The BMW 3-Series has been king of the compact sport sedans since shortly after our ancestors became bipedal. Cars that present their drivers with that kind of grace and athleticism tend to get the keys to the automotive throne room.
And those kinds of cars also beg imitation. When Lexus set out to design its own compact sport sedan, it could have fitted that IS model with a number of engines from its arsenal, but chose a 2.8-liter in-line six - which is exactly what the 3 Car was using at the time.
Now comes the Cadillac ATS, and its architects would be the first to tell you they used the Bimmer 3 as the benchmark for their stab at the compact four-door funster. Indeed, the exterior dimensions of this newest Caddy are within an inch of the fifth-generation BMW 3-Series.
For people as geezeresque as myself, who remember when Cadillacs were as large and soft as a king-size feather bed, this newest wreathmobile must be something of a shock. Unlike its forbears, it is compact, athletic, and light. The ATS weighs 3,561 pounds. I can remember when a Cadillac armrest weighed 3,561 pounds.
What Cadillac has wrought is a compact sport sedan that's as formidable as it is delightful. This car doesn't just play in the BMW's ballpark. It steals some bases on the German.
The stylish ATS comes in many guises, starting with a 2.5-liter, 202-horsepower, direct-injection four that manages EPA mileage ratings of 22 city and 33 highway and opens at $33,990. From there, the engines get more powerful, the mileage goes down, and the prices go up, especially if you opt for the all-wheel-drive version instead of the rear-driver. The 2-liter turbo ATS develops 270 horse and opens at $35,795. The 3.6-liter Performance ATS that I tested ($43,695) served up 321 horsepower and EPAs of 19 city and 28 highway, which are very reasonable for a car that bolts from zero to 60 in less than 5.5 seconds.
For the 3.6-liter V-6 I drove, the six-speed automatic transmission is the only gear game in town. The four-cylinder engines can be mated to either the automatic or a six-speed manual.
The 3.6-liter ATS is a quickie, a car that accelerates with the compact incumbents and tops out at a very competitive, computer-limited 152 m.p.h.
Speed isn't the only ATS positive. Its braking, courtesy of Brembo performance brakes and big, grabby rubber, is as good as it gets in the segment.
The transmission is also very athletically inclined. It drops gears in a corner so you get a lot of oomph to shoot out of the turn, and delays upshifts during acceleration until you manually shift it or bang the considerable 7,000-RPM redline.
The driving dynamics of this car are top-drawer. The trade-off for the firm ride delivered by the test car's sport suspension was superb composure in the corners and a truly negligible amount of body roll.
Steering is another plus. I haven't driven a 3 Car or any other compact sport sedan with steering response this quick and adroit. Like just about all electric power steering units, this one doesn't give you much road feel, but you forgive that because it's so quick and nicely weighted.
In addition to being fun to drive, the ATS is a pleasure to look at, inside and out. Like the German luxury cars, Cadillacs like the ATS, CTS and XTS enjoy signature styling. Unlike a lot of Asian models, there's something distinctive happening here.
The interior of the tester proved a fortunate blend of fresh, clean design and quality materials.
The interior also afforded less-than-generous rear-seat leg and head room.
2013 Cadillac ATS (3.6-liter Performance)
Base price: $43,695.
As tested: $46,785.
Standard equipment: 3.6-liter, direct-injected engine; six-speed automatic transmission; rear drive; performance goodies ranging from Brembo front brakes and a sport suspension to run-flat tires, and amenities like leather seats with 12-way power for the driver and a mere 10 ways for the peasant in
the passenger seat.
Options: Include premium, 18-inch wheels, navigation, and heated front seats.
Fuel economy: 19 city and 28 highway.
Engine performance: Me Tarzan.
Ride quality: Firm.
Warranty: four years/50,000 miles bumper to bumper.
The Ben guide: Four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.