Cadillac ATS Coupe vs. BMW 435i: Art & Science vs. the Ultimate Driving Machine

Once you reach a certain age or income bracket, you might be looking for a car that’s got a little performance, some nice but tasteful looks, a bit of badge recognition, and at least a nod to practicality. What that all adds up to in the modern car market is a sports coupe. Two of the best sports coupes on the market right now are the BMW 435i and the Cadillac ATS Coupe.

But which one to get? Well, allow Digital Trends to break it down for you. And because we are ballin’, as the kids say, we aren’t going to be messing around with anything but the top end of the range. So let’s get this duel started.

Performance

If you are going to make a sports coupe, you have to have an engine and chassis that can live up to the ‘sports’ part. After all, you really need some way to justify the fact that your car only has two doors.

Fortunately, when you are talking about BMW, performance is rarely an issue. The 435i is no exception, this car packs a 3.0-liter twin-turbo inline six-cylinder that churns out 302 precise German horsepower. That kind of power in a light two-door package is good for 0 to 60 in about 4.6 seconds. That’s thanks in part to the lightning quick eight-speed automatic. But even with impressive figures like that, this car is really set apart by the way it handles. It’s everything you would expect in a Bimmer: refined, precise, and aggressive.

Coming up with a good analogy for a BMW is always hard because it is such an odd mixture of technical brilliance, exhilaration, and heart pounding fear. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that the best way to describe the 435i is like a dental drill that is powered with napalm. The only downside is that if you get the xDrive all-wheel drive system, you lose a lot of the dynamism and fun of the drivetrain.

The Cadillac ATS Coupe though, is stunning. This car is maybe the best example of how much Cadillac has changed in the last fifteen years. Driving this car gives you the complete sports car experience, and that starts with the engine and transmission. The top-end ATS is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 321 horsepower and 275 pound feet of torque. Because it is naturally aspirated this engine can slam you back in your seat at any speed or rpm. Cadillac hasn’t released the 0 to 60 time of the ATS Coupe with the V6, but it should be comparable to the BMW 435i.

The car handles, well, like a BMW. In step with the BMW, you can get the ATS with all-wheel drive, but even with this option the ATS is taught, light on its feet, and feels constantly ready for more. And while its automatic transmission might have two fewer speeds than the BMW, it is even more responsive.

You might remember all those ridiculous commercials Cadillac put out with the ATS sedan conquering various difficult roads around the world. Well let me tell you; the smiles on the drivers faces were not acted. The ATS is that fun.

If I am honest, in its rear-wheel drive format, it is not quite as refined or lithe as the BMW, despite being a bit lighter and more powerful. But the fact that it is even this close has to be considered an impressive achievement for Caddy. Still, this category goes to the BMW by a nose.

Styling

Styling will always be a subjective evaluation, I might find a particular car beautiful and you might simply be wrong about it. But, nonetheless, design plays a huge role in how we see cars and how well they sell. Both the 435i and the ATS Coupe are doing their best not only to look good in their own right, but also to stand out in a crowded field.

The 435i does this in a classically understated BMW way. Its layout and stance are more aggressive than the car’s 3 Series counterparts, however the car still hews closely to the BMW look. I love the front fascia and lights. BMW has really nailed the use of light surrounds.

The broad stance and tapered rear end hint at this car’s gymnast-like agility. But this impression is let down by a humdrum silhouette. The fact that the 435 is based on a four-seater is obvious, and the consequence are looks that don’t tell you much about how special this car is.

Ultimately BMW has a lot to lose with a love-or-hate design language. The consequences of that are a car that looks good, but a bit generic.

The ATS on the other hand is an example of Cadillac’s more forward-thinking design language. In an effort to overcome a stodgy and deeply uncool image, the company has pushed design much further than most of its competitors. 

The ATS might make heavy use of Cadillac’s ‘Art and Science’ – otherwise known as: ‘rulers only’ – design language, but its lines still evoke the swooping lines of a classic sports car. And while BMW may have a very good thing going with its headlight setup, Cadillac’s new look is one of the best out there. It manages to be modern, while still suggesting the fins of Cadillac’s past.

Pictures really do not do the ATS justice, seeing one of these in person will make your realize that this is not just a good looking car, but also one that is very different from anything else on the market.

Cadillac gets the win here.

Price

Ordinarily I would save this section for the practicality of the cars, things like the interior space, how good the tech is and so on. But in reality that it’s not these things that set the two cars apart. These are luxury cars from luxury automakers. If it’s an option that appears on modern cars, you can get it on these two. What is different is how much it costs, and how you pay for it.

The starting price for a BMW 435i is $46,000, which sounds like a lot, but not an outrageous amount for what you are getting. The problem is that you aren’t going to spend anywhere close to that. Essentially every piece of equipment is an option, and none of them is cheap. With BMW’s online configuration tool,  a rear-wheel drive 435i can reach as high as $62,000. And I wasn’t even splurging on things like 19-inch wheels. I was adding options like a rear-view camera ($900) and leather seats, which you would think should be standard on a German luxury car, but actually cost $1,450.

Cadillac hasn’t released prices for the ATS Coupe yet, it goes on sale shortly, but we can get a good idea of how different matters are by looking at the ATS sedan. There is some gouging. For instance, a sunroof is a $1,050 option. But still, you can expect to spend up to $10,000 less on a similarly equipped ATS Coupe.  

It’s not just that it is a lot of money, which it is, but also how you feel spending it. It sucks to have to spend $5,000 on the sort of optional equipment that comes standard on a $26,000 Mazda3, especially when BMW doesn’t even take you out for ice cream after they are done rummaging around in your pockets.

Ultimately BMW does this sort of thing because, as one of the world’s best selling luxury brands, they can. But when you can get a car for less money that might actually be better, why wouldn’t you?

The edge goes to Cadillac ATS Coupe

Conclusion

During the Second World War, BMW made aircraft engines, including those on the world’s first jet fighter. Cadillac made tanks. Where BMW went on to make sports cars, Cadillac kept making tanks, they just put fins on them. For a long time that was all you needed to know about why you should get a Bimmer instead of a Caddy.

But the ATS is a sign of how much things have changed. It may still be a little ways away from being an ultimate driving machine, but it might actually be more fun than its German rival. 

I couldn’t fault anyone for choosing the BMW; it is a great car that you would never regret owning. But with the ATS Coupe being so much cheaper, you might regret buying the 4 Series. And that for me is enough of a reason to say that if you want a sports coupe, it should be the one from Detroit, not Munich.

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