Reviews: Cadillac ATS – Can it match the BMW 3 Series?

3 Series | July 23rd, 2012 by 8
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First reviews of the Cadillac ATS are coming in. Labeled as “GM’s BMW 3 Series Fighter”, the first compact Cadillac joins the midsize segment to take on BMW’s top-seller, the 3 Series and the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Cadillac ATS will be offered with both rear-wheel and all-drive options, and the company describes it at “nimble, fun and quick,” traits typical of a midsize, sport and luxurious car.

But how does it stack against the driving experience provided by the 3 Series?

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Let’s see some reviews from U.S. magazines:

To use the BMW 3 Series for comparison, there’s now a 328i and a 335i, both of which have turbocharged four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines. Cadillac introduces the ATS 2.0L Turbo and ATS 3.6L, named for their turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and normally aspirated 3.6-liter V-6 engines, respectively. The ATS also has a base engine, a normally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder.

All engines mate to a six-speed automatic transmission, but only the 2.0L offers a manual as a “delete option” that knocks $1,180 off the price. All-wheel drive is optional on the 2.0L and 3.6L. The 2.5L is rear-wheel drive only. In addition to the base ATS, the car comes in Luxury, Performance and Premium trim levels, or “collections,” as Cadillac calls them. I drove almost every combination.

The ATS 2.0L makes 272 hp and 260 pounds-feet of torque, and it feels similar to BMW’s turbo four: plenty of low-rev torque and quick sprints. When equipped with rear-wheel drive, the 2.0L hits 60 mph in 5.7 seconds with the automatic and 5.8 seconds with the manual, according to Cadillac.

The 3.6L’s V-6 generates 321 hp but only 275 pounds-feet of torque, so it didn’t feel much quicker than the 2.0L in normal driving. The 2.0L’s turbo engine hits its torque peak around 1,700 rpm and stays there through 5,500 rpm, while the 3.6L’s V-6 peaks closer to 5,000 rpm — in a car with a 7,200-rpm redline. Only when it was truly wound out did the V-6 earn its keep. Cadillac estimates its zero-to-60 time at 5.4 seconds.

If the acceleration estimates are correct, the ATS’ more powerful variants essentially match the 328i and 335i sedans, even though the ATS has horsepower and weight advantages over comparable automatic BMWs: The 2.0L has 32 more hp and is 88 pounds lighter than the 328i, and the 3.6L has 21 more hp and is 133 pounds lighter than the 335i. However, the 3 Series’ eight-speed transmission is an advantage in its own right.

As of this writing, only the base ATS 2.5L has EPA-certified mileage ratings: 22/33 mpg city/highway. Cadillac estimates 22/32 mpg for the 2.0L and 19/28 mpg for the 3.6L. BMW’s EPA-certified ratings are 23/33 mpg for both the 328i and the 335i. (All mileage specs cited are for automatic, rear-drive versions.) Another advantage for Cadillac is that the 2.5L and 3.6L use regular gas. The 2.0L prefers premium for full output but can also run on regular, Cadillac says.

Overall, Cadillac seems to have done a good job squaring up against BMW, for better and for worse. For example, you can get an advanced head-up display … and you can also pay extra for items like leather upholstery and a folding backseat. That’s definitely meeting the competition on its own turf.

BMW’s compact-luxury king has been “gone after,” “gunned for” and “taken on” more than any model in the market, and still his highness remains on the throne, his anteroom littered with bones. We’ll need more time with the ATS to know whether it’s merely a pretender to the throne. So far it looks as close as any challenger to date.

Car and Driver

Next up was the 2.0-liter turbocharged four with 272 ponies and 260 lb-ft of torque. Smoother than the 2.5-liter, it’s still louder at full power than the Audi or BMW turbo fours, but it also can run with them (0 to 60 in the high fives). It comes in three driveline configurations—manual rear-drive and automatic with rear- or all-wheel drive—all of which feel energetic. The manual gearbox is precise, slick, and satisfying; the automatic is well matched to the engine’s torquey output.

The 3.6-liter V-6 is the most powerful engine choice with 321 hp. Sadly, it isn’t available with a manual gearbox, although the automatic transmission does offer a manual-shifting mode and optional steering-wheel paddles. When you move the shift lever into the manual gate without doing anything else, you’ve selected Sport mode, which puts the transmission in a friskier mood, while also increasing the steering effort.

Visually, the ATS fits in with the primo Germans. Although it’s slightly longer than a BMW 3-series or a Mercedes C-class, that’s mostly due to the pointy nose and tail that Cadillacs share. The interior package feels more like the (E46) 3-series from two generations ago—that means a tidy and compact feel, but also a tighter cabin. Although two adult males can fit behind each other, kneeroom is not abundant. Neither is shoulder room, as the ATS’s rear wheel wells push the outboard occupants towards the center. At 10.2 cubic feet, the ATS also has the smallest trunk in the segment.

On the other hand, we think the ATS looks terrific—both inside and out—and makes a decent visual statement, even in a segment full of attractive cars. It also delivers the solid structure and confidence-inspiring moves that are expected in this cohort. We think the powertrains could all be a tad quieter at full throttle, but at cruising speed, the ATS is as relaxed as any competitor.

Cadillac’s biggest challenge will be to get buyers of German cars to take serious notice of the ATS. Based on this experience, we think they should give it a shot.


Let’s be clear: This isn’t the car to waltz up and dot BMW’s eye. The lackluster entry four-cylinder and loftily priced V6 are stumbling blocks on that path, but knock-out aesthetics, truly world-class technology and a well-executed chassis make the ATS worth a look. Buyers will undoubtedly respond to those attributes, especially given the fact that the 2.0-liter starts within spitting distance of a topped-out Honda Accord.

There are certainly hitches in this sedan’s giddy up, but the ATS is an impressive effort from a brand still struggling to shake off the cobwebs of the past three decades. Once GM figures out the engine bay, the 3 Series may have something to worry about. Until then, the ATS will find favor with the crowd that always wanted a CTS but couldn’t come up with the cash.

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