Habemus Papem! 2013 BMW 335i M Sport vs. 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6, 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport

Habemus Papem! 2013 BMW 335i M Sport vs. 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6, 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport Habemus Papem! 2013 BMW 335i M Sport vs. 2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6, 2014 Lexus IS350 F Sport
Comparison Tests From the July 2013 Issue of Car and Driver TESTED

Spiritually, we feel a little adrift. When Pope Benedict XVI resigned in February, it was the second deeply confounding blow in a short period. A few months prior, we’d pitted the new F30-generation BMW 328i against a Cadillac ATS and concluded that the Caddy was the more entertaining car. Given the 3-series’s history in our testing—22 consecutive 10Best awards and a nearly unblemished comparison-test record—this revelation was, to us, unsettling. While the 328i eked out a victory over the ATS on the merits of its powertrain and overall polish, it seemed that perhaps the time had come to convene our own ­College of Cardinals. From the cars gathered here, we shall anoint the spiritual leader for sports sedans everywhere.

Don’t get us wrong. BMW still builds a divine driver, and the company isn’t just stepping down. Defending its papal tiara, here is the 335i M Sport—until the arrival of the next M3, the purest expression of BMW’s values. Compared with lesser 3s, its springs and dampers are firmer, its anti-roll bars stiffer, and its body 0.4 inch closer to the road. The BMW inline-six is the staff of power in sports-sedandom, and this one makes 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. With a price tag of $51,545, though, it won’t leave you much for the ­collection basket.

Should BMW falter, the Cadillac ATS leads in the running to be ordained supreme pontiff of sports sedans. In its loss to the 328i, we called the four-cylinder ATS “the best-handling sports sedan on the market today.” Its coarse turbo-four was a main culprit in that outcome; the example tested here has GM’s modern 3.6-liter V-6 with 321 horses and 275 pound-feet. Cadillac’s sport package is the FE3 perform­ance suspension that includes GM’s magnetorheological shocks and a ­limited-slip differential. The ATS’s $49,185 sticker shows just how bent Cadillac is on beating BMW on a level playing field.

The emergent entry in this segment is the Lexus IS350. Architecturally a scaled-down Lexus GS, it’s 3.4 inches longer and a touch wider and taller than its predecessor. There’s a significant 2.7-inch stretch in wheelbase, and added size means added mass. The last generation’s 3.5-liter V-6 carries over with 306 horsepower and 277 pound-feet, although an eight-speed automatic helps both acceleration and fuel economy against the Lexus’s heaviest-in-test 3705 pounds. The F Sport package tweaks spring rates and damper tuning, plus it adds a more aggressive fascia and other decoration. Fresh from its debut, the IS doesn’t have an official price yet, but figure this one should go for around $49,000.

Lacking a Sistine Chapel in which to conduct our conclave, we instead headed to God’s chapel (paved by the Texas Department of Transportation) in the Hill Country north of San Antonio. There, we balloted on roads straight and flat, kinked and undulating until we came to a consensus. There was, fortunately, no puff of white smoke signalling our decision.