Call me convinced.
We’ve all heard it before. Every time an automaker launches a new, smallish sport sedan, it’s touted as a true competitor to BMW’s iconic 3-Series. Yet each time it seems to come up short.
But now, there is a real contender, and it comes from an unlikely source: Cadillac.
It’s Caddy’s brand-new ATS, and it’s nothing short of the best Cadillac I’ve ever driven.
It has also won the hearts of American and Canadian automotive journalists who selected the ATS as the 2013 North American Car of the Year, announced at the Detroit Auto Show that opened earlier this week.
Cadillac has made great strides reordering its paradigm away from the big, heavy luxo-cruisers of the past. But it’s been a while since the marque lived up to its old motto, “The Standard of the World,” and the competition for high-end vehicles has grown ever fiercer with excellent competitors from Europe and Japan.
Still, targeting BMW’s bread-and-butter 3-Series is a gutsy move, but it seems it has paid off unexpectedly.
Exterior and interior dimensions closely shadow the Bimmer (except for the ATS’ smallish trunk). The ATS also goes toe to toe with exceptional solidity, athletic handling dynamics, a pair of potent engines, supple over-the-road ride and powerful brakes.
Even the ATS’ steering matches the Bavarian’s with superb road feel and spot-on responsiveness.
Inside the somewhat snug, handcrafted cabin are a plethora of top-end materials, meticulously assembled. There’s plenty of leather with attractive top-stitching, not only on the comfortably firm and supportive front buckets, but also on the dash and door panels.
Tasteful metal and wood accents enhance the mood, while smartphone-style graphics and touchpad buttons bring a cutting-edge feel.
Our Performance model featured the ATS’ top engine, an energetic and sweet-sounding twin-cam V-6, paired with an ultra-responsive six-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is impressive, with sub-6-second sprints to 60 mph — and on regular-grade unleaded.
Switched to Sport mode, the transmission almost seems to sense which gear the driver desires, and even performs rev-matched downshifts. Magnesium shift paddles on the steering wheel add to the entertainment.
With a plethora of competitors — in addition to the BMW, there are the Audi A4, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Lexus IS series, even Infiniti’s G sedans, among others — Cadillac not only fearlessly enters the fray, but makes a solid play for the top of the class.
And that makes the ATS something really special.