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The New Driving Machine

Howard Walker

Maybe they should have trimmed the seats in embroidered lederhosen leather or shaped the door mirrors like a plump bratwurst sausage. They could have at least used a map of scenic Bavarian highways and byways as the navigation system’s home page.
   One thing’s for certain: If Cadillac’s feisty, all-new compact ATS sports sedan was targeted any closer to BMW’s benchmark 3 Series, it would be slapping its knees and blasting oompah music from its stereo. Mein gott!
   But hammer this sensationally agile four-door along a snaky, sinewy stretch of rolling blacktop, revel in the surgical precision of its helm, be aghast at the squirrel-like way it can change direction, and you might just bow your head and lament: The 3 Series king is dead. Long live the king.

Cadillac ATS Sports Sedan - American luxury automobile
   It’s really not surprising. Over the years, the 3 has gradually swelled to a size 6. It’s grown larger and lardier with age—hey, tell me about it—and its razor-edged responses dulled a tad as more focus was placed on comfort and refinement.
   Here is where the Caddy has gone for the jugular. This machine is more fun than a day at Disney, more grin-inducing than 10 seconds on a mechanical bull, more butt-clenching than I-95 at rush hour.
   And it wasn’t achieved by accident. Witness the hundreds of hours spent flogging development cars around Germany’s Nürburgring race track to fine-tune the suspension; the demand for perfect 50:50 weight balance; plus a more obsessive weight-loss program than Al Roker’s.
   This is the CTS Cadillac’s bad-boy baby brother. See it out on the street, and it is one pretty little car. I love with a passion the design of those headlights, with their bright-white LEDs that cascade almost past the wheel arches. Mount one on a brass plinth, and the Art Basel Miami regulars would scramble for their black AmEx cards.
   There are three mechanical flavors to choose from. Base models, priced from $34,000, come with a forgettable 2.5-liter, 202-horse four cylinder and a future with Thrifty car rental.
   Better is the new 2.0-liter turbocharged “four” with direct fuel injection and variable valve timing. It packs a healthy 272 horsepower and can be ordered with either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto. Stickers for this start at $35,795.

American luxury car - Cadillac ATS - Sports Sedan Imported from Detroit

   Best, by far, is the high-revving, snarly 3.6-liter V6, which cranks out a potent 321 horsepower and delivers more tire-fryin’ wheel spin than Dale Junior’s stock car. The base price here is $42,090, but opt for the Premium trim and check all the options boxes—all-wheel drive adds $2,000—and you’re looking at close to $55-large.
   Inside, the leather-lined cabin oozes modern elegance. There’s a cockpit-like feel to the front, with its high center console, raked-back windshield and oversized instruments. The front seats are nicely bolstered, offering great support and plenty of adjustment.
   And there are some gorgeous tactile features, like the magnesium paddle shifters behind the wheel and the twisted door handles, which are nothing less than metal art.
   Sadly, the Caddy’s touchscreen infotainment system—branded CUE, short for Cadillac User Experience—isn’t one of them. It’ll drive you nuts. It’s designed to look and work like an iPad on steroids, but the touch sensors are hit and miss, and many of the menus are counterintuitive. It makes you long for regular ol’ buttons, or at least CUE Gen II.
   And while you can buy a CTS if you want more space inside your ATS, the rear seat is pretty cramped and awkward to get in and out of, courtesy of that sexy, swoopy roofline. And the trunk is teeny.

Cadillac ATS - sports sedan

   So has Cadillac built a better 3 Series? Alas, not yet. This head-to-head isn’t just about phenomenal handling; it’s about a complete package.
   And here, the BMW still sets the standard. It offers a better, smoother six-cylinder engine, an eight-speed instead of a six-speed automatic, better class trim materials and years of evolving the sports sedan genre.
   But this is a brilliant effort from Cadillac. And it’s worthy of a rousing tribute from the boys in the oompah band.

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