People love to give me their two cents about cars. It comes with the territory.

At a wedding not long ago, the bride's brother cornered me and asked if I had driven the ATS yet. He was simply agog.

Before I could answer "soon," the wide-grinned young man proceeded to tell me he'd taken it for a test drive and that he absolutely had to have one. "You're gonna love it," he said.

Two weeks later, the ATS landed in my driveway. I'll give him this: He wasn't wrong.

An all-new model from Cadillac this year, the ATS is sort of a slim, trim and slightly spunkier version of the CTS. But it is not born of the CTS; it has all its own underpinnings.

The ATS is nearly identical in dimensions to the BMW 3-Series. And that should be just a little concern for the folks at BMW.

Let's bypass the ATS base engine here, a 2.5-liter that leads the pack, barely, in economy but trails in performance. The next level up, however, the turbocharged 2.0-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine, is considerably more game. It puts out 70 more horses and nearly 70 more pound-feet of torque for an accommodating midrange burst.

Fuel economy is nearly the same, too, with an EPA-rated 22 mpg city, 32 highway. The 2.0 also is the only version that offers a manual gearbox.

For more muscle and louder growl, the top-out 321-horsepower V-6 is the way to go. The 3.6-liter accelerates strongly, getting to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds.

The ATS' suspension is firm enough for spirited performance in the Sport mode, yet handles the nastier side streets or construction-laden highway with finesse when you switch to Tour. Steering is light-weighted and enhanced with a small wheel.

Hop inside and you'll find a roomy front with good visibility. Materials have an elegant feel and look, with wood and metallic trim. But there's not much exciting about the instrument cluster. Seats are comfortable and sporty-looking, and there is adequate headroom and legroom. Powered bolsters keep you in snugly.

Beyond the ABS, traction and stability control, the ATS has front-seat side and knee air bags plus full-length side-curtain air bags. OnStar is standard here, offering roadside assistance and automatic crash notification. The ATS comes in four trim levels and, if you don't demand all the gadgets, you can be happy with the base: cruise control, automatic headlights, dual-zone climate, six-way power seats with lumbar adjustment, tilt/telescoping wheel and OnStar with 7-speaker Bose sound system.

The ATS is a fun, competitive driver, and it's ready to tackle nearly anything that spunky class-leader BMW has to dish out.



Base price: $33,095

Price as tested: $47,985

Base engine: 2.5 liter, four cylinder

Power: 202 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm

EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city, 32 highway

0 to 60: 5.7 seconds

Length: 182.8 inches

Height: 55.9 inches

Width: 71.1 inches

Cargo capacity: 10.2 cubic feet

Bottom line: BMW beware: the ATS is here!

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