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Review and photos by Tom Sedens

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2013 BMW 328i xDrive
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD

A BMW that has been considered the benchmark in that category for years on end. And a Cadillac introduced just recently as a car “built to be the world’s best sport sedan”. Both are all-new models. So when I got to drive them both for a week, one after another, I couldn’t help but compare them – detail by detail.

On paper, there are remarkable parallels between these two vehicles. Let’s start at the bank. While the BMW 328i xDrive lists for a more affordable $46,200, a Premium Package, a handful of other features and a healthy freight charge drive the as-tested price up to $55,145. The ATS 2.0 Turbo AWD starts at $50,950, but with only a sunroof and fancy white paint added, and a more modest freight, landed at $55,335.

So they price out, as tested, to within a couple of hundred dollars.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD2013 BMW 328i xDrive
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD & 2013 BMW 328i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

The similarities continue under the hood. It seems as though everyone has a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder these days – these two rides are no exception. The ATS cranks out 272 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at a low 1,700 rpm. The 328i’s engine puts out 241 horsepower at 5,000 RPM and a 258 lb-ft of torque at an even more accessible 1,250 RPM.

Both vehicles drive all four wheels through their respective all-wheel-drive systems. Both use automatic transmissions in this case. The ATS’s jam makes its way through a six-speed, where the 328i steps up the game and uses an eight-speed.

Fuel economy in both vehicles is good, not great. The ATS is rated at 10.3 L/100 km in the city, and 6.6 L/100 km on the highway for this configuration.

For a few days, I drove it hard and fast. It returned a fairly decent 13.2 L/100 km during that time. For the rest of the week, I drove it as I normally would – city driving and occasional freeway sprints – and I netted a surprising 10.1 L/100 km. That’s really good for a 270 horsepower sports sedan. Way to go, ATS!

The 328i’s fuel economy is rated slightly better at 9.1 L/100 km in the city, and 6.2 L/100 km on the highway. However, driving normally, including mostly city commuting and a few short freeway sprints netted me 10.8 L/100 km. I also drove it with a heavy foot for a while, in cold weather, and in fresh snowfalls – having fun comes at a price but not one as steep as I expected – my fuel economy rose to 12.4 L/100 km.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD2013 BMW 328i xDrive2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD2013 BMW 328i xDrive
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD & 2013 BMW 328i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

When it comes to styling, although both vehicles are all new, both are immediately recognizable – the ATS as a Cadillac and the 328i as a BMW 3 Series.

I liked the ATS’ clean, aggressive stance and eye-catching details. I loved the long, vertical strip of super-bright LED driving lights that cascade down the edge of the hood through the headlight cluster. The overhangs are short and the dual exhaust looks like it means business. The car’s proportions remain tidy and in my opinion, this is the best-looking Cadillac in a long time. I got a lot of appreciative nods and thumbs-ups.

The 3 Series redesign’s evolution is noticeable, but the shape remains rooted in history. There’s no way anyone could mistake the iconic shape for anything else but a 3-series. Well, except maybe for a 5 Series. The vehicle is taller and longer than the previous generation. You’ll notice the changes most at the front and at the back. I love how the kidney grille and the headlights come together to form what appears like a single unit now. Overall, the new 3 comes across as bigger and, in my opinion, more mature.

Let’s go driving! The ATS will surprise some with its firm, sporty ride. This kind of suspension is what I look for and want in a sports sedan. Compromising a bit on the ride lets you build an athletic car. The ATS is very poised and balanced, and invites you to play – all the time. I found the handling capability of this car to be astounding.

2013 BMW 328i xDrive
2013 BMW 328i xDrive
2013 BMW 328i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

The 328i′s ride is firm, but less so than in the past – there’s an increased cushiness to it. The handling is good, excellent even, but somehow, it doesn’t feel as immediate as the 3 Series always used to. It feels as though this line of cars is heading toward more comfort and luxury. Where the 3 has made gains in that department, it has given something up in terms of sport. Don’t get me wrong. It handles very well, it’s just different from what I’ve come to expect in a 3.

The ATS’ steering is flawless for this class of car. I loved the weighting at every speed, and how the car felt connected to the road – all the time. The steering feel is direct and quick, without ever making things nervous.

One of the 3 Series’ handling hallmarks in the past was the exceptional steering. BMW has made changes here and it felt more muted than I expected it to. Especially compared to the ATS.

Both of these engines are lovely. Both are fantastic for everyday driving. There’s plenty of power off the line, and they feel very linear once you overcome the very short turbo lag.

