Editorial: Cadillac vs BMW – Motown Takes On Munich

Featured Posts, Interesting | February 21st, 2012 by 13
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The Editor-In-Chief tossed this article on Cadillac marketing, a piece over the wall and ran. It’s an interesting take on GM’s argument that Cadillac is …

The Editor-In-Chief tossed this article on Cadillac marketing, a piece over the wall and ran. It’s an interesting take on GM’s argument that Cadillac is THE competitor to BMW (not Audi or Mercedes-Benz as THE competitor to BMW, let alone Infiniti or Lexus). At first glance many would say, “Who are they trying to kid.” But of course, look at it a bit more cosely and maybe they’re onto something.

Cadillac was founded in 1902 by Henry Leland on the remnants of Henry Ford’s second attempt at building a car company, “The Henry Ford Company”. It picked up its advertising tag line, “the standard of the world” when it won the RAC’s Dewar Trophy in 1908 for parts interchangeability. GM purchased Cadillac in 1909 and put it at the pinnacle of it’s offerings. Leland went on to start another car company named after his favorite President, Lincoln. (And in 1922 Henry Ford purchased Lincoln from Henry Leland.)

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But it was Boss Kettering and the Dayton Engineering Laboratory’s (DELCO) electric starter that really got Cadillac going (and won a second Dewar Trophy in 1912). Cadillac through the early 1960s was a much admired marque, building world class luxury automobiles that included the 452 model with a V16 engine in 1930. But sometime in the middle 1970s Cadillac (as well as the rest of GM) lost their way. The depths of that era were plumbed by such terrible cars as the 1980 -85 Seville and everyone’s least favorite Cadillac, the J-body Cimarron, a truly forgettable car (that I won’t let a friend, who owned one, forget).

It was with the Escalade, a re-badged, tarted-up, Chevy Suburban, that Cadillac regained some of its sales magic at the turn of the 21st century. And then, lo and behold, somebody in GM green-lighted the CTS project. Maximum Bob? Lutz sure was a champion of fire-breathing rear wheel drive sedans; and as a former BMW exec, Lutz always wanted a division in GM to take on BMW. There were attempts to turn Pontiac into a BMW rival, but Pontiac buyers were really not prepared for the pricing needed to rival the performance of a BMW, and, of course, GM finally killed off that brand.\

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But that first Cadillac CTS, introduced in 2002, was a revelation for GM. Here was a rear wheel drive four door sedan with some sporting pretensions that could actually sell. Amazingly US sales of the CTS echo US sales of the BMW 5er from 2002 to current.

The second generation CTS was launched in 2008, while the latest generation of the 5er was launched last year. In size and weight there’s hardly a nickel’s worth of difference between the two (though the new 5ers 3” longer wheelbase adds needed room for back seat passengers’ knees).

A big difference is in drivetrain offerings, however. The CTS comes with a 3.0L direct injected DOHC V6 as the base. That is coupled to either a six speed manual or six speed automatic transmission. The top engine is a 3.6L direct injected DOHC V6 with a six speed automatic (no manual). There is no V8 offering in the regular CTS lineup (yes, the CTS-V is V8 powered, but that’s an M5 competitor).

Looking at the HP/tq numbers, the 3.0L V6 is a match for the N20 found in the 528i. And the 3.6L V6 has a higher HP rating, but less torque than the N55 in the 535i. Where the CTS falls short is in EPA mileage ratings. The 3.0L V6 CTS is 16-18/26 City/Hwy (auto/manual) compared to the 528i’s 22/32 City/Hwy (auto only)rating. The 3.6L V6 CTS is rated 18/27 (auto only) and the 535i 19/29 (manual), 21/31 (auto). The big difference is the eight speed automatic, the EcoPro mode, and Start/Stop tech used by BMW.

Performance and handling aren’t that far apart, based on the numbers. Design is a plus for Cadillac as it is for BMW. But issues of build quality are up to the individual to decide when inspecting and living with the cars. Look closely.

Right now, given the quality and fuel economy of the BMW drivetrain offerings, I’d give the 5er the edge over the CTS. But a new generation CTS can’t be that far away. And then we’ll see if they’ve caught up to or possibly surpassed the F10 5er.

The new Cadillac ATS promises to be a bigger seller than the CTS. In fact, if Cadillac can get 3 series sales numbers for the ATS they will effectively triple their RWD sedan sales. The ATS will also have a four cylinder engine to rival the N20 found in the BMW 328i. The 2.0L Turbo direct injected four cylinder will develop approximately 270 HP.

In addition the ATS will use a five link rear suspension setup that echoes the five link found under a host of BMW models. So it will be interesting to see how it handles in comparison to, say, a 335i with M-Sport package. And what should we expect as far as an M3 fighter from Caddy, an ATS-V? That would be neat!

It’s a bit odd that Cadillac would choose BMW as its target, when Lexus and Mercedes-Benz appeal to a wider audience. One supposes, however, that if you have to pick a role-model/rival, pick the best.

See our comparison: Cadillac ATS vs BMW 3 Series

13 responses to “Editorial: Cadillac vs BMW – Motown Takes On Munich”

  1. John says:

    Hopefully the new competition will make BMW get off of their asses, so they can fix the electronic steering.

  2. John says:

    Hopefully the new competition will make BMW get off of their asses, so they can fix the electronic steering.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Very interested in the ATS.  I’ve had an e46 ZHP and two e90s (330i and 335i) ZSP.  Drove several versions of the F30 and it’s not ticking my must-buy meter.  If the ATS has real steering, handles as well and is 3-4k cheaper comparably equipped, the Caddy wins.  Don’t care about the outward appearance and the interior space is irrelevant as long as it has 4 doors.  BMW needs to release the blasted 1 hatch here.  Without it, all they have are massive cars that are not much fun…

    • Ricky Calo says:

       I concur, I remember the day i test drove my E46 330 ZHP. The must-buy meter went crazy and i bought it that same day. I had a similar experience with my current 135i M-Sport, i think if it didn’t have runflats it would of been great. Still i bought it and I’m thrilled with it so far. But all the other current models 3,5,6,7 lack that BMWness of the late 90’s early 2000’s. BMW needs to bring it back.

  4. LaMa says:

    hate to say it but the Caddy looks better.  Cleaner lines, no bungle effect on it, just a good looking car.
    I know the F30 is a great car to drive, but the caddy looks wins.  The BMW looks dated and old compare to the Caddy.   BMW really restrained themself when the F30 was designed. Its not bad, its just not much better then the E9x series is. The front end actually looks worse, while the rear and interior was improved, the side was left alone pretty much.
    Detroit wins this round, lets see how they drive !!! 

  5. Giom says:

    As long as they’re proclaiming to be following BMW, they will never catch up and overtake. They need to come up with something that will blow BMW out of the water before that can happen.

  6. Ricky Calo says:

    BMW needs to stay on the game and keep steering feel and handling at the top of the list. Both companies can make powerful engines, great interiors, and safety so that’s a wash.  BMW has to keep it’s edge which is the “driving experience”, if BMW enhances this further it should edge out Cadillac. BMW doesn’t have the dominance it once did so as long as they keep their focus on the driving experience they’ll be fine, however with all this eco-pro and electronic steering stuff it’s going to be tough. I hope they do it however I still believe the best BMW models are already past us, think E46 ZHP, E46 M3, 1M, E39 M5, E36 M3.

  7. CHris says:


  8. Godwinslaw says:

    Come on BMWBLOG-can’t we get a better color vehicle for this post? In blue/black/white/silver, this 3 series looks much better-this orange color looks like a maaco re-paint.

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