Detroit Auto Show 2012: Cadillac ATS arrives to challenge BMW

For the first time in its 109-year history, Cadillac will target the world's best-selling luxury sedan with this: the ATS, an all-new model meant to challenge the also-renewed BMW 3-Series inch for inch. On paper at least, it's a battle royale.

Unvelied today in Detroit, and on sale later this year, the ATS marks the most aggressive step yet made by General Motors to transform Cadillac from the standard of yesteryear into a true global luxury carmaker. While GM has already spent several billion dollars remaking Cadillac with the CTS, SRX and other models — built in a dedicated Michigan factory — those vehicles never directly aimed for BMW's flagship.

Doing so meant GM engineers started with an all-new chassis, one designed for handling first rather than the serene ride that's Cadillac's traditional hallmark. Tuned as most luxury cars are with laps around Germany's demanding Nürburgring track, the ATS' 50/50 front-rear weight balance and five-link rear suspension hold the promise of true razor-like handling. GM also managed to keep the weight of the ATS below 3,400 lbs. — besting the new 2013 BMW 3-Series by a few kilos.


Under the hood, GM will offer three engines; a 200-hp inline four as a base model, a turbo 2-liter 4-cylinder good for 270 hp and its 3.6 liter V6 topping at 312 hp. Those smaller engines will be necessary if the ATS means to capture customers in Europe or Asia, where gas prices are a multiple of those in the United States. All engines are matched to a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual, two gears less than BMW's automatic shifter.

The interior also comes across as far more contemporary than any made by Cadillac to date, from the styling relying on real wood and carbon fiber to the new CUE electronics system, built into a eight-inch LCD screen. The ATS sports the now-required full raft of electric safety tech such as lane departure warnings and automatic braking if the car senses an impending low-speed collision.

The tale of the tape suggests the Cadillac ATS is every bit a match for the 3-Series, but BMW has easily dispatched previous competitors with a combination of driving performance and luxury sensibility, the reason BMW sells about ten times as many vehicles worldwide as Cadillac. Until it turns a wheel on the road later this year, the ATS is just a paper tiger — but it suggests GM won't shy from a fight.