The test CTS was equipped with the optional Performance Package, which adds an even stiffer sport-tuned suspension, along with 19-inch polished aluminum wheels, Continental ContiSportContact summer performance rubber, steering-wheel shift controls, and an upgraded cooling system and performance brakes. The CTS-V, on the other hand, comes with the most excellent Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) system (not available on other CTS models), allowing plush ride comfort while tightening up in milliseconds when needed. For those with a bigger budget, a CTS-V Wagon is on the way later this year.
Understated, but quick
Base, Luxury, and Performance trims of the CTS Wagon come with a 270-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6, while the Performance and Premium trims can be had with a 304-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 that has nearly the same EPA fuel economy. Our Premium model had that larger engine, which is remarkably understated at first drive if you're not determined to wring it out. But the first time you step on it—especially when passing—it'll surprise you. The main reason behind that stealth is that the throttle is quite linear; it's not artificially boosted just as you tip into the gas pedal like in many new vehicles. The new CTS Wagon isn't downright quick off the line, but it picks up steam with revs and sounds great.
Peg the accelerator to the floor from a standing start and the CTS doesn't lose much composure; it just hunkers down and goes, becoming much more inspired as the revs build. The engine is truly in its sweet spot when it's singing its BMW-like song at full throttle in the 4,000 to 6,000 rpm range.
Shifts can be commanded with buttons on the back of the steering wheel, which you'll definitely want to do when the road turns curvy as the transmission has a tendency to quickly run up to one of the highest gears and lug along.
That said, fuel economy was a little disappointing, to be totally honest, and we weren't playing street-racer the whole time. We observed less than 17 mpg in a week and about 130 miles—admittedly, most of it in suburban boulevard-style errands and rather short trips. To get an idea of what its highway mileage is, we drove about ten miles of relatively level highway driving at 70 mph or so, zeroed out the trip computer, and saw just 23 mpg.
Fit for the highway
Another very noteworthy thing about the CTS Wagon—for anyone who's ever extensively driven or owned a wagon, hatchback, or even crossover ute—is that it's quiet. The 2010 CTS Wagon is surprisingly well isolated from road and wind noise. At 70 mpg, you hear the faint hum of the engine and on smooth surfaces very little else. Coarse surfaces bring out a little hum, but it's nothing like other wagons and the sportier crossovers.
We really regret not having the CTS Wagon during a time when we had to cover lots of high-speed Interstate as this wagon seems to settle into an Autobahn-style cruise with the best of 'em. The steering stays sharp and on the ready yet hefty and steady enough on center to avoid any wandering, and the ride feels supple and just absorbent enough. Tear off on a backroad, and you'll still be happy with the steering; it responds precisely to tight corners, with some feel from the road surface even, and unwinds nicely. The only thing we didn't like as much was its rather heavy feel when cruising for parking.
Brakes are strong and feel about perfect, with a nice, firm pedal feel that's easy to modulate whether inching along in traffic or hauling speed down for a sudden freeway snag.