Cadillac ATS pictures and hands-on

A Cadillac on Pocket-Lint? Half the team has gone to Detroit and Las Vegas this week, so we figured you'd forgive us if we indulged our inner American, donned a Stetson and put some country and Western on the stereo. But it's just that kind of cheesy, hackneyed image of America - and its cars - that Cadillac would very much like us European buyers to forget when it comes to the new ATS.

Banish the image you currently have of Cadillacs - probably squidgy, over-sized American barges - and start to take the brand seriously as a competitor to BMW, say Cadillac's people. But should you, based on what we see here?

You probably won't have noticed, but you've been able to buy a Cadillac in Europe for some time: Cadillac is now on its third relaunch in Europe. Last time we looked at the figures, it had sold about five cars in the UK - we jest, of course, but not enormously. Why? Well, if we tell you that to-date its cars cost about the same as an equivalent BMW or Mercedes, that there were just a handful of dealers, that the quality and design wasn't anywhere near as good as anything made in Germany and that they didn't offer a diesel or hybrid, we suspect you might start to guess why.

So it's time to start again, and this time, Cadillac's gunning for the Germans with this - the ATS. In the UK, we might know that acronym better as a budget tyre-fitting establishment, but get beyond its name and this looks like it might actually be a car that's worth taking note of.

And if you are thinking it looks a little bit like a Mercedes C-class then you'd be right. Sit them side-by-side and they're almost identical, proportionally. That diving crease in the body side is very Benz-like too. Yet the whole look is edgier, and chiselled. Thank Cadillac's "Art and Science" design language, which for nearly 15 years now has been throwing out cars with so many creases and sharp edges that you feared you might cut your finger open.

Inside, there's CUE - Cadillac's new user interface - which is capacitive touchscreen-based and comes with haptic feedback. Here in the Cobo Hall at Detroit, the phone reception and 3G blackhole meant it wasn't fully operational or easy to judge. But it responded both super-quickly to inputs and with a lovely series of thunks, clunks and nudges as you worked through functions, thanks to those haptics.

We'll try and get a dedicated hands-on with the system on GM's stand at CES over the next few days, where we're promised we can test out its full range of capabilities. But until then we're more than giving it the benefit of the doubt.

Expect prices when the ATS goes on sale here later in the year to mirror BMW's new 3-Series and the aforementioned Merc. It'll come with diesel engines too, which means it might make sense as a company car purchase. Otherwise, until a "V" performance version turns up (around 2014) we'll make do with turbo-charged four- and six-cylinder petrol engines.

Our bet is that, put back-to-back and given the choice, most people would still rather have that 3-Series. But from mid-year, if you're bored sick of the predictability of the BMW/Audi/Mercedes triumvirate, or have always fancied owning a little bit of Americana, this Cadillac should provide a genuine and credible alternative to the German premium brands.

And based on what we can see in Detroit, you're no longer going to have to be mad to consider it.



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