The ATS was ultimately tripped up by two things that left it especially vulnerable against the BMW: its engine and gearbox.
Cadillac claims the ATS achieves peak torque at 1700 rpm (the BMW can call up full grunt as low as 1250 rpm), but you’d never know it. Launching the Caddy proved difficult, with the car either bogging or frittering power away through excessive wheelspin. And though there’s power lurking in its little 4-banger, the ATS suffers from turbo lag, a congested-sounding exhaust note and a power curve that feels too compressed. All the urge seems concentrated between 2500 and 6000 rpm, where the more flexible BMW zings and sings anywhere from 1500 to 7000 rpm.
Worse, the manual gearbox recalls the Ghost of Saabs Past, clanking its awkward chains. Throws are a bit long and loose-jointed; the Camaro ZL1’s manual is a paragon in comparison. Chasing the BMW on wooded back roads, I occasionally jammed the 3rd-to-2nd shift, killing forward progress.
With a tight powerband and short gearing, the Cadillac requires two shifts, three gears and 6 seconds to reach 60 mph. That puts the ATS over a halfsecond behind the BMW, which needs only one shift to pass 60 mph. Yet, when the ATS carries its ample momentum through curves, this is still a fun and confident sedan. Though we did find ourselves wondering whether another ATS, with the stronger V-6 and an automatic transmission, will end up being the enthusiast’s choice, clutch pedal or not.