Paul Horrell 09 January 2012

Cadillac ATS revealed in Detroit

Will America’s latest attempt at a 3-series rival be any good? Paul Horrell reports

Cadillac ATS Detroit

Kicking off the Detroit show’s debuts was a local car they want to tackle the world’s best. The Cadillac ATS, its maker earnestly believes, will finally get the Americans on level terms with the German big three premium makers. It’s is a direct rival to the 3-series, C-class and A4, at least at home in the USA.

Though it’s been a repeated failure in the UK, Cadillac is a serious player in the US, outselling BMW whenever the two field direct rivals. But Cadillac hasn’t had a small saloon, and it knows that’s an aching omission. It’s where the majority of buyers come into a brand, and then go on to trade up through the range.

To show how much this car matters to Caddy, the ATS isn’t just a cut down version of the bigger CTS. Even though the CTS is a perfectly decent mid-sizer, it would have sired an overweight small car. And don’t imagine either that the ATS is a poshed-up version of the FWD Vauxhall Insignia, GM’s global platform for cars this size.

Instead it rides on an all-new architecture, primarily rear-drive, though 4WD will be optional.

See more pictures of the new Cadillac ATS

The lead engine is a 2.0 turbo four that kicks out 270bhp, kicking sand in the face of even BMW’s brand-new 245bhp 328i engine. Just to prove it’s aimed at people who don’t just waft down the freeway all day, Cadillac even specced a new six-speed manual box as an alternative to the auto that everyone in the US will surely buy, won’t they?

There’s magnetic-fluid adaptive dampers for the suspension. The body is full of fancy light materials, so the base weight undercuts the C-classes and 3-series of this world.

There are no real instruments and few buttons. It’s all reconfigurable displays, and you do most of the switching by touching and sliding your finger on the tablet-style centre screen.

Cadillac spent an inordinate proportion of the launch ceremony gassing on about how many development laps it did at the Nurburgring. Translation: ‘We’ve made actual BMW rival, honest, not just a car for bimbling around Florida retirement communities.’

They also kept on saying it was globally competitive, and that right-hand-drive and a diesel engine were in the plan. But on closer questioning, it turns out they mean they have arranged it so there’s no technical reason they can’t build RHD. They don’t actually have any firm plans to get on and do so.

So to us Brits at least, it remains a transatlantic-holiday curio, rather than a serious addition to petrolhead middle-managers’ company car lists. Your thoughts?

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