Opposite Lock: The ATS Lands a Few Punches; Gets Knocked Out

Featured Posts, Interesting | January 20th, 2012 by 50
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You have to respect an underdog. That skinny man at the bar who stands up to the Schwarzenegger-looking ‘roid-popping dude hitting on his girlfriend. The …

You have to respect an underdog. That skinny man at the bar who stands up to the Schwarzenegger-looking ‘roid-popping dude hitting on his girlfriend. The Jamaican bobsled team in “Cool Runnings.” The Cadillac ATS.

BMW have long set the bar so high in the sport/luxury sedan segment that their German and Japanese competition have had an impossible time keeping up – let alone surpassing. With the launch of the new F30 sixth-generation 3 series, BMW have once again pole-vaulted a good field ahead of the competition, and those looking at the back-end of the 3 series have a lot of catching up to do. But perhaps not as much as with previous generations. The gap is narrowing – there is no doubt. Audi have finally figured out that understeer sucks, weight should be further aft, and more power should be sent to the rear wheels.

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Well – in actuality all power should be sent to the rear wheels and weight should be distributed equally, or predominately over the rear axles, but at least they’re getting closer. The Japanese have mounted an honorable fight with their sport sedans, namely Infinity with their G and M class sedans. A stint behind the wheel of the G37 coupe will have you thinking, “who put wasabi on this bimmer?” as you hang the tail out through a corner. And finally the Koreans have thrown their flag in the ring with the launch of the Genesis sedan and coupe – the latter squarely aimed at stealing Infiniti G37 and BMW 3 series drivers. The Americans, meanwhile, have always been about an ocean away.

Have the Yankees finally stepped up with a worthy competitor in the midsize sport sedan segment? Let’s take a look at the fighter’s specs before we place a wager. Of course, we’ll need to get behind the wheel – preferably on a racetrack – before we can pass final judgment.

Cadillac lands a punch or two. Maybe three.

Right off the bell Cadillac lands a punch with superior power output from their 2.0 liter turbo four. BMW’s N20 unit of the same specification puts out 240 hp, while the ATS’s unit churns out 270 hp. That is a significant power advantage from an engine of the same size and aspiration. Then, a surprise left hook from the Caddy, as its sport suspension (FE3) adds a mechanical limited slip differential (LSD) between the rear wheels. Wow. Where were you on that one BMW? Not only does the Cadillac deliver more power, but it more effectively transfers it to the road when getting on with it. The Germans are left in a stupor, knees bent, clinging to the ropes.

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Finally, a third swing. Did Cadillac land the blow? Hard to say – we won’t know until we drive the ATS. Mark Reuss, GM’s North American President, stated that the ATS sports, “the best steering [he’s] ever tested.” Them be fighting words. But will the driving experience stand behind them? We can’t wait to find out for ourselves. Cadillac has fitted a ZF sourced (sound familiar?), belt-driven, rack-mounted, variable-assist electronic power steering (EPS) unit. Bespoke to the Cadillac, we’re very curious to see how much information the system will translate up, into the steering wheel. BMW has set the bar so low in this department relative to previous generation 3ers that, frankly, we wouldn’t be shocked if Cadillac betters the BMW for steering feel and feedback. Somebody alert the driving Gods: Hell hath frozen over.

Round two, equal match.

Both the ATS and 3 series tip the scales at an impressive 3,300 to 3,400 lb window – and bearing in mind the lengths BMW went to in order to reduce weight, the fact Cadillac goes toe-to-toe in this arena is extremely impressive. The ATS touts magnesium engine mounts, an aluminum hood, and clever use of steel in the suspension to shed pounds.

Both cars are available with 6-speed manual transmissions, which should keep the purists happy. I’m not sure how many Cadillac drivers are drivers, but I expect the manual take rate to be much lower on the American cars. At least they offer the manual transmission, should you be one to connect with the driving experience on a regular basis. That Cadillac even offers it lends credibility to their affront in the sport sedan segment.

