OLA, Ark. -- Highway 7 from Jessieville to Ola in the Ouachita Mountains in western Arkansas is a narrow road winding around pine-studded pinnacles where -- on one particular day -- there's not another vehicle in sight to impede our drive on the quick side of automotive performance in Cadillac's new ATS compact touring sedan.
Our test car, rising off a rigid rear-wheel-drive (RWD) platform with pliable independent suspension components pinned above every wheel, also carries a goosy turbocharged engine (one of 3 powertrain choices) which translates all of its considerable torque through a malleable but definitely un-Cadillac-like six-speed manual gearbox and sends it to the rear wheels in classic -- and highly predictable and controllable -- front-engine/rear-drive arrangement as the 18-inch 225/40 all-season run-flat tires claw for traction.
With its wide track and squatty stance for knife-edge sharp skin that ripples over wheelwells and amplifies a blunt in-your-face prow capped by a toothy Cadillac-style grille, this 4-door sportster seems like it could out-pace the wind and finesse any twisty road course.
Odds are favorable that it can easily accomplish those feats and more because the Cadillac setting a lickety-split time over Ark. 7 was tuned in the suspension development on no-speed-limit race tracks, including Germany's 14-mile-long Nurburgring. What you get is a cheetah-on-sandpaper agility with nearly 50/50 percent weight distribution on front/rear wheels for perfectly balanced performance.
ATS has a 109-inch wheelbase with a wheel track width of 59.5 inches in front and 60.9 inches in back. Its passenger compartment comprises 90.9 cubic feet with 10.2 cubic feet for trunk volume, which places ATS in the EPA's compact class.
Cadillac constructs the 2013 ATS with three high-tech powertrain choices and four levels of trim: Standard, Luxury, Performance, Premium.
We'll enumerate the mechanical equipment, but first let's check out that chiseled package styling.
Lines are bold and sharp but clean with unique forms marked by angular shapes and crisp edgework.
The aggressive face features a prominent horizontal louver panel in modern interpretation of the Cadillac classic egg-crate grille, and piercing optics with stacked round projector beam lamps -- but on top trim grades ATS gains LED vertical light signatures plus high intensity discharge lamps that swivel in concert with the vehicle's front wheels via the Adaptive Forward Lighting device.
The roofline remains low, canting in front in line with the raked windshield and canting in back in opposing lines with blacked-out center pillars to simulate a stretched trapezoidal streak of tinted window glass.
Tail treatment for ATS shows a slick slab bumper in monochrome flanked by tall vertical taillamps, another Cadillac hallmark, with round pipes in chrome protruding below the blackout lower fascia.
In a cabin with seats for five the exterior theme of chiseled forms and angular features is expressed in 2-tone treatment with leatherette seat upholstery for ATS Standard but hand-cut, hand-sewn and hand-wrapped leather upholstery in the upgraded Seating Package.
ATS's instrument panel employs conventional analog gauges in a vivid electroluminescent display and a full-color reconfigurable head-up display.
Cadillac's electronics interface -- CUE -- appears on ATS Luxury and ATS Premium grades. It features a touch-sensitive 8-inch display in the center stack and steering wheel tabs to control climate, audio, phone and optional navigation functions with finger touching, swiping and pinching movements as used with tablets and smartphones.
Added cabin gear ranges from Bluetooth phone connectivity to keyless access with keyless push-button start and a 7-speaker Bose audio system.
Cadillac builds three high-tech engines for ATS models, each featuring dual overhead cams (DOHC), direct injection (DI) and continuously variable valve timing (CVVT).
And all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction is available with two of these powertrains.
Standard plant for ATS 2.5L RWD is a 2.5-liter aluminum 4-in-line which develops 202 hp at 6300 rpm and 191 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm. Transmission is a fuel-saving 6-speed electronically controlled automatic, the Hydra-Matic 6L45 from General Motors.
Engine for ATS 2.0L RWD and 2.0L AWD is a cast aluminum 2.0-liter 4-pack with turbocharger (TC). It runs up to 272 hp at 5500 rpm with 260 lb-ft of torque between 1700 and 5500 rpm.
The turbo engine links to the standard 6-speed automatic (HM6L45) or an optional 6-speed manual gearbox, the Tremec TR3160.
ATS 3.6L RWD and 3.6L AWD pack an aluminum 3.6-liter V6 which nets 321 hp at 6800 rpm plus torque peaking to 275 lb-ft at 4800 rpm. Shifter is the HM6L45 6-speed automatic.
Disc brakes for ATS install Brembo calipers on top trim grades. Brakes tie to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS) plus StabiliTrak skid controls.
The optional Driver Awareness Package adds safety features like a Safety Alert Seat, Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning and Side Blind Zone Alert. Additional optional safety equipment includes Full Speed Range Adaptive Cruise Control, Front and Rear Automatic Brakes and a Rear Vision Camera With Dynamic Guidelines.
Cadillac posts MSRPs starting at $33,095 for ATS 2.5L RWD Standard. Top trim ATS 3.6L AWD Premium goes to $47,795.