In its ongoing effort to establish itself as a credible world-class brand and broaden its appeal to younger buyers, Cadillac has made it no secret that the new ATS is targeted squarely at its European compact sports sedan rivals. And based on our initial experience with a sampling of ATS versions at our test track, Cadillac may be on target.
To illustrate the importance General Motors places on the ATS, this new sedan was created from scratch—an expensive proposition that is unusual for GM. It's no coincidence that the finished product resembles the character of the long-standing industry benchmark, the BMW 3 Series.
Cadillac tried to emulate the previous generation BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, and to a lesser extent the Lexus IS. Indeed, the ATS has similar exterior dimensions, rear-wheel drive layout in its basic form and taut suspension to the 3. Cadillac is very proud of keeping the ATS weight low to facilitate the agile feel. (This is notable, as GM vehicles often have a weight disadvantage.) Like the BMW, we found the ATS delivers sporty, agile handling and is fun to drive.
The base ATS engine is a new 202-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder available only with a six-speed automatic transmission. Power is more than adequate, but most buyers are expected to step up the new 272-hp, 2.0-liter, direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that Cadillac has touted as being one of the top performing engines of its size in the world. (The price difference is about $1,800.) The new force-fed engine edges out the 240-hp 3 Series turbo four-cylinder in the horsepower wars, but we'll withhold judgment until we purchase our own for testing. ATS buyers looking to shift for themselves need look no further than the four-cylinder turbo, because it is the only ATS engine available with a six-speed manual.
At the top of the engine range is a 321-hp, 3.6-liter V6 matched with a six-speed automatic that provides plenty of punch, but it lacks the smoothness and refinement of some competing six-cylinders. Most competitors in the class offer an eight-speed automatic.
Regardless of powertrain choice, buyers get a very well-finished interior with quality materials, padded surfaces, and firm, well-contoured seats. Downsides include a tight rear seat and most trim levels get the CUE control interface that replaces most conventional knobs and buttons with capacitance buttons and touch-screen controls. We're not big fans of CUE, which in our experience proves needlessly complicated and distracting.
So far we're quite impressed with the ATS for its crisp, agile and balanced handling and a very taut, solid feel. Check out the video for a closer look and more observations from the track. And watch for our full road test soon.