The first 2013 Cadillac ATS intended for public sale rolls off the Lansing Grand River assembly line on July 26, 2012, in Lansing, Michigan. With this compact luxury sport sedan, Cadillac has its sights on the BMW 3-Series.

This is the second in a series of articles comparing the redesigned 2012 BMW 3-Series sedan with the brand new 2013 Cadillac ATS. Also see Part One: Design, Part Three: Handling, Part Four: Interior Comfort, and Part Five: Value.

Part Two: Drivetrains

Let’s dispense with the formalities and jump right in to Round Two of this battle. A quick recap of Part One has the revamped BMW 3-Series sedan edging out Cadillac’s new ATS in terms of exterior design. In the categories of interior design, materials, and human-machine interface, the American upstart handily pantsed its Teutonic competitor.

This time we look at what’s underneath the bodywork, focusing on the drivetrains—engines and transmissions.


4-Cylinder Engines

Entry-level ATS models come with a 202-horsepower 2.5-liter motor that’s so anemic it’s not worth further discussion.

Our focus here is on the turbocharged 4-cylinder engines available on each sedan, dubbed the BMW 328i and Cadillac ATS 2.0T. Both are 2.0-liter units, with BMW’s and Cadillac’s entries producing 240 and 270 horsepower, respectively. Both companies offer this engine with the choice of a manual or automatic transmission. BMW’s offerings are 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic. GM’s gearboxes are 6-speeds apiece.

My only experience with the 4-cylinder 3-Series and ATS were with the automatic and manual transmissions, respectively. Looking at the cars’ overall behaviors, both deliver excellent power, with quick response to throttle inputs. The BMW’s 8-speed automatic has the revvy little engine on a short leash, holding it back a bit in what appears to be an effort to maximize fuel economy. The Cadillac’s engine, however, feels freer and has a greater reserve of top-end power, which comes in handy for high-speed passing and merging. Its manual transmission is top-notch for a light clutch and smooth shifter.

Perhaps a go in an automatic-transmission ATS 2.0T and/or manual-transmission 328i would change my mind, but in the battle of turbocharged 4-cylinders, the Caddy gets my nod.

Advantage: ATS


6-Cylinder Engines

BMW’s 3.0-liter turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine has been a smash hit of epic proportions for the brand. For 2012 3-Series models so equipped (called 335i), why fix what ain’t broke? While BMW has tweaked the internal components over time, this engine produces the same 300 horsepower it always has . . . or at least BMW says it has 300 horsepower. Critics, owners, and enthusiasts contend that the company underrates this motor. The fact that a 335i can consistently run from 0-60 mph in less than 5 seconds is pretty strong evidence supporting this claim.

ATS will challenge the 335i with its own 6-cylinder motor: a 321-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. No turbocharging here. Straight displacement gets you the power. Now, GM has produced a 3.6-liter V6 for some time, but this engine has been, well, re-engineered and is, for all intents and purposes, completely unrelated to its predecessor.

That’s all well and good, but in this instance I have to put the BMW ever so slightly ahead in this category. Despite somewhat inconsistent throttle and transmission response, the 335i is so stupidly fast that you quickly forget about those issues. The BMW has more usable power in all driving situations. It’s kind of ironic because the ATS V6 suffers a bit from the same issue I have with the 328i’s 4-cylinder engine. Another point in BMW’s favor is that you can get a 335i with a manual transmission, something Cadillac doesn’t offer with the V6 ATS.

Advantage: BMW 3-Series

At the end of Round Two, the score is:

Cadillac ATS: 3            BMW 3-Series: 2


Check out the performance videos of the 2012 3-Series sedan and 2013 ATS:

5 Cool Things About the Cadillac User Experience (CUE)