The BMW 3 Series has been the benchmark of compact luxury-sport sedans for decades. Other luxury brands have tried to emulate its interminable appeal with varying degrees of success. Cadillac has fired its best shot yet with the ATS, a truly competitive small sedan with performance to match its posh style.
Does the new-thought Cadillac have what it takes to unseat the BMW 328i?
Where the ATS Excels
Cadillac has finally succeeding in building a lean sport sedan. In fact, the ATS is the lightest car in its class, a major breakthrough in itself. Add to that its 50/50 weight distribution and aggressive steering and brakes, and you have a top-tier performer that will fool you into thinking Cadillac has been building cars like this all along. When you're not hitting the curves, the ATS morphs into a pleasant luxury car with a supple ride and beautifully rendered interior.
The base 2.5-liter four-cylinder produces 202 horsepower and delivers 26 mpg in combined city and highway driving. The optional 2-liter turbo with 272 horsepower is much more in tune with the car's performance potential -- and can be had with a manual transmission. The top choice, a 321-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, takes the ATS from zero to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds.
Where the BMW Excels
The 328i runs with a 2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 240 horsepower. That's strong output for an entry-level engine in this class, and fuel economy is top-notch at 28 mpg in combined city and highway driving. The four-cylinder actually packs more punch than the familiar inline-six still used in other body styles. As we expected, handling is taut and athletic, more so than just about anything else with four doors.
Like the rest of the car, the interior is driver-oriented and constructed to BMW's usual high standards. Buyers can select from three optional interior designs: Luxury, Sport and Modern, but even the standard cabin offers exceptional fit and finish.
Did We Find Any Flaws?
Dedicated performance fans will find the BMW slightly more entertaining, although few drivers will push either car hard enough to perceive a difference. What will be noticeable is the relatively modest output from the ATS's base 2.5-liter. Upgrading to the 2-liter turbo seems almost mandatory given the car's otherwise excellent credentials.
Our Verdict: BMW 328i
More standard horsepower and impressive fuel economy keep the BMW ahead by a hair.