Auto journalists, like all journalists, shouldn’t be biased. And yet before we test a brand new car it’s hard not to have a good idea of what it will be like already.
Driving past versions of the car, or even other cars by the same automaker, gives a point of reference.
For that reason, the Cadillac ATS is an anomaly. There was little to inform our preconceived notions and what there was couldn’t have been more divergent. Take the Cadillac brand. Resurgent, and the only true American luxury automaker, it’s failed to catch on with buyers like, say, Lexus has. A car like the CTS-V proved to be a genuine performance competitor to the BMW M5, but was it Caddy’s one-hit-wonder?
Looking at the big picture of General Motors doesn’t paint a promising picture either. With its own hits, misses and a legacy of compromise that has lived on despite a major Chapter 11 shakeup, the ‘C word’ could kill a car that’s pitted to take on what some would argue is the world’s best: the BMW 3 Series.
And yet, Cadillac hyped the ATS to do just that. Would they be so brazen with nothing to back it up?
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Most of these questions were answered on-track during our first test at Atlanta Motorsports Park, and a few months later we confirmed our suspicion that the ATS is in fact more fun to drive than the BMW 3 Series. As a result, the ATS is our second nominee for the AutoGuide.com Car of the Year.
SEE MORE: Cadillac ATS Video Review
Beating BMW at its Ultimate Driving Machine game comes with serious respect. But that’s not all the ATS has to offer.
Smart looking, though hardly a car design to lust after from the outside, sit in it and you won’t want to leave. Unique design cues adorn the cabin, while high-grade trims get stunning choices of leather, from deep Morello Red to Caramel. And let’s not forget the genuine carbon fiber.
Cadillac’s new CUE infotainment system screen and gloss black center console also add a serious touch of tech and class. Fully equipped, it might just be the best looking interior in the segment.
You have to look hard to find a few examples of GM parts bin items.
Tech features are a must in this segment and the ATS delivers here too, especially in terms of safety with available items including a back-up camera, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, adaptive forward lighting, a collision alert system and even intelligent brake assist that will stop the car on its own (going forward or in reverse) if a collision is detected. Plus, it has full-speed cruise control, something no true luxury car should be without.
On the performance side, the ATS is the first car in its class to get standard Magnetic Ride Control shocks, while Brembo brakes are optional.
Two powerful engines are available, including a beefy V6 and a fun turbocharged 4-cylinder, that also delivers impressive fuel economy.
But the ATS is not without its drawbacks too, including a third engine option, a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that’s unbecoming of such a machine. It’s also unfortunate that the V6 isn’t available with a manual transmission, and that the stick-shift that is offered with the turbocharged 4-cylinder isn’t very good. (We’ve yet to test a revised version of this shifter that Cadillac has promised).
Then there’s CUE, which looks incredible and promises iPad-like controls, but which disappoints with slow and jerky operation.
But the biggest drawback to the ATS, however, is that it’s a Cadillac. If a car this good had a German badge on it, it would sell incredibly well. And for that reason it won’t be a mega-hit overnight, even if it deserves to be.
Would winning the AutoGuide.com Car of the Year help? It certainly couldn’t hurt.
Check back next week to find out, and be sure to catch the final nominee later this week.
SEE MORE: AutoGuide.com COTY Nominee: Scion FR-S