Cadillac has finally lost the knife and brought a gun to the gun-fight with a more advanced 5-link independent rear suspension, appropriately weighted with 50% of the mass resting over the rear wheels at a stand-still. Don’t forget about that LSD mounted between the rear wheels – not even an option on any BMW 3 series short of an M car. Cadillac spent ample time honing the suspension setup on the N’ring and several other race circuits; we get the feeling the ATS may actually ‘bring it’ on track and at least keep up with the BMW.

BMW strikes back.

The F30 finds its feet and returns blows with its hewn-from-granite build quality and fine materials. Its advanced EcoPro technology – usable tech that is incredibly well applied in the car – adds value to the car and improves efficiency by a large margin when in use. iDrive extends BMW’s lead in the tech area, and creates a mobile office the likes of which Cadillac can only dream.

Self-inflicted blows?

Finally, Cadillac does the strange (but not entirely unexpected) and knocks a few of its own teeth out. Yes, the resultant look is, umm, how do I say this? Somewhere from Alabama? Your right to bear arms can’t touch me here in Toronto… fire away. Take the interior build quality for example. It’s atrocious. I mean, it’s horrendously bad – let’s say roughly where Hyundai was 25 years ago, with employees drinking a few too many Soju mid-shift on a Monday. Check out the photo below, showing lumpy, fat-roll-esque leather surfacing on the side bolster of the brand new show car. Is that cellulite? Remember: this is the best example Cadillac could find to showcase to the world’s media. Yikes.

Next, consider the unequal gaps on either side of the center-dash console. The difference is nearly a cm wide, and stares you in the face like a hideous hairy mole at the tip of the nose.

The cup holders don’t offer much in the aesthetics department either, feeling of cheap plastic and in no way belonging in the company of luxury cars. Not everyone orders the “Biggie Size” fountain drinks – do they really have to be so large? It appears that far too much space has been devoted to them, and with their placement at your elbows, McDonalds may be in for a “burnt elbow” hot coffee suit.

The touch screen info-tainment display is a bad idea on many levels. The screen will constantly be dirty and smudged since your fingers are frequently all over it. The reach is too far while driving, and requires you to lean forward from your seat, and the overall look and design of the software is not up to par with systems from the European competition.

But worse still is the uber-cheesy center console flip-up button pad, revealing a small cubby hole once lifted. Button activated, the swing up device feels cheap and screams “Gimmick” from the mountain tops. It’s sure to impress the 3 year olds in the car, and no one else. Why do the Americans lower themselves like this in the company of such refined competition? They finally brought the fight dynamically, even equalling the curb weight of the 3 series – only to throw it all away with a hilarious gadget stolen from a Fisher-Price Transformers toy? I don’t get it. I’d love to be at the board room table when Billy makes these suggestions. And who invited a toddler into the design process anyway? If you want to fight the Europeans and Asians, you have to add refinement and quality beyond rental car levels. After 5 minutes poking and prodding the ATS from the driver’s seat I thought, “this would make a great rental.” And nothing more.

Moving to the exterior, the ATS gives a lot up to the BMW aesthetically, but since looks are subjective, I won’t dwell heavily here. In short, the 3 series offers more shape, and more sophisticated lines embellishing its perfect proportions. The Cadillac falls down here, with more simplistic metal work that doesn’t capture light and shadow the same way. It looks less dynamic at a standstill, and while I don’t mind the industrial, sharp line design approach, somehow the ATS looks a bit dated even before its release. In a few years time the BMW will be growing on us while the ATS will be scrapping the bottom of the Blue-Book resale values.

Spending a little time in the cockpit of the ATS undid all of the hope we held out for this latest American effort. We expect it to win back some points once we get the keys, but if the dynamics and character are on par with the interior build quality – it seems Munich has little to worry about.

You’ve got to respect an underdog, but not if it’s just a dog. Was the model we examined pre-production, rife with tolerance issues and poor materials (again with the pleather-feeling leather)? Time will tell, and we look forward to giving a production model ATS a fair shake – on the track, and under bright lights. We will gladly crown the ATS or any other competitor the superior car – but it must earn this victory.

50 responses to “Opposite Lock: The ATS Lands a Few Punches; Gets Knocked Out”

  1. JKP says:

    Methinks you protest to much in defense of the beloved Bimmer.  The photo quality is so poor, I don’t really see the gap of which you speak.  (All those guns we carry in America makes us less fearful to go out at night, so we actually have the ability to take photography classes, I guess.) 

