By Arv Voss, Motor Matters

The Cadillac team doesn't like to be reminded of past forays into the small car market. Hint: Don't bring up the Cimarron or the Catera. Let's talk about now -- the 2013 ATS.

The ATS is a true compact luxury sedan positioned to do battle with BMW's 3 Series, the Lexus IS lineup and the C-Class stable from Mercedes-Benz. Did you know that the compact category represents the largest sales volume globally for luxury carmakers? A lot is at stake here.

At first glance, the new ATS may appear to be just a smaller Cadillac CTS, but that's not the case. The ATS is its own machine. It showcases new technologies, along with a high- performance driving experience. It is quick, nimble and fun to drive. It is 9 inches shorter than its CTS sibling and weighs 545 pounds less. The ATS rides on a 109.3-inch wheelbase and measures 182.3 inches in overall length.

The 2013 Cadillac ATS offers three engine choices, two transmission choices and is available in a collection of four trim levels: Standard, Luxury, Performance and Premium. There are other choices to be made as well, such as rear-wheel or all-wheel-drive, suspension packages, wheel design, exterior color and interior trim.

Engine choices consist of two four-cylinders: a standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder delivers 202 horsepower; an available 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder cranks out an impressive 272 horses; and a proven, available 3.6-liter V-6 generates 321 horsepower. All of the engines feature Direct Injection and dual overhead camshafts with continuously variable valve timing, which combine to optimize power and efficiency and reduce emissions. The engines are matched with six-speed transmissions, including the Hydra-Matic 6L45 automatic with tap-shift control and a six-speed manual available only with the turbo engine.

2013 ATS pricing ranges from $33,990 for the standard 2.5-liter model to $47,590. The 2.0-liter turbo starts at $33,795, with the 3.6-liter V6 beginning at $42,090.

During the national press drive my driving partner and I were able to sample a representation of the complete lineup. We started in a Luxury trim model powered by the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with the six-speed automatic in AWD configuration.

We next piloted a 2.5-liter, automatic, RWD version in Luxury trim sprayed Glacier Blue metallic that topped out at $39,085. Our drive finished off with a RWD 2.0-liter turbo, automatic, Opulent Blue with Performance trim with a window sticker totaling $44,185.

The drive route took us on a 110-mile trip from downtown Atlanta to the new 1.8-mile Atlanta Motorsports Park where we were afforded the opportunity to experience the 2.0-liter turbo manual RWD and 3.6-liter AWD auto on the challenging and technical track.

The ATS displays exceptional 50/50 weight distribution front to rear, balance and stability, both on the road and on the track, which featured several elevation changes, blind turns, as well as decreasing radius and reverse camber turns.

I was not a big fan of the 2.5-liter ATS as it was noisy and seemed overworked in a high performance scenario. My on-road choice was the 2.0-liter turbo AWD automatic with transmission tap shift feature, and while I also enjoyed the 2.0-liter turbo manual RWD on the track, my overall pick for the track was without question the 3.6-liter AWD automatic. It was possible to circuit the track in third gear with the manual, and to operate the 3.6-liter auto in drive, ignoring the paddle shifters.

On this model the automatic transmission delivered downshift rev matching when braking hard. The Magnetic Ride Control was phenomenal -- able to read the surface and provide instantaneous damping adjustments. Everything worked well including Cadillac's first five-link independent rear suspension, multi-link, double-pivot MacPherson-strut front suspension with direct-acting stabilizer bar, the Driver-adjustable FE3 sport suspension with MRC, the Premium electric variable-effort steering gear by ZF Steering Systems and four-channel ABS with available Brembo performance brakes.

The ATS is a real car to be driven by enthusiasts -- or not. Smoke into a corner too hot and brake to correct and you'll likely encounter understeer. Nailing the throttle too aggressively on exit and the rear is quite capable of breaking loose. All fun stuff if in control, but not optimum situations for the best lap times.

The four-passenger, four-door 2013 Cadillac compact luxury sedan is ready to take names and seriously kick some European booty. If there is any downside at all, with a long-legged 6'4" driver like myself, the occupancy is diluted to three. Not a bad thing at all, mind you as it keeps the weight down.

SPECIFICATIONS

2013 CADILLAC ATS

VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 4-passenger AWD compact sedan

BASE PRICE___________________ $41,395 (as tested: $47,325)

MOTOR TYPE___________________16-valve turbo 4-cylinder w/DI

DISPLACEMENT_________________2.0-liter

HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 272 at 5500 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)_________________260 at 1700-5500 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ 6-speed automatic

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 182.8 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___ 38 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 3,543 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY________________ 18.0 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 22 mpg city, 32 mpg highway