After more than a year, our tenure with the BMW 335i Sport project car is about to end, but we couldn't let it fade into obscurity, deciding instead to send it out in a blaze of glory. Or so we hoped...
Having built it over the past 12 months or more, waiting for the latest parts to emerge from a rather reluctant aftermarket, we've grown to love its rigid chassis, excellent power delivery, luxurious interior and high-tech gadgets.
Apart from a bit more power, we really don't know why you'd choose a 5, 6 or 7 Series over the 335i. It has all the electronics of its more expensive siblings, including lane departure, blindspot and collision warnings, heads-up display plus the full suite of BMW Connected iDrive and infotainment features in a well proportioned package that regularly returns 26mpg for daily driving and will hit 60mph in about 5sec.
We're confident the F30 3 Series is still the best in its class and were looking for a fight to prove it. And that was when we came across the new Cadillac ATS.
Bringing the edgy styling of the larger CTS model into the compact market, along with some clever TV advertising and the hopes of a revived domestic manufacturer, the ATS caught our attention.
With a selection of four- and six-cylinder engines, RWD or AWD layouts, plus a big-screen infotainment center, it seemed to match our BMW in most areas. More importantly, its base price was $46695 for the 3.6L compared to $42090 for our 335i. Once you added all the bells and whistles, however, the Caddy would cost you $48190 and our fully loaded Bimmer was $49185 - close enough for our purposes. So could Cadillac really build a car to rival the 3 Series?
Since our 335i Sport was modified with a raft of top-notch aftermarket equipment, we needed an ATS that could also match it on that front: Step forward D3 Group.
Having built SEMA show cars for several carmakers, the team at D3 Group had submitted a proposal to Cadillac for a twin-turbo Escalade back in 2003. It was rejected at the time because the company was considering it's own V-Series model, but some forward thinking individuals in Detroit approached D3 to see what could be done with the STS and CTS models.
The result was an instant success, with D3 breaking the brand's old fogey mold, giving the models a new twist. As the association blossomed, Cadillac has supplied more support, more vehicles and inside information to where D3 parts are now the only Officially Licensed Products (OLP) for the brand, available at all dealers nationwide.
The Licensed Product range for the ATS will eventually include a complete body kit unavailable for our photo shoot. However, D3 also creates its own range of parts that some dealers distribute or is available at d3cadillac.com
The D3 product line is a little more aggressive than the mainstream OLP parts and included the roof spoiler, rear wing, exhaust and coilovers on the ATS 3.6L we tested here.
The suspension is based on US-built JRI racing shocks that are converted to coilovers by D3. The stainless steel axle-back exhaust was a prototype unit that lacked the fit, finish and sound of the subsequent production piece, but was all D3 had available at the time since we're relatively early into their production process.
The car also had D3's Street Tune ECU software and a set of forged 18" TSW Interlagos wheels with Toyo T1S tires.
BMW M Performance
In the ideal world, while the Cadillac was fitted with parts from its official partner, our 335i Sport would be equipped from head-to-toe in dealer-fit parts from BMW M Performance. However, we'd decided to mix and match a few choice components to create a hybrid.
We've covered most of the parts in previous issues, and installed two new items that will be highlighted next month. So our car was tested with the official BMW M Performance Power Kit (engine software, air box, engine cover), big brake kit, carbon fiber mirrors and black kidney grilles. It also had Bilstein PSS10 coilovers, stainless steel Borla cat-back exhaust, 20" HRE wheels and Nitto Invo tires.
This is by no means the most aggressively tuned F30 335i out there, but it represents a California-legal car that shouldn't have any dealer warranty issues. It was also well matched to the D3 ATS.
Our first stop was european auto source in Anaheim, CA - a location where several parts had earlier been fitted to our project BMW. We again utilized their dyno to assess the output of each car and found that the BMW had a sizable advantage.
On the rollers, the 335i put down 286hp and 302 lb-ft at the wheels, compared to 261hp and 299 lb-ft we'd previously measured in stock form. This proved that the M Performance Power Kit had done its job.
It's worth noting that BMW claims the car should develop 300hp and 300 lb-ft at the crank. However, the manufacturer is notoriously understated and high wheel numbers aren't unusual.
The ATS could only summon 260hp and 227 lb-ft on the dyno. This was surprising since, on paper, the Caddy should have the advantage. Indeed, the carmaker claims 321hp and 275 lb-ft at the crank. These peak numbers are developed at higher RPM than the BMW, requiring you to rev the 3.6L V6 engine harder to exploit the performance.
