Cadillac ATS launch Abu Dhabi – First Drive

Caddy’s BMW 3 series rival finally arrives in the Middle East and we drive it on road and track

By Shahzad Sheikh

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

[Read my review of the 2.5-litre ATS here]

In some ways the second generation Cadillac CTS launched in 2008, and set to be replaced next year, was for GM’s luxury brand, what the Toyota 86 has been for Japan’s leading mass-market brand: a shot in the arm that not only reenergised the company, but revitalised interest in the brand, and blew away stale and stagnant perceptions of old.

The CTS maybe getting on a bit, but it still looks utterly futuristic with great road presence and drives like a muscle car in an Armani suit. It follows that such success-instigators will sire further great cars in this case built on the same modern formula for doing Caddys right. The recent XTS is an example of that, a handsome and remarkably adept luxury cruiser with some athleticism beneath that bulk.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

That XTS is a BMW 7 series rival, whilst the CTS will grow further to truly stand toe-to-toe with a 5 series next year. Cadillac is making no attempt to disguise exactly the manufacturer it’s gunning for – it wants to be the American version of BMW – luxurious, classy, desirable, credible, and yet entertaining to drive.

Now that last requirement is where the 3 series has been the strongest protagonist in the saloon sector for BMW for many, many years, and somewhat bravely (some would say foolishly) the new ATS is taking it on like for like.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

The ATS models we’re getting

There are two models that will be offered by Cadillac for our region with sales starting this month – both available only in rear-wheel drive format (including limited slip diff) with six-speed automatic transmissions.

The 2.5 four cylinder model priced from AED135,000 – which we will review another time as I didn’t get to drive it (admittedly I kinda ignored it) and the 3.6 V6 producing 321bhp and 267lb ft of torque priced from AED175,000.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

Now that compares to 306bhp and 295lb ft of torque for the 335i, and it virtually matches it for acceleration times with both hitting 250kph limiters. It also happens to be 15kg lighter and boasts an almost identical footprint: only 20mm longer at 4644mm, 6mm narrower at 1805mm and 2mm lower at 1427mm.

In fact the only differences between the two are the distinct styling themes and the price – which puts the 335i at AED65k (approx $18k) more expensive, and as a Caddy person pointed out, that’s before speccing it to the same level as the ATS – which would probably bring that differential to closer to 100k.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

That includes magnetic ride suspension (regular suspension on the 2.5), Brembo brakes, CUE infotainment system (as introduced on the XTS), 18-inch alloys, active noise cancellation, Bluetooth connectivity, fully configurable instrument display and a seven-speaker Bose sound system. Of course there is also an extensive options list.

So is the ATS as good as the Three? Read the review at this link and also the twin test with the Audi A4 and you’ll see that the 335 is one of my favourite small saloons out there right now, so the baby Caddy has to be really special to sway me. It gets its first chance to impress on the road.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

Looking sharp

It doesn’t quite have the rakish swagger of the scene-stealing CTS, but it’s an undeniably good-looking car, boldly presenting its aquiline Cadillac face with the extraordinary headlights cutting a speedline-like slash into the fender. It sits very well, purposeful and poised. The lines culminate in triangular points at the rear, as with the CTS, and these accentuate both the bootlid spoiler that seems to sit on its own plain and the twin exhausts that signify intent.

Inside the team promises that everything you perceive as wood, leather or metal will be exactly that. The quality of the fit, finish and materials is now truly world-class – something that had been an issue on past Cadillacs. There is no faulting the craftsmanship and thankfully the V-shaped motif that gets a bit contrived in the CTS interior is all but absent from the ATS.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

Instead you get a choice of different trims covering a driver-focussed dashboard which carries forward some of the new themes and gizmos that debuted in the XTS, including the haptic touch interfaces, and the rising faceplate revealing a concealed compartment in the centre console.

Initially I wasn’t too sure about the half-moon shapes in the instrumentation, but the fact that it’s a versatile display that’s easily configurable, plus you get a full-colour heads-up display, means you soon get used to it. The V6 also gets nice metal paddleshifts behind the steering wheel.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

Accelerate, slow, negotiate roundabout, repeat

The first part of the launch event involves an hour-long drive on public roads in convoy. This essentially involves blasting from one roundabout to the next. We’ve been strictly warned not to touch the traction and stability systems.

What we do have is Sport and Touring modes though. In Sport the magna-ride firms up, the electronic steering needs a little more effort and the transmission gets more urgent. In practice it corners flatter but without losing too much in terms of ride quality, but I feel the steering could tighten up a bit more, and I prefer shifting manually using the paddles – it will let you hit the limiter – rather than leaving the transmission to it.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

The performance is not quite as punchy as the 335i – which lends credence to the consensus that BMW lies about its power outputs and that the Beemer’s packing closer to 350 horsepower. Nonetheless the ATS has that BMW-esque feel of being kept on a leash, like it really just wants you to give it it’s head and let it show you what it can really do.