I felt that the ATS had more noticeable turbo lag, but in turn, the mid- and higher-range power came on stronger. Frankly, when it’s on boost, and you stay on the gas, the torque is relentless, and it seems as though it pulls as hard in second gear as it does in first. The 328i’s four-cylinder itself is smooth, but the sounds it makes seem terribly unrefined – especially compared to the mechanical symphony BMW’s inline-sixes create.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD. Click image to enlarge

When it comes to transmissions, I found it to be one of the biggest differences between these two cars. The ATS’ six-speed left me wanting for more. It’s super smooth but I couldn’t find a sport mode where it became aggressive and held my shift points longer. It can be manually shifted using paddles or the gear selector and those shifts are pretty rewarding.

The 328i’s transmission is always smooth but it felt faster and more intelligent when it comes to aggressive driving. It hunts for higher gears to save fuel, but the Sport mode is effective. The shift lever has a manual mode – there are no shift paddles.

Both cars brakes are excellent – linear, easy to control, and plenty of braking power when you need it. Visibility out of both vehicles is excellent in all directions.

I was very impressed with both all-wheel-drive systems. Both felt relatively transparent during normal, dry driving, and both did a wonderful job providing traction when I needed it – which was lovely because we had two snowy, slushy weeks here in Edmonton. I also enjoyed being able to steer with the rear end in both cars, with the traction control turned off.

Both the ATS and the 328i did a very good job at keeping all noise levels controlled inside the cabin – drivetrain, road and wind noise never got loud or intrusive, with the exception of the 328i’s nasty engine note.

The 328i has an auto start-stop function. It’s smooth when it shuts down at a stop. The second you release the brake, it fires up again, and I found it to be quite rough every time. I ended up turning that “feature” off.

Getting inside each vehicle, you’ll be exposed to drastically different styling exercises. Both the ATS and the 328i bring a very premium feel to the table, with beautiful materials throughout. The ATS has acres of soft, stitched, textured leather – the 328i has soft-touch plastics everywhere. The ATS throws in splashes of aluminum, the 328i, my tester in ‘Luxury’ trim, has wood trim bits. Fit and finish was very good in both, and I thought they felt well put together and solid.

The ATS feels tidy – not too big, not too small. I never felt cramped at five-foot-ten frame – but a much taller driver may run out of headroom. The 328i felt bigger and roomier.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD2013 BMW 328i xDrive
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD & 2013 BMW 328i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

I really loved the toned-down feel in the ATS – compared to other Cadillacs. It’s tasteful – a handsome, simple, straightforward interior with clean lines. The heated leather seats are fantastic. Not what you might expect in a Cadillac, they offer the perfect harmony of sport and comfort. I also enjoyed the heated steering wheel. It felt great in my hands. Behind it sit gauges and the driver information screen. The left, the centre and the right parts of the screen can be programmed separately to display what you choose.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD
2013 BMW 328i xDrive
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD & 2013 BMW 328i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

The centre stack houses Cadillac’s new CUE (Cadillac User Experience) system – it’s handled by an 8-inch touchscreen and manages media, navi, phone, vehicle settings and your back-up camera. It’s a beautiful screen and the user interface is decent. The 10-speaker BOSE sound system sounds spectacular. Below the screen is a smooth panel with soft-touch buttons (with not-so-great haptic feedback) to control the dual-zone, automatic climate control system.

I enjoyed the ATS’ tech. The HUD (Head-Up Display) is fantastic and there’s a front collision and a lane departure warning system. Cadillac has a new way to get your attention with Safety Alert seat pulses. It sounds bizarre and it is at first, but I liked it once I got used to it.

The 328i brings interesting new sculpting to the cabin and it is the most enjoyable 3- Series interior to date. The one thing I wasn’t too fond of was how the huge 8.8-inch widescreen display simply juts out of the dash. The heated, power-adjustable leather seats are very comfortable, and they offer good bolstering as well – a nice combination of comfort and sport. The BMW’s heated steering wheel is also great – it sits in front of BMW’s typical two large gauges, with a trip computer below.

The screen on the dash, while strangely placed, is bright and sharp – it handles phone, navigation, vehicle settings and media functions. The sound system is very, very good. iDrive is used to control it. I’m still not a fan. Below the screen is a set of very basic hard buttons for media control, and a well organized automatic dual-zone climate control system. Driver tech includes blind-spot monitoring and lane departure warning as well as front-end collision monitoring. There’s also a rear parking guide, showing you an outline of your car on the screen and where you’re getting close to something.

These cars have keyless entry and push-start ignitions, and powered tilt/slide sunroofs as well. Overall, I found both interiors were generally well thought out and nicely crafted.

The rear seats are not the ATS’ strong point. There’s a shortage of legroom, though I was able to fit comfortably. Headroom is at a premium too, but was acceptable for my height. This is one of very few vehicles where we couldn’t get all three of our kids in comfortably.

The 328i’s rear seats, although surprisingly hard, were significantly more roomy, providing more leg and headroom. All three kids fit in there just fine.