The next test would be carried out by our colleagues at MotorTrend. If you like this test, you can see what they thought of our two cars in a video, which is part of their Head 2 Head series on YouTube. MT borrowed the cars for the video while we gained performance figures in return (losing years of life from our tires and clutch in the process!).
On the test track, MT would record 0-60mph times of 5.1sec for the BMW and 5.2sec for the ATS. Over the quarter-mile, both cars were identical, with times of 13.8sec at 102mph. Similarly, braking from 60-0mph would be completed in about 111ft.
In a figure-8 test, the Cadillac would generate more lateral g, recording 0.75g to the BMW's 0.73g. Again, it's not a decisive difference and could be explained in part by the Caddy's race-oriented suspension and the difference in tire compounds. We would later discover the BMW's Bilsteins had been left on the softest settings for some reason, handicapping the car.
With all the numbers stored, we could head into the canyons to discover how the car felt in the high-speed turns and uneven surfaces.
Almost any car can be made to perform well on a smooth racetrack, but the unforgiving environment of southern California's notorious canyon roads can make or break a reputation.
Since we're looking at every aspect, with a view to which would be the best to purchase as a tuner car and daily driver, let's start with the appearance.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and both cars have their fans and detractors. And while neither are stunners in the purest sense, the BMW is more handsome, particularly when lowered on its 20" HRE C100 wheels that emphasize its taut fender lines and sweeping swage line, especially viewed from the rear.
The ATS is more angular, faithful to the Cadillac design language established by the CTS, although less extreme than the bigger sedan. In our eyes, it's better for it, looking more youthful: particularly from the front.
The rear is rather busy for our taste, not helped by the full-length third brake light, or prototype D3 mufflers. Admittedly, the latter will be more refined as a production version.
The upright head- and tail lights make the car look rather tall, where the BMW design emphasizes its width, making it seem lower and sleeker.
The 18" forged TSW Interlagos wheels were well suited to the Caddy, giving the right blend of sport and sophistication. And with its lowered suspension, the ATS was definitely turning a few heads. However, its smaller wheels and large body panels meant the TSWs were swallowed-up by the Cadillac, where the BMW's arches sit higher in the body, making the wheels more prominent.
Without its styling kit available, D3 had fitted its trunk and roof spoilers that undoubtedly made it more sporty, but did add to the complexity of the rear-end. Our 335i, on the other hand, was visually stock with the exception of BMW M Performance black kidney grilles and carbon mirrors - tiny details that made a significant difference.
The interiors reflected the exterior treatments, with the BMW's being rather minimalist and the Cadillac having extrovert design elements. As we've already stated, our 335i is loaded with the latest technology as well as supportive sports seats and a thick-rimmed steering wheel.
Cadillac appears to offer many of the same technologies as BMW, although our test car didn't have everything fitted. That said, the dash and console layout mirrored some exterior design elements and pushing buttons was accompanied by an unusual "thud" sound to confirm operation. There was also the widescreen CUE infotainment display that gave access to navigation, telephone, media, etc. The system employed touchscreen technology in preference to BMW's much-improved iDrive system. Using it, we can see why BMW engineers eschew this system because a moving car makes it hard to press the right spot on the screen, causing you to remove your eyes from the road for longer.
Overall, the Cadillac interior didn't adequately reflect the surprisingly sporty nature of the car itself, yet we were pleasantly surprised by the quality and technology in the Cadillac - its double-stitched leather dashboard a nice feature. However, we defer to the BMW for its greater refinement, although we concede we're very familiar with it after 12 months. So while we prefer the Bimmer, the Caddy wasn't far behind.
Getting to the actual driving portion, the Bilstein PSS10 coilovers on the 335i were new to us. We'd replaced our H&R coilovers after thousands of happy miles in order to test an alternative. Our car was also used for a Bilstein ad, which may appear one day...
While the Billies offer great body control, I was concerned to find the car hit the bumpstops under full compression on the uneven, high-speed roads. This never happened with the H&Rs but turned out to be operator error. After installation, somebody had set the adjustable dampers to their softest setting - conventionally, we start on medium and adjust from there.
While offering good comfort, they couldn't cope with the extreme bumps so we had to adjust them to resolve the issue. However, they offered better ride control than the D3 coilovers on the ATS.
Set-up for the racetrack, the Cadillac was simply too stiff for these roads and the ride was nervous, occasionally losing traction over the bigger bumps where the BMW's more compliant ride kept the tires in contact with the road.