    Re: the seats — were they actually comfortable? 

    Re: the touchscreen – are there steering-wheel controls and/or voice activated controls for the driver? 

    It’s way too soon to cast judgment on the car.  At worst, it earns an incomplete until we see how it drives.  

    • FreudeKing says:

      I can already see that it is a cheap car. Sometimes quality can be seen and in this case, it is pretty obvious – unless you are blind.

    • Roger1 says:

      Look at the gap between where the dash meets the vent on the center console on the left and right side.  He’s right, I’d say it’s more than a cm gap on the right, no gap on the left.  

      LoL we have one of the highest gun crime rates in the world.  That makes you feel safer?  LoL

      • Alpha says:

        This is not a prod car or else they would be on sale. It is a car show model. Unbelievable how critical people can be over some poor quality pictures…

        • Roger1 says:

          What’s wrong with the photo quality?  They plainly show a big gap on one side of the dash console, and no gap on the other.  Also that nasty seat.  This is a show car intended to show the best of the car.  Sad.  I expected more from the improving brand.  

  2. Philly_Jeff says:

    I am heading to the auto-show next week, so Ill check out this first hand.

  3. Giom says:

    Harsh it may be, but the arguments are solid. Sometimes you don’t have to drive a car to find faults, cause they scream at you.

    I’m sad to read this from the ATS, i was quietly rooting for it. It just seem like the whole project lost momentum at some point. Pity!

  4. Scotthogsett says:

    I doubt seriously that the Cadillac will come near the BMW in performance. Their best engine is the same one in the SRX which the X3 beats by a second 0-60 with the 28 not the 35 engine and they weight the same. They get smoked in gas milage as well. That 270 hp engine is in the Buick Regal Gs which is slow as hell but it is a pig in weight. The SRX is made in Mexico and will this Caddy be made in Mexico (buy American right).

    • Clint says:

      Cadillac’s CTS-V lays proper claim to the title of current “fastest production sedan in the world” – beating BMW’s M5 in just about every category. I’m positive that BMW’s new M5 will be faster and more agile, but that’s mainly because Cadillac beat them at their own game. Expect the next generation CTS-V to push it further. I’m not saying Caddy WILL beat BMW in the performance category, but a) they already did once and b) this car has been designed to do exactly that.

      PS. The ATS is being assembled in Lansing, Michigan.

    • Eddiedi1 says:

      You are wrong about 270 HP engine. It is brand new, and will be in ats first.

    • Eddiedi1 says:

      Ats will be built in lansing Michigan on same line as cts.

    • AdrianL says:

      This Cadillac is being built in Michigan.  Nice try, though.  PS if you drive a 328i you have about a 60-75% chance of it being made in South Africa, so does it really matter where final assembly takes place as long as the quality is there?

  5. Clint says:

    I’d be shocked if Cadillac doesn’t better refine the interior of the ATS before production. I’ve never seen leather seats like that roll off an assembly line, I feel like this isn’t going to be the first time either. I think driving the two cars is going to speak volumes about them individually, and until then most of this debate is a waste of time.

    As for the exterior – seriously? BMW has phoned their design schemes in for the better part of a decade. The biggest change between the last generation 3 Series and this model is that they brought the headlights in to the grille. I see very other noticeable changes otherwise, aside from a more pointed front end and slight curves toward the back. BMW’s design changes are so incredibly mild that I have a genuinely difficult time telling which generation a particular model belongs to. I thought Cadillac’s Art & Science scheme was interesting but underdeveloped when it debuted on the first generation CTS. It felt incomplete and mostly unrealized. Then they rolled out the second generation CTS and SRX models, and I was more pleased. However, both vehicles’ angular shapes have grown tired, and I worried that GM would just keep sharpening lines and creases on each successive model. But no, they went and softened the design to make it more attractive and still maintain a sleek, aggressive look. I love what Cadillac is doing in terms of architecture, and I think the depreciation you speak of will be due to the fact that Cadillac’s reputation is not as pristine as the Germans’, not because the car’s design is poor.

