Zippy Caddy chases BMW

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The smallest and lightest car from Cadillac, the ATS, is a sharp-looking, smart-handling, rear- or all-wheel drive sedan whose exterior dimensions are almost spot on with BMW's top-selling 3-Series sedan.

It's no coincidence. Cadillac officials hope the ATS, introduced for 2013 as their new, entry-level car, pulls some would-be buyers away from the long-popular, German 3-Series.

Certainly, the ATS is fresh and different, even as BMW has introduced a new-generation 3-Series.

Besides the sleek, distinctive exterior, the ATS gives buyers a lot to talk about, including an iPad-like, 8-inch, touch-and-display screen on models equipped with CUE, for Cadillac User Experience.

The ATS has safety cred, too, with its across-the-board, five-out-of-five-stars safety rating in federal government crash testing.

In comparison, the 2013 BMW 3-Series tested earned four out of five stars for passenger protection in a frontal crash and five out of five stars in side crash testing.

The ATS' base engine — a naturally aspirated, 202 horsepower four cylinder that comes with standard six-speed automatic — compares with the base, 180-horsepower, twin-turbocharged four cylinder that's in the 2013 320i. The 320i base engine is available with a six-speed manual or eight-speed Steptronic automatic.

Standard equipment on both base cars includes 17-inch wheels and leather-like seat trim, but not real leather.

On the outside, the ATS has a refined quality as the chiseled edges of Cadillac's longstanding angular design have been eroded nicely.

But it doesn't look old. The careful attention to updating the styling while keeping the familiar Cadillac look was appreciated by many passersby who asked what new Cadillac this was. Also not overlooked was the compact size of the ATS. At 15.2 feet long, from bumper to bumper, it's about the same overall length as a 3-Series sedan.

The size, plus easy, variable assist, electric power steering, made for nimble turns in tight spots and effortless entry into compact-sized parking spaces.

The ATS tester rode and handled compactly, too, on twisty mountain roads, where the firmness in the sport suspension and a fine weight balance made for a poised, planted and well-controlled car.

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