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Cadillac ATS vs BMW 3 Series


It takes a serious pair to announce a car from Detroit is going to make the BMW 3 Series look like a second-rate job. General Motors did just that. Five years after beginning to build the Cadillac ATS from the ground up GM is ready to release it as their contender in the largest luxury vehicle market in the world, one that was basically created by the 3 Series. 

With the stakes set higher than Tommy Chong at Burning Man, production of the Cadillac ATS was one of the only programs General Motors refused to halt during their bankruptcy.

"In this segment, performance is the No. 1 attribute that people are looking for," said chief engineer David Masch. “It's all about ride and handling and making the car fun to drive." (1)

Here’s what Masch and his team did to make the ATS a worthy competition for the world’s best:


The Cadillac CTS would be a heavyweight in a global market with the likes of the 3-Series, Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-class and Lexus IS. The ATS had to be much smaller and lighter.

"We had a mantra: 'Every gram, by every engineer, every day,” Masch said'". “We approached development by counting all the grams in the ATS. We minimized them where we could and put them to the best use where they were needed." (1)

By the end of the diet Masch’s team managed to bring the ATS down to 3,400 pounds, nearly 500 pounds lighter and eight inches shorter overall than the CTS. 


Masch’s team set the benchmark for the ATS suspension at the E46 3 Series, which is widely believed to be the best handling 3 Series ever. Their hardcore standards led to them to believe BMW compromised the performance-focused chassis tune of the E46 with the current generation 3 series and will continue to move farther in the same direction with the next 3 due out later this year. 

That meant blood in the water the ATS guys. Their engineers track-tested six different suspensions before deciding to outfit the ATS with Cadillac’s first five-link independent rear setup. All-wheel-drive is optional. (1) 


They include undercarriage panels to direct airflow, trunk-mounting the battery to help achieve perfect 50/50 weight distribution and placing the variable-effort steering gear ahead of the wheels for precise steering feel and response during aggressive driving. 


Ah yes, the cajone comparison. Power-plant options for the ATS include two four-cylinders: a naturally aspirated 200-hp, 188-lb-ft 2.5-liter, a turbocharged 270-hp, 260-lb-ft 2.0-liter and a 318-hp, 267-lb-ft 3.6-liter V6. Mark Reuss, president of GM North America said a diesel engine will eventually make its way into the ATS sometime during the first generation. (3) 

Currently the US-spec 3 Series is set to offer a 2.0 liter turbo four with 240hp and 255lb-ft and a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six good for 300hp and 300lb-ft. On paper the beamer could be the clear winner in the top engine department thanks to the extra lower-end grunt, but the caddy sure looks like it packs the better turbocharged four-cylinder. 


General Motors was working on an eight-speed automatic for use in the ATS but was forced to postpone the program during its bankruptcy – yet another reason to hate the recession. Instead the ATS will be offered with either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission. 

The 3-Series will offer a six-speed manual as well as an eight-speed automatic for higher efficiency at highway speeds. Score one for the Germans. 

Speculation aside there’s good reason to believe the ATS won’t have much trouble impressing auto critics and prospective buyers alike even if it doesn’t quite knock the 3 Series from its throne on the first try. That duty might be left to something along the lines of an ATS-V. 

A car like that might be worth importing from Detroit – to Munich. 




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