  6. Awil556 says:

    You do not know what you are talking about. The cadillac Ats is lighter has magnetic ride control. It look much better than the 3 series. The cadillac Cue is the best infotainment system. Also the interior is not cheap. It is a bias statement to say that the cadillac Ats is a very bad car. This car is built in the U.S.A. So, this car is the most competitive car for BMW.

    • Roger1 says:

      The ATS weighs 3,400 lb the 3 series weighs 3,362, so you have it backwards, the BMW is lighter.  

      What about magnetic ride control?  Do you think Cadillac is the only company that has this technology?  I can’t think of many top car companies that DON’T have their own version of it.  BMW has the same tech.

      Annnd, who said the ATS is “a very bad car?”  The editor never said that – he siad they have to reserve judgment until they’ve driven it and compared.  Sounds fair to me.  

      Build quality is important and in a lux car fit and finish is very important to customers.  Until Cadillac understands this they’ve never catch up.  

  7. Ralph Lasley says:

    “Was the model we examined pre-production?”
    Since the ATS won’t be available until the Summer, I think the answer is “Yes.”

  8. Sajan says:

    When oh when will the Americans learn that shoddy build quality gets you know where!? Do they think Audi (the underdog 10 years ago) secured themselves an excellent reputation for interior craftsmanship by producing cars with badly manufactured plastics and s**t panel gaps? The answer is no, and a big no at that. There’s a difference between being a premium manufacturer and wanting to be a premium manufacturer. We’re in 2012 now I didn’t even think it was possible to produce such bad quality trim especially in a *premium* car.

    Pre production model or not it just goes to show the effort Cadillac put into engineering a car. You wouldn’t see quality that bad in a German or Japanese luxury car would you?

    • AdrianL says:

      Badly manufactured plastics?  Have you sat inside an ATS yet?  Most reviewers are saying the interior looks and feels superior to most of the German models, so I’d reserve judgement for when you can actually check an ATS out yourself.

      Furthermore, this review attacked cup holders?! Give me a break.  If anything, the E90’s pissed me off for having those crappy pop-out cup holders that would never fit anything other than a 20 oz. bottle and would break off if you accidentally hit them….it was a completely retarded design.

      • AnDerg says:

        WHOAA!!  Sorry, say again?  “Most reviewers are saying the interior looks and feels superior to most of the German models”  HAAAAAAha hah haha.  That’s hilarious.  And in what journal exactly?  BillyBob’s automag doesn’t count.  Try again.  From the photos (which show plenty of detail to me) the cup holders look to be made of that crappy plastic that finds its way around so many American cars.  It’s flimsy and scratches easily.  It just looks and feels cheap.  The seat is unreal though, I’ve never seen anything like that on any new car from any manufacturer.  The Chinese brands included.  

  9. Sajan says:

    I realised that sounded like I was a miserable sod, but I really can’t stand poor build quality when it doesn’t need to be. I’ll save my full judgement until I see the car in real life though

  10. Anonymous says:

    I am certain the interior quality of the ATS will not be on the same level of the BMW.  However if it can keep up with it on the track, that alone will be an amazing feet.  Cadillac does have to work it way up.  It will not be able to charge the same price at the BMW until it can prove it is on the same level.  

    Maybe with time they will get the fit and finish down.  

  11. AdrianL says:

    Since it was a pre-production model, this interior was probably hand-assembled.  I see the author being far too nit-picky.  I love BMW’s, but much of your review was completely subjective.  Most auto reviewers have said that the interior in this Cadillac is far superior to the Spartan interiors of BMW’s, so again, everybody has a different take.  We’ll have to wait until people can get their hands on actual production models this summer to see how it drives.

    • Jackson2the4 says:

      It’s fair game.  You put something infront of the auto world, it’s going to be critiqued by journalists.  Everythingn he said he backed up either with a photo or an explanation or hard number.  Fair article to me.  

