Caddy’s 3 Series fighter hits Germany hard
by Colum Wood
Topping out third gear I’ve got just enough time to think about grabbing fourth when the first braking marker is past my front tire and I’m pushing hard on the four piston Brembos. The lightest car in its class, it slows with ease as I downshift to second, applying prodigious amounts of throttle as I crest the right-hander. The rear steps out slightly as I continue to roll on the throttle and then it happens… stability control.
Quickly headed down the next short straight I’m pointed forward, not by my own volition, but the machine’s. Now confident in the car’s capabilities, not to mention my knowledge of the 14 corners of a track I’ve never heard of, let alone driven on, it’s time to step beyond Cadillac
’s “Competition mode”.
Heading out of the pits at the super new Atlanta Motorsports Park I approach the same sequence with equal enthusiasm and this time it happens. The rear comes out, and keeps on coming, and then… well, I lift lightly and it steps back in line, the rear-wheel drive ATS sports sedan showcasing its balance, precision and ease of use.
But the impressive attributes of Cadillac’s new BMW 3 Series fighter don’t stop there, earning it that title and the honor of being legitimately classed in the same league as the German four-door that for decades has defined the term “sports sedan.”
LIGHT WEIGHT, POWER-DENSE ENGINES
There are many reasons for the ATS’s impressive driving dynamics, though it begins with light weight. Cadillac has boasted since the car’s reveal six months ago that at 3,315 lbs it’s the lightest vehicle in its class. Hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, that base curb weight for the ATS is for an entry-level 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, a model well below what any of the German competition would even consider offering. A fair matchup comes with the Cadillac’s mid-range 2.0-liter turbocharged direct-injection engine, and surprisingly the Cadillac retains the title, weighing 3,403 lbs – or less with the automatic transmission.
f Cadillac had a base engine ATS with its 202 hp and 7.5 second 0-60 time on hand, we didn’t see it, and only the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and brawny 3.6L V6 were on track duty.
Here, each impresses in its own unique way, the 2.0T equipped with a manual transmission is more a precision tool and the 321 hp 3.6L V6 mated to a six-speed automatic (sadly the only way it comes), an equally dynamic performer but more of a blunt instrument by nature of its muscular engine and stab-the-throttle automatic. To be fair, however, the 6-speed auto-box shifts quite fast with the paddles, though its best left to its own devices with the car switched into sport mode, it eagerly gearing down under long braking to prepare the car for the next straight.
And the sound! We didn’t know GM’s V6 could sound this great, though the downside being it emphasizes just how little character the exhaust note of the turbocharged engine has.
On the track there’s simply no replacement for changing gears yourself, however, and while the six-speed stick is smooth and quick, it also requires a more methodical operation, completing a heel-toe in steps, rather than one fluid action.
The ability to ride the top of a gear as the tires dance on the edge of friction is blissful and the ATS’s near 50/50 weight distribution (as close as 50.1/49.9 on this particular model) makes it an easy task to achieve and sustain.