General Motors hasn’t been coy about its intentions for the Cadillac ATS. It’s targeting the top of the compact luxury segment — and when you aim for the title, you go after the champ: the BMW 3-Series.
A tall order, indeed. In most cases, such crowing would be passed off as typical marketing hype. But GM isn’t just beating its chest. It has poured serious dollars into the ATS’s development, building this brand-new Caddie from the ground up — new platform and all.
The final product is not to be ignored. Visually, the ATS retains the sharp-edge design of its big brother, the Cadillac CTS. The ATS, however, benefits from some dramatic evolutionary details. Those square angles have been softened for a sleeker esthetic, and the headlights are more aggressive as they slice over the top of the fenders. It’s familiar, but distinct — a design that definitely works.
The interior, covered in wood, aluminum and leather, is equivalent to competitors. The dash has distinct personality, and mounted in its centre is the new CUE (Cadillac User Experience) interface. It’s clean and novel, using a touchscreen much like a tablet, but could, however, become cumbersome to operate while driving.
Beside rivals like the BMW 3-Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4, one of the major drawbacks to the CTS has always been its weight: it’s notoriously heavy for this segment. Thanks to a lightweight yet sturdy chassis, the ATS, on the other hand, comes in as one of the lightest in the class.
With lightness comes agility, and the ATS is certainly nimble. A balanced 50/50 weight distribution and a multi-link suspension system keep it firm and poised in the corners. This Cadillac has no problem going blow for blow with the Bimmer when the roads get windy.
There are three engine options, including a standard 2.5-Litre and 3.6-Litre direct-injected V-6. But the real winner is the 2-L turbocharged, direct-injected four-cylinder. With 272-horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, it’s quick and responsive, but also great on fuel: 9.9 L/100 kilometres in the city and 6.3 L/100 km on the highway. It’s also the only engine with an optional 6-speed manual. It’s solid performance without sacrificing efficiency.
It’s clear the ATS is a driver’s car, an enthusiast’s delight. And that’s its biggest problem. The trunk is the shallowest in its class, and passengers taller than a toddler will not be fans of the tight backseat. Enthusiasts may look past this, but families, perhaps not.
Overall, is the ATS better than the 3-Series? If not yes, it’s quite close. This is one of the best cars Cadillac has built in years, and the accolades acknowledge it. The AJAC recently named it the luxury car of the year, and Esquire magazine dubbed it as its car of the year. Take note BMW and Mercedes: Cadillac is back in the ring, and with the ATS, it’s coming out swinging.
Specifications, Cadillac ATS
Engine: 2-Litre Turbo (272-HP, 260 lb-ft)
Transmission: 6-speed automatic,
available 6-speed manual
0-100 km/h: 5.9 seconds
Fuel Economy L/100km: City 9.9 / Highway 6.3
Base MSRP: $36,985