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This is the Cadillac ATS, the brand’s first foray into the entry-level compact saloon segment since the truly horrid Cadillac Cimarron of the early 1980s.

Cadillac is working up a wide range of new offerings — including an all-new flagship based on the delicious Ciel concept — but this down-market saloon is the product likely to provide the foundation for any Cadillac comeback.

Cadillac still sees itself as the ‘standard of the world’, although that really hasn’t described Cadillac since the days of its finned land yachts. But after years watching its European (primarily German) competitors redefine the luxury segment, Caddy is finally determined to challenge the status quo. Could this be the car to do just that?

The new ATS isn’t a badge-engineered Chevrolet but a handsome, surprisingly competent saloon largely achieving everything it set out to do. Its biggest flaw is the image of the Cadillac brand itself. 

The look of the ATS will be familiar to anyone who has followed Cadillac since the CTS introduced us to the Art and Science design language a decade ago. Though 215mm shorter than that car, the compact model maintains the basic angular look, albeit a little less edgy and slab-sided than its bigger brother. There is also a swooping coupé which is up against the BMW 4 Series and Audi A5.

Perhaps the most notable detail is the fact that the ATS weighs in at just 1530kg for the base 2.5-litre car. That's substantially less than the CTS and nearly 68kg under the BMW 330i, despite being within 25mm of the Bavarian sedan’s dimensions in every direction.

'Lightweighting' was a key goal for the ATS engineering team and a key reason they got their own new platform, internally known as Alpha. The good news is that by using advanced adhesives and welding techniques instead of shoring the chassis up with brackets, the ATS is both light and rigid – which became abundantly clear during a long afternoon at the Atlanta Motorsports Park.

Inside, the new saloon is far more refined than might be expected in this segment. Traditional luxury details, such as chrome and carbonfibre accents, are complemented by a range of hi-tech features including the new Cadillac Cue system, arguably the most user-friendly infotainment system on the market.

There are four coupé trims - ATS coupé, Luxury, Premium Luxury and Premium Performance. Entry-level models get 18in alloy wheels, a Brembo braking system, keyless entry, a reversing camera, and Cadillac's 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav, Bluetooth, smartphone integration, OnStar and a Bose sound system. 

Upgrading to Luxury adorns the ATS with performance leather seats, adaptive headlights and parking sensors, while Premium Luxury gets you heated seats and steering wheel, automatic wipers, lane departure warning, forward collision alert and rear cross traffic alert as standard. The range-topping Premium Performance model gains sports suspension, a head-up display, active dampers and run-flat tyres.

The saloon gets 17in alloys, a Brembo braking system, a Bose stereo, a reversing camera and Cadillac's infotainment system as standard. The mid-range Luxury model adds electrically adjustable and heated front seats, leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, 17in alloy wheels and sat nav, while the range-topper Premium Luxury gains a mechanical limited slip differential, 18in alloy wheels, adaptive headlights, a sunroof, sports seats and magnesium paddle shifters.

In US trim there are three powertrains. The base 2.0-litre turbo punches out 272bhp, while the range-topping 3.6-litre V6 is available in two variants in 335bhp and ATS-V 464bhp form. Both engines are also available with either the rear-wheels driven or all four, except the sporty V model which is exclusively RWD. 

On the road, the Cadillac ATS proves well planted and responsive. Its electric power steering delivers a solid sense of the road with just the right level of assistance. It can be dialled down even more in Sport Mode, which also tightens the suspension and modified shift patterns.

The tight handling and minimal body roll encouraged us to shave tenths and even full seconds off our lap times with each run. Clearly, all that focus on cutting weight and increasing body rigidity has paid off. 

The question is whether potential buyers will even notice that the ATS is there. It’s been a long time since Cadillac played in this segment and its history in it hasn’t exactly been good.

It’s likely to take some time to build up a portfolio of positive reviews and good word-of-mouth before Cadillac can land on prospects’ shopping list. But we were impressed, and think potential customers will be, too.

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