With ATS, Caddy gets serious about challenging BMW 3 series

Mark Reuss: “We will go head-to-head with the competition and we are going to win.”
Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News.

DETROIT -- It's no secret Cadillac's ATS is taking aim at the BMW 3 series.

But the similarity between the two models is striking.

Cadillac has been touting the ATS' driving dynamics on its Web site with video of high-speed maneuvers at Germany's legendary Nürburgring racetrack. That's the same track Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz use to fine-tune their vehicles.

Following BMW's lead, rear- and all-wheel-drive ATS models will be offered. There's even a manual transmission available for enthusiasts when ATS sales begin this summer.

I haven't had any wheel time behind the ATS, but judging from my conversations with General Motors engineers, they are very serious about creating a true BMW 3 series competitor, even in terms of engine power and vehicle dimensions.

Here's a quick comparison of a few specs for the 2011 3 series and 2013 ATS. Why the 2011 3 series? That was the 3-series generation on the road when the ATS was being developed.

  • Both vehicles offer turbocharged four-cylinder engines: 3 series, 240-hp 2.0-liter, 260 pounds-feet of torque; ATS, 270-hp 2.0-liter, 260 pounds-feet
  • Weight distribution: 3 series sedan, 50.5/49.5 with manual transmission, 50/50 with automatic; ATS, 51/49 with either transmission
  • Wheelbase: 3 series, 110.6 inches; ATS, 109.3
  • Length: 3 series, 182.5 inches; ATS, 182.8
  • Width: 3 series, 71.3 inches; ATS, 71.1
  • Weight: 3 series, 3,461 pounds; ATS, less than 3,400 pounds (final number has not been released)

Not that much difference in terms of these numbers, right?

BMW sold 94,371 3 series vehicles in the United States in 2011 -- a combination of sedans, coupes, wagons and convertibles. That was BMW's top-selling nameplate.

Does Cadillac expect to surpass BMW's sales? No, but Caddy wants to be player, grab a piece of the action.

In fact, within GM there's the expectation that the ATS eventually will be Cadillac's highest-volume model. Cadillac is launching the ATS sedan this summer and over the following 18 months or so, two other models will be added. Cadillac won't say but a coupe and a convertible have been hinted over the years. Last year's top-selling Cadillac car was the CTS line, with 55,402 U.S. sales. That line offers a sedan, coupe and wagon. The top-selling Cadillac was the SRX crossover, which posted sales of 56,905 units last year.

Not that many years ago, another automaker, Lexus, touted its rwd IS as a BMW 3-series fighter. While it has attracted buyers, the sales volume is nowhere near that of the 3 series. Lexus sold 29,669 IS units in 2011 in the United States. The RX crossover remains Lexus top model with U.S. sales of 82,595 last year.

GM's North American president, Mark Reuss, isn't shy about expressing his optimism for Cadillac's new ATS and XTS, and the redesigned CTS arriving next year.

Says Reuss: "We will go head-to-head with the competition and we are going to win."

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