The ATS has safety cred, too, with its across-the-board, five-out-of-five-stars safety rating in federal government crash testing.
Another highlight: The ATS is competitively priced. Starting retail price is $33,990 for a base, rear-wheel drive, 2013 ATS; that's $545 more than the starting retail price of $33,445 for a 2013 BMW 320i.
The ATS' base engine — a naturally aspirated, 202 horsepower four cylinder that comes with standard six-speed automatic — compares with the base, 180-horsepower, twin-turbocharged four cylinder that's in the 2013 320i. The 320i base engine is available with a six-speed manual or eight-speed Steptronic automatic.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels and leather-like seat trim, but not real leather.
A turbocharged four cylinder is among the three engine offerings of the ATS. In fact, the ATS' 282-horsepower, turbocharged, four cylinder, with six-speed automatic, provides the lowest starting retail price for an all-wheel drive ATS, at $37,795. This mid-range engine also is the only one that offers a six-speed manual transmission in the ATS.
The most powerful ATS engine is the 321-horsepower, direct-injection V-6 that was in the test car. Starting retail price for a V-6-powered ATS is just over $42,000.
On the outside, the ATS has a refined quality as the chiseled edges of Cadillac's longstanding angular design have been eroded nicely.
Also not overlooked was the compact size of the ATS. At 15.2 feet long, from bumper to bumper, it's about the same overall length as a 3-Series sedan.
The size, plus easy, variable assist, electric power steering, made for nimble turns in tight spots and effortless entry into compact-sized parking spaces.
Front brakes on all ATS models are Brembo performance units and worked great on the test car to slow and solidly stop the car, with no fade. Even the feel of the brake pedal and the comfortably progressive brake force were impressive in this Cadillac.
Power came on strongly from the 3.6-liter, double overhead cam, direct injection V-6, and engine sounds during acceleration came up in volume and pitch perfectly. This is the same engine that's in the CTS, by the way.
Shifts from the updated six-speed automatic in the ATS were noticeable but not obtrusive, and while paddle shifters were on the steering wheel, the automatic worked quick shifts easily on its own.
Torque peaks at 275 foot-pounds at a high 4,800 rpm, so acceleration isn't as forceful as it can be in the A4 with 211 foot-pounds coming on at a low 1,500 rpm.
Still, the ATS weight, which ranges from a slight 3,300 pounds to just over 3,600 pounds, depending on powertrain and whether the car is rear- or all-wheel drive, makes for a sprightly performance.
The ATS isn't a fuel miser. The tester with V-6 averaged a ho-hum 20 miles per gallon in admittedly spirited driving. The federal government estimate for this model was 18 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.
The ATS' shortcomings are few. The Cue system can be frustrating to learn, and sometimes the touch-sensitive controls are baffling.
Plus, when the display screen goes dark, fingerprints become visible and unsightly.
The back seat can feel cramped for tall passengers, with only 33.5 inches of legroom.
2013 Cadillac ATS 3.6L Performance AWDBASE PRICE: $33,095 for 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Standard RWD; $34,900 for 2-liter turbo Standard RWD; $36,900 for 2-liter turbo Standard AWD; $37,590 for 2.5-liter Luxury RWD; $39,395 for 2-liter turbo Luxury RWD; $41,195 for 3.5-liter Luxury RWD; $41,895 for 2-liter turbo Performance RWD; $43,695 for 3.6-liter Performance RWD; $45,695 for 3.6-liter Performance AWD.
PRICE AS TESTED: $48,695.
TYPE: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive, five-passenger, compact, luxury performance sedan.
ENGINE: 3.6-liter, double overhead cam, direct-injection V-6 with CVVT.
MILEAGE: 19 mpg (city), 28 mpg (highway).
OPTIONS: 18-inch, machined-finish, aluminum wheels $800; navigation system $795; cold weather package (includes driver and front-passenger heated seats and heated steering wheel) $600.
DESTINATION CHARGE: $895.