DETROIT – General Motors gets a jump on the North American International Auto Show here by unveiling on Sunday the new-for-’12 Cadillac ATS, a much-anticipated small performance sedan aimed at taking on German rivals in the high-volume entry-luxury segment.

Shouldered by an all-new lightweight architecture, the ATS tips the scales at a competitive 3,400 lbs. (1,542 kg) and boasts a trio of punchy powertrains, edgy Cadillac-brand exterior styling and a sporty, high-tech interior.

The ATS goes on sale in the U.S. and other global markets beginning this summer. Pricing has not been released.

“Designed with quick, nimble and fun-to-drive dynamics, ATS expands Cadillac’s portfolio into a crucial global segment,” says Don Butler, vice president-marketing for Cadillac.

“For a new group of luxury consumers, this is a car that will fit their lifestyle and challenge the segment’s status quo,” he says in a statement ahead of the car’s reveal.

Cadillac looks to the ATS to solve a longtime dilemma and sidestep a more recent obstacle to the 110-year-old brand’s comeback.

Unlike luxury-segment rivals BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, Cadillac never has had a competitive small sports sedan to give it volume sales on a global basis.

And while the CTS midsize sports sedan’s ’08 redesign punctuated the brand’s return to credibility, Cadillac lacked an entry-level vehicle to conquer new buyers crucial to sustaining its renaissance.

Underscoring the ATS’s importance to Cadillac’s global aspirations, the car was validated over hours of testing at the famous Nurburgring test track in Germany, as well as other facilities around the world. 

The car received particularly close attention from GM North America President Mark Reuss. An engineer by training with Nurburgring testing certification, Reuss took numerous stints behind the wheel during its development in the U.S. and Germany.

GM brings to the ATS market an all-new rear-wheel-drive architecture known as Alpha. All-wheel drive will be available.

A premium was placed on making the ATS’s platform lightweight, with engineers slicing every possible gram of mass out by seeking the lightest parts alternatives, the auto maker says.

Key lightweight components include an aluminum hood, magnesium engine-mount brackets and natural-fiber door-trim panels.

The ATS’s front suspension features a MacPherson-type setup with a direct-acting stabilizer bar, while the rear receives a 5-link independent design.

GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, which uses hydraulic fluid to instantly adjust the suspension to the roadway, will be made available on up-level trim packages.

Engineers struck an optimum 51/49 weight distribution between the front and rear of the vehicle.

The ATS receives a belt-driven electronic power-steering system from supplier ZF, and 4-channel antilock brakes with available Brembo performance calipers.

Power comes via a pair of 4-cyl. engines and one of GM’s workhorse V-6 mills.

Base models feature the auto maker’s all-new 2.5L 4-cyl. engine, a powerplant making 200 hp and 188 lb.-ft. of torque (255 Nm). Featuring technology such as direct-injection and variable-valve timing, the mill represents the next generation of GM’s 2.4L 4-cyl. engine architecture, a Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner.

Engine options include an all-new 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. for top-of-the-range models. As with the 2.5L, the ATS bears the first application of GM’s new 2.0L turbo, which makes 270 hp and 260 lb.-ft. (353 Nm) of torque and also benefits from DI and VVT.

GM’s tried-and-true 3.6L V-6 engine, which marked the auto maker’s first foray into modern DI technology when it bowed in the ’08 CTS and now does duty in cars and CUVs, completes the lineup. In the ATS the 3.6L, also a Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner, makes 318 hp and 267 (362 Nm) lb.-ft. of torque.

The engines will match with 6-speed manual and automatic transmissions. Fuel economy estimates have not been published.

The exterior design of the ATS carries forward the brand’s Art & Science design philosophy, a collection of styling cues credited with aiding Cadillac’s return from irrelevancy.

The car is long and wide, with its wheels pushed to the corners, and wrapped in sharply creased sheet metal. The familiar Cadillac vertical lighting elements are present, although they feature a new light-emitting-diode design.

Wheel and tire sizes include 17-in. and 18-in. of painted, polished and machined varieties, with both all-season and performance rubber available.

The interior is designed to maximize the driving experience, GM says. The pedals and shifter are logically placed for performance driving; seats include the power bolsters now popular in the segment for maximum lateral support.

Cadillac’s new CUE entertainment and information system highlights technology inside the cabin. CUE can pair with nearly a dozen different mobile devices to control multimedia, but significantly reduces the complexity of such systems with just four control buttons. A dash-mounted, 8-in. (20-cm) liquid-crystal-display touchscreen serves as the CUE’s central unit.

Bose-brand audio hardware appears in all models and a navigation system is available.

GM outfits the ATS with a number of cutting-edge safety technologies, such as forward-collision alert; brake assist and automatic brake pre-fill in anticipation of a collision; rear-vision camera with dynamic guidelines; and adaptive forward lighting.

GM pulls the cover off the ATS at the College for Creative Studies here, a world-renowned transportation design school in Detroit. The event is being staged in an auditorium that once was part of GM world headquarters, where legendary designer Harley Earl kept his office.

jamend@wardsauto.com