As for the engines, neither had an advantage on the track but the canyons were a different story. The greater mid-range torque from the 335i came into its own, making it easier to drive and faster point-to-point. It was also blessed with a manual six-speed, which allowed us to either hold a gear, short-shift, or use aggressive engine braking to tackle the roads. Combined with its induction whistle and barking Borla exhaust, the BMW was built for these roads and excelled.
The ATS 3.6L is only available with a six-speed auto and this wasn't its forte. The D3 Street Tune ECU software doesn't add power but drastically alters the shift map on the transmission, allowing quicker changes and more revs to be held. As a result, the shifts were pretty aggressive, occasionally causing the rear wheels to briefly lose traction.
Undoubtedly the software was an improvement over the stock auto, but the transmission wasn't living up to the ability of the ATS. Its engine and chassis deserved better, with the auto forcing you to be aggressive with the throttle and paddle shifters to get out of tight corners. It simply wasn't as fluid as the BMW, but once you adapted to it, the car was still rewarding to drive.
Hard acceleration out of slow corners could be a pain as there was a delay between the pedal movement and forward motion, then the trans might downshift for you, causing further delay and a lunge of acceleration. You could drive around it in the canyons but this shifting in Sport mode was far too aggressive for regular street use and needed to be de-activated.
The D3 axle-back exhaust was rather too loud and droned slightly. However, we can't judge it harshly because it was a development piece that will be honed before production, so it remained out of our overall assessment
Fortunately, both cars had very capable brakes, able to repeatedly go deep into corners. The Cadillac's multi-piston set-up was equal of the uprated BMW M Performance discs and calipers we'd fitted, with no flaws in either car.
Both cars also appeared to have similar high levels of grip despite different tire makes - in hindsight, we should have put them on the same rubber to remove any differences from the equation.
Again, both cars were well matched in all our tests and closer than we might have expected. Given its stuffy image from a few years ago, we were impressed by the Cadillac, which put up a courageous fight. And yet we all agreed, it couldn't match the finesse of the 335i, hampered by its auto transmission and harsher ride. It was best when pushed hard but couldn't compete with the versatile BMW.
The 335i Sport was the superior canyon carver thanks to a beautifully balanced packaged with more mid-range torque and better handling. In short, it was smooth and effortless. It also made better use of its modifications, was the better driver's car, had more power and torque.
Inevitably, it's the one we'd prefer to take home, but the Cadillac ATS 3.6L was a close second and not the short straw when it was time to decide what car to drive home.
||BMW 335i Sport
||Cadillac ATS 3.6L
||13.8sec @ 101.8mph
||13.8sec @ 101.9mph
||BMW 335i Sport
||Cadillac ATS 3.6L
||D3/JRI Racing coilovers
||BMW M Performance
||20" HRE C100
||18" TSW Interlagos
||Borla S-Type cat-back
||BMW M Performance Power Kit
||D3 Street tune
||BMW M Performance grilles, carbon mirrors
||D3 roof spoiler, trunk spoiler
2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Premium Collection
Engine 3.6-liter V6 24v direct injection with D3 Street Tune software
Drivetrain six-speed automatic with D3 Street Tune software
Brakes stock four-piston calipers, 15" rotors f, single-piston, 14.8" r
Suspension D3/JRI racing coilovers
Wheels & Tires 18x8" f, 18x9.5" r TSW Interlagos wheels, 225/35 R18 f, 265/30 R18 r Toyo T1S tires
Exterior D3 roof and trunk spoilers
Contact d3cadillac.com, toyotires.com
2012 BMW 335i Sport
Engine 3.0L six-cylinder DOHC 24v direct injection, turbocharged with BMW M Performance software and air box, Borla S-Type cat-back exhaust
Drivetrain six-speed manual transmission
Suspension Bilstein PSS10 coilovers
Brakes BMW M Performance four-piston calipers, 370mm dimpled rotors f, single-piston, 345mm r
Wheels & Tires 20x9" ET36 f, 20x10.5" ET54 r HRE C100 wheels; 245/30 R20 f, 295/25 R20 r Nitto Invo tires
Exterior BMW M Performance black kidney grilles and carbon fiber mirror shells
Contact bmwmperformance.com, bilsteinus.com, hrewheels.com, nittotire.com
Next Month We'll look at the installation of our Bilstein coilovers and Borla exhaust plus the final dyno test on our Project BMW 335i