There will be time for that later, meanwhile on the road we can confirm that it is keen and torquey (and it sounds potent and raspy), with good pull from low revs and plenty of reserve left at the top end which remains unexploited as soon we’re braking for the next roundabout.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

Each of which it immediately dispatches with a composure and ease that is utterly shocking in what should be a wayward American car, and to some extent would leave even the fabled Three shamefaced as it would feel unhinged and tail-happy by comparison – which for some drivers (including yours truly) is a desirable trait, admittedly.

No matter how aggressive I am on the steering, the ATS refuses to lose its cool. Hmm… this should be interesting on the track…

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

Release the beast

Right, so here’s where we’re expecting the new Cadillac to go all Yank Tank on us, here’s where the confident façade will fail, the electronics and trick suspension will lose its nerve and all the big talk will dissolve to a whimper.

ATS meet the south loop of the Yas Marina Grand Prix circuit – the Marina section. It’s all technical tight turns, unforgiving walls, limited run-off and people on balconies waiting to point and laugh at you. I hate this part of the GP track, it intimidates me personally, and I’m expecting the ATS to crumble after the first lap and beg to go cruise a boulevard somewhere instead – c’mon it’s a Caddy.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

Except for one thing. This is a Cadillac that’s spent much of its gestation on the green hell – the tortuous Nurburgring in Germany.

As we start to get quicker and quicker the poise evident on the road pales compared to the grip and tenacity displayed around here, and the feedback coming back through the steering and chassis is encouraging me to go harder than I’ve ever dared before on this part of the track.

The brakes are strong and fade-free, the turn-in is crisp and remarkably neutral and faithful. Using the paddle shifts keeps the torque in the sweet spot with quick responsive changes ensuring unbroken momentum. Most impressive of all is the stability from that five-link independent suspension at the back, and the very benign traction and stability systems – all of which remain in normal mode again, although we’re in Sports mode.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

So good is it that you can brake hard, chuck it at an apex and then just boot the throttle all the way in and let the car sort everything else out for you, at most you’ll get a slight jink in the back before the electronics catch it, but it’s not a sudden and harsh grab, just a subtle retweaking of torque deployment.

A little later, we get to go out in single cars with an instructor and are free to go as fast as we possibly can. Just when I thought the ATS had given it’s all, it pulls even more ability and speed out of the bag. Not only that, but it makes up for my untidiness and compensates for my clumsiness.

Coming through a flat-out right hander, I miss the next apex and run too wide over the rumble strips for the second right and find myself closing quickly on a 90-degree right, the ATS stoically keeps straight and steady and the Brembos save the day – although a few cones were certainly rushed to emergency that evening.

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested


Frankly the drive experience ended too soon, and it just left me hankering for more wheel time with possibly the sportiest Cadillac ever conceived. Standby for a full road test of the ATS soon.

But the question you’re asking is this: is it as good as the BMW 3 series? Well only a direct comparo could tell us that. What we can say for now is that it would be damn close indeed, and might just end up boiling down to driver preference (that all depends on how the ATS behaves with the traction system dialled back).

Cadillac ATS launch at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE. 3.6 V6 tested

Perhaps a more pertinent question would be this – is the Three worth over AED65k MORE than the ATS? When you’re talking about that sort of differential, the answer is no. The ATS takes a clear lead in the value stakes and is dripping with showroom appeal, backing it up with genuine brilliance on road and track. And if the BMW is beat, the Audi and Mercedes C-Class all better take a long hard look across the Atlantic, because the American’s might just have got the small sporty exec segement sussed after all.

Cadillac ATS 3.6
How much? AED175,000 ($47,700)
Engine: 3.6-litre V6, 321bhp @ 6800rpm, 267lb ft @ 4800rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy: 12.3L/100km
Performance: 0-100kph 5.6 seconds, Top speed 250kph
Weight: 1570kg

Let us know what you think of the new Cadillac ATS below


3 responses to “Cadillac ATS launch Abu Dhabi – First Drive”

  1. Steve says:

    The ATS is amazing, I’ve driven one and would buy it if I could afford it.

  2. Abdul says:

    I will definitely choose it over the 3 series
    Better look
    Reasonable price

  3. Hamid says:

    The ATS is mind boggling. Drove one the other day but sadly couldnt push its limit due to restrictions. Cant wait ot get my hands on one. Im surely buying this.

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