  12. Sajan says:

    You can’t really blame people for tearing it apart really can you? People are too set in their ways of car stereotypes.. I’m set in my ways of car stereotypes. THIS might be a pre production model.. but it’s an american car, with what seems like right now a poor quality interior.. american car, poor quality interior?? ring a bell anyone? Isn’t like it it’s not happened before. But like I said before I’m quite anal about interior quality and gaps and stuff

  13. Roman I. says:

    You make a very good points – the Cadillac’s interior designer should go the way of the Bangle (kicked out of the company immediately) because using cheap flip-up panel covered by cheap shiny plastic IS unacceptable for a supposedly “upscale” model, BUT! But same thing should happen to BMW’s new interior designer – you have to be a totally brain-dead person with 0 sense of aesthetics to NOT notice the horrible, horrible navigation “display” in F30, which looks like someone glued the Garmin unit on top of dashboard… I’m not even gonna talk about other bits & pieces of F30’s interior. Suffice it to say that both of these models are pretty awful when it comes to interior design. Not sure what happened with BMW – the interior design of F10 was nearly perfect…

  14. Test says:

    Magnetic ride control and LSD, which you can only get with the M3, it sounds like a very promising development. The new F30 is butt ugly, the elongated headlights and “glued on” GPS being 2 fine examples of idiocy and utter lack of design prowess.

  15. NotAFanboy says:

    Shawn, It is obvious you are a bmw fanboy!!! why even bother?

    Readers, when the car is out this summer, go see for yourself and take it for a test drive, instead of going by what fanboy says.

  16. NotAFanboy says:

    also did you notice the back seat is being compressed – good try Shawn!

  17. Naaman says:

    I felt that your comments about the interior quality is fair enough. I can see the quality issues, however it is not in mass production yet. So only time will tell if build has improved. However the problem with people who point out these things is that you tend to go too far. You said its already looking dated? Youre kidding right?To me the ATS is a better has better style than the bmw. And keeps its design ques well unlike bmw who keep morphing there cars into strange products that i cant relate to. But then ive never liked that bmw alien look.

  18. Sean says:

    I wanted to get my first car and was looking for a compact sports sedan. The Cadillac ATS, BMW 3 Series, and Audi A4 were my choices. The Audi and BMW had the best build quality by far, no squeaks and rattles nor any cheap feeling plastic. The ATS had poor quality written all over it. The touchscreen was laggy and would not cleanly select the icons I was pressing, the center console and the lower door panels felt cheezy, and their leather could not compare. If I am going to lay down $40,000+ on any car, I want there to be thought, design, and craftsmanship put in it. Finally chose the 3 Series over the A4 because I don’t like FWD. At the end of the day, a Cadillac is a GM product, and all GM products have set the bar so low that the government had to bail them out due to poor sales because no one would buy their garbage (except trucks). What would you rather spend money on 1. A GM vehicle based in a city with 50% unemployment with constant union issues where the CEOs discuss how they can lower costs by making plastic interior panels cheaper by making them in Canada or Mexico or 2. BMW where people with PhDs design the seats and pro drivers race them on the track? I would go with choice #2. People who say buy American are plain stupid. They let their patriotism and nationalism become their first priority instead of buying quality products. Before my BMW, I had an 09 Escalade which had been in the dealer repair a total of 45 days for the following: Squeaky center console, failing passenger seat motor, fading front AND rear Cadillac logo, driver visor glass broke in half, armrest leather tearing, 3rd row seat rails rusting, engine compartment screws rusting, Cadillac logo on KEYFOB fell off!!!, rear door lock broke, 3 door handles in TOTAL have broken, service engine soon light, 2 RECALLS which deleted the heated washer fluid system and GM gave me $100, wow what a surprise, fuel filler cap replaced, CD/DVD changer failed after 4 years, $1200 to replace, leather on all seats cracking at edges, … I could go on but about 80% of my problems are cosmetic which proves that they are just sourcing GMC/Chevy Tahoe parts because they do not have real engineers that the Mercedes GL and Range Rover have. Buying the Escalade was the worst investment I ever made. So far, I am thrilled with my 2 month old Bimmer which has not given me one problem and whose interior is built like a tank, performance is impressive for the 4 cyl turbo N20 engine, and the 8 speed auto is silky smooth. Enjoying all this while getting 28 mpg. I LOVE quality German (and some Jap) engineering.

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