Driven: 2010 Cadillac CTS Wagon

March 9, 2010
The Cadillac CTS Wagon offers just as much, if not more, day-to-day utility as most SUVs or crossovers while being a heckuvalot more fun to drive.

It's easy to feel like an old nag when saying this, because nearly all of the High Gear Media editorial staff, and nearly every new-car reviewer and critic in the U.S., has been arguing this about sport wagons for more than a decade.

And yet real car shoppers don't seem to listen.

Wagons—even the really great wagons like the CTS—still sell in very low volumes. It's gotten so bad that BMW, one of the companies from which we've come to expect sport wagons, is