The history of compact Cadillacs is not a happy one. Granted, the Seville got off to a good start, but that car wasn't really small. The Cimarron that came next was certainly the nadir, not just for small Cadillacs but for the brand in general. The next try, the Catera, was a forgettable failure. Things improved with the CTS, but that car is now moving on to the mid-size segment, leaving the compact arena to the ATS. Arriving on the scene late last year, the ATS impressed us with its sporting credentials, but we think Cadillac's new entry is significant enough to merit a closer examination. How does it fit in the firmament of established competitors, particularly the German triumvirate that is so obviously its target: the Audi A4, the BMW 3-series, and the Mercedes-Benz C-class?
We recently said good-bye to a Four Seasons BMW 328i, so that will be a natural point of comparison. Whereas we went for the newly introduced four-cylinder turbo in the BMW, with the ATS we bypassed both four-cylinder offerings -- the base 2.5-liter and the turbocharged 2.0 -- in favor of the 3.6-liter V-6. With 321 hp, the normally aspirated six has more than enough power for this application, and it also has the polish and sophistication that its four-cylinder siblings just can't match.
The ATS 3.6 comes in three flavors; our Premium version is the richest of the bunch, and with it comes Cadillac's Cue interface with navigation, a head-up display, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, and the unique safety alert seat. Mechanically, the Premium includes Magnetic Ride Control, eighteen-inch wheels, a performance suspension, and Brembo brakes. Strangely, it does not include a sunroof, which we added, along with the Michigan winter survival kit -- better known as the cold-weather package (heated front seats and a heated steering wheel); however, we did skip the available all-wheel drive. Add a couple of minor items and our entry-level Caddy rings in at nearly $50,000, a long way from the 2.5-liter base car's $33,990 starting price.
Has the ATS brought Cadillac a long way from its previous efforts in this class? Can it change the way people think about a compact Caddy? That's what we'll have one year to find out.