Both rear seating areas provide two sets of LATCH anchors for kids’ seats if you need them.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD. Click image to enlarge

The ATS’ trunk is small but useable at 290 L. Everything is trimmed nicely and the trunk lid arms are shrouded, keeping it clean. The 328i’s trunk is significantly bigger (481 Liters) and is finished equally well. The trunk lid arms are also shrouded, and won’t end up pinching any of your cargo/luggage. Both cars’ rear seats fold down, but I preferred the flexibility that the BMW’s 40/20/40 split offered.

Both of these cars are great, and it’s hard to nitpick much. I do hate how BMW bends you over the options barrel, where things that should be standard equipment aren’t. Things like an alarm system or satellite radio. Also, I thought our 328i tester’s “Luxury” badge on the cowl looked pretty lame and cheap.

I simply loved the Cadillac ATS. It offers great looks, luxury, excellent in-car tech and is well built. I appreciated how balanced it was in every situation, and how controlled every motion was. It doesn’t lie when it sells itself as a sport sedan.

However, that sportiness might be more than some want, and that ride might be a bit too firm for some – but I can’t imagine anyone taking an ATS out for a spin and not agreeing that it is a great driver’s car.

The ATS, for Cadillac’s first serious shot in the category, has brought some serious ability to the table. It’s competitive, to be sure. I love that it’s available in a number of configurations, including engine choices, manual and automatic transmissions, and rear- and all-wheel drive. You can make the ATS into what you want. And what you need.

2013 BMW 328i xDrive2013 BMW 328i xDrive2013 BMW 328i xDrive
2013 BMW 328i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

The new 328i is also a fantastic car. There is much to like, and standing on its own, it’s a great vehicle. The changes on the outside are nice, and the revised interior is better in virtually every way, including the welcome increase in size.

I found some of the sharper edges I expect from a 3 Series to be missing, but it makes up for that in comfort. It just depends on what you’re looking for. There are other trim lines too, one of them being Sport. That might be the answer for some.

The 328i equals the ATS in terms of being luxurious, well put together and relatively efficient and it’s responsive, agile and balanced on the road.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very, very high for both of these cars. She really liked the styling of both – inside and out – and she loved driving both. She did complain about the ATS’ low seating position and she hated iDrive and the engine noise (which she described as clattery and diesel-like) in the BMW.

2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD
2013 Cadillac ATS 2.0T AWD. Click image to enlarge

I felt that, in some ways, the Cadillac and the BMW 3 Series have traded places. Where I expected more cushiness and a lean toward comfort, the ATS came back with an invitation to go out and play. All the time. It never minds taking on a corner, sticking to it like glue, and coming out of it like a champ. It’s a very competent dance partner.

And where I expected a harder, sporting edge in the 328i, I found more comfort than ever before, and a reduced sharpness, especially in the steering and suspension.

In the end, both are fabulous cars. Both do almost everything right. Yes, the BMW 328i will continue to be a perennial bestseller, and yes, it will most certainly continue to be considered a benchmark in the sport-sedan category by many. And why not? All the ingredients are there. But if you’re shopping in this category, you’d be missing out if you didn’t put the Cadillac ATS on your test drive list.

As it is in any industry, when the competition comes knocking, we can expect great things – from the competitors and from BMW as it pushes back.

So there you have it – if you’re looking for a comfortable, luxurious, and prestigious car, the BMW has the edge, but if you’re looking for a personal driving machine, the ATS leaps out in front. For my money and for my requirements, I’d be buying the BMW. It’s still a sport sedan even though it never made me smile like the ATS did. But somehow I ended up with a wife and three kids, and I absolutely need the added utility and space the BMW offers.

2013 BMW 328i xDrive2013 BMW 328i xDrive
2013 BMW 328i xDrive. Click image to enlarge

Considering the ATS is Cadillac’s initial stab at a real sport sedan, they’ve done a bang-up job, and you can bet your lukewarm Timmies coffee that Cadillac isn’t going to rest on those laurels. The fantastic ATS will only get better, and will push BMW to do the same with their 3-series.

We all win! But this is an Comparison Test, and just like in those terrible Highlander movies, there can be only one. So in this battle of the luxury sport sedans, upstart vs icon, the BMW 328i xDrive takes the crown. For now.

Pricing: 2013 Cadillac ATS
Base price (2.0L Turbo Premium AWD): $50,950
Options: $1395 Power Sunroof, $1,295 White Diamond Tricoat
Freight: $1,595
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $55,335

Pricing: 2013 BMW 3 Series
Base price (328i xDrive Luxury): $46,200
Options: $3,500 Premium Package, $850 BMW Assist, $800 Driver Assistance Package, $300 BMW Apps, $1,300 Standalone options
Freight: $2,095
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $55,145

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