Honourable Mention: 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Premium

Comparison Test: German Compact Luxury Sedans reviews mercedes benz luxury cars car comparisons cadillac bmw audi
Comparison Test: German Compact Luxury Sedans reviews mercedes benz luxury cars car comparisons cadillac bmw audi
2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Premium. Click image to enlarge

And from the darkness it came.

You didn’t think we’d do a Holy Trinity comparo without throwing the Detroit Diablo into the mix, did you? If there is one car that can get these Germans’ lederhosen in a knot, it will be the all-new Cadillac ATS, fresh from its Best New Luxury Car win at AJAC’s TestFest.

Ideally, we would have liked the $44,160 ATS 2.0L Turbo Luxury AWD for this contest, but all GM had in its press fleet was a top-shelf 3.6L Premium model in rear-wheel drive. Our comprehensively equipped tester carried a $50,725 list, and with a few extras ($1,395 sunroof, $630 polished aluminum wheels, $1,295 black diamond tri-coat paint) it rang in at a very competitive $54,245 before destination charge.

It gets power from GM’s ubiquitous St. Catharines–built direct-injection, naturally aspirated 3.6L V6, here kicking out a healthy 321 hp and 275 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm. The engine is hooked to a six-speed auto, and this model gets standard Brembo front brakes, head-up display (HUD), GM’s brilliant Magnetic Ride Control (adopted by Ferrari, no less…), and staggered performance rubber (P22540R18 front and P25535R18 rear).

The fact that it puts the other three here on the trailer when it comes to power, feature content, and track-ready go-fast bits suggests this wasn’t really a fair fight on the performance front.

Turned out to be the case. At TestFest I drove this 328i xDrive and ATS back-to-back on the track and the Caddy completely ate the Bimmer’s lunch. No great surprise, as the BMW weighed 127 kg more than the ATS, wasn’t wearing performance tires, and, more tellingly, this new 3 Series doesn’t seem to care all that much about macho track stuff anyway.

Comparison Test: German Compact Luxury Sedans reviews mercedes benz luxury cars car comparisons cadillac bmw audi
Comparison Test: German Compact Luxury Sedans reviews mercedes benz luxury cars car comparisons cadillac bmw audi
2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Premium. Click image to enlarge

If you didn’t already know, Cadillac had the previous generation BMW 3 Series firmly in its sights when developing the ATS. So much so that it is almost dimensionally identical. Cadillac’s all-new rear-drive/all-wheel-drive platform is strong, light and uses MacPherson struts up front and a five-link independent rear setup. They tuned it on the Nurburgring. They gave it a near 50:50 weight distribution. They installed a pretty decent ZF electric steering rack. They did everything to hit BMW right where it hurts.

Then those crafty Germans moved the goalposts. The new 3 is bigger, softer, more luxurious, and has actual rear seat room. It’s a slick, smooth, and conservative package that is not primarily aimed at hot-shoe apex strafers. I suspect the Chinese market had some influence on this latest generation 3 Series.

So imagine a boxer (ATS) who has been training furiously or years, studying videos of the Champ, preparing for the fight of his life. Then he gets in the ring and Champ says, “Meh. Knock yourself out kid. I’m going for a schnapps and a strudel.”

So yes, the Cadillac ATS so equipped is the dynamic champion. The magnetically charged dampers do a marvelous job of removing impact harshness yet when pressing on body roll is barely detectable and the chassis’ nearly neutral disposition doesn’t get ragged at the limits. The brakes are stellar. Very easy to drive this car quickly.
The steering feels a bit light on centre but loads up nicely in the corners. The V6 gets strong and snarly in the upper reaches and the transmission, while down on gears compared to the competition, responds pretty well to paddle shifter prompts.

This being the smallest car in the group, the cabin feels intimate. Not a problem up front, but back seat room was lacking compared to the Germans, especially the BMW and Audi. The front leather chairs are firm and supportive and the driving position and relationship to the controls spot on.

Compared to the restrained and elegant interiors of the Germans, this Caddy is bordering on gaudy with its riot of chrome accents fighting the engraved aluminum trim for attention. That said, the gauge cluster is beautifully backlit and the ancillary digital readouts are a visual treat. When firing up, the needles do that cool sweeping thing and the graphics dance about a bit before settling in.

Comparison Test: German Compact Luxury Sedans reviews mercedes benz luxury cars car comparisons cadillac bmw audi
Comparison Test: German Compact Luxury Sedans reviews mercedes benz luxury cars car comparisons cadillac bmw audi
2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Premium. Click image to enlarge

Which brings us to CUE (Cadillac User Experience), which is GM’s attempt at designing an all-singing all-dancing touchscreen interface in the mould of an iPad-like tablet that gives intuitive access to the sedan’s functions. Generally, it succeeds, but one key to CUE is setting up your radio presets on the finger-swipe scroll bar because it is a pain to manually find stations on the fly.

A proximity sensor brings up submenu icons when your hand approaches the screen, keeping the view generally uncluttered. Haptic technology on the screen and the controls below bumps back at your finger, letting you know the message has been received. Problem is, you still have to take your eyes off the road to see where to prod your digit [at least until you develop an intuitive feel for the controls over several months; I suspect the only way to prove that is a long-term test… hint, hint, GM –Ed.].

Like the rest of the ATS, the sound system is tight and punchy. The best of the bunch.

All this talk of performance does not mean the ATS is lacking when in cruise mode. On the highway, the tach shows a relaxed 2,100 rpm at 120 km/h and it tracks like a laser beam—better even than the BMW.

The irony here is that Cadillac has arguably built a better BMW, while the iconic 3 Series has adopted some of the traits traditionally associated with Cadillac.
That is not to say the ATS is a home run. To this reviewer, the interior is chintzy, and if you go for the lesser engine options, the bloom falls off the rose. The naturally aspirated 202-hp 2.5L four is fairly pedestrian and the 272-hp 2.0L Turbo doesn’t feel as smooth or alive as BMW’s 2.0L TwinPower Turbo four, getting buzzy above 4,000 rpm.

It’s no mystery as to why GM sent this particular ATS to do battle at TestFest. It puts this stellar chassis in its best light.

And good news for future Cadillacs—this architecture will be underpinning many, if not all, upcoming models. –PB

2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Premium
Base price: $50,725
Optional equipment: $1,395 (sunroof), $630 (polished aluminum wheels), $1,295 (black diamond tri-coat paint)
Freight & PDI: $1,595
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $55,740

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