when you traverse a road as imperfect and abused as Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Regardless the suspension setup, ATS’ has a stiff chassis with electric steering that offers quick, precise directional changes. The near 50/50 weight distribution and grippy tires allow the ATS to turn-in better than the BMW 3. In the V6, manumatic paddle shifters give you the option to row gears without taking your hands off the wheel.
The ATS with the V6 is rated at 19mpg city/ 28 highway. 22 city/33 highway for the 2.5-liter. Cadillac claims all of the engines will run on regular unleaded, but if you want maximum horsepower out of the turbo 4, you will absolutely need to splurge on premium.
I enjoyed driving the ATS slightly more than I enjoyed the XTS because the engine offered me the power I needed to drive aggressively. There are a few things I’d change. Direct sunlight overhead causes glare on the touchscreen - which is also susceptible to fingerprint smudging. People who want their ATS to ride smoothly will need the FE3 suspension, but with the current pricing strategies, they’d have to opt for the more expensive trims. It would probably make far more sense to just buy a magneride-equipped CTS with dealer incentives. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to get CUE in a CTS until the 3rd generation model is released. The current infotainment system works well enough for people who aren’t tech heads. OVERALL
Is there room in the market for an American 3-series fighter? Only time will tell. The ATS is a solid entry by Cadillac, but because of its interior space and pricing strategy, I feel it exacerbates the shortcomings of the current CTS
: very expensive and not big enough for the whole family. The 3rd generation CTS is expected to be much larger than the ATS (slightly bigger than the current CTS) while the largest (for the time being) is the XTS.
It appears Cadillac has adopted the “same sausage, different lengths” strategy from Ze’ Germans. The ATS definitely can compete with the 3, but can it truly beat the 3-series? Can the ATS generate enough interest to outsell it? Do I really believe most Cadillac buyers are cross shopping the BMW 3 and the ATS based on curb weights and handling? The answer to those questions is no
. In fact, I sincerely doubt loyal buyers will even think to cross shop these vehicles. A BMW 3 is a BMW 3 and a Cadillac is a Cadillac. The 3-series will be wearing its same classic kidney grill long after Cadillac goes through its next design evolution. Most people I run into who drive a BMW 3 flat out claim that they refuse to buy anything other than a BMW 3. Some of which just buy one to be seen in it - regardless how well it handles or how fuel efficient it is. ATS is a great car, but I feel the CTS is the better buy. While it compares favorably to a BMW 3, I just don’t see BMW 3 buyers winding up on an ATS waiting list.
Amount Paid (US$):
Model and Options:
2.5-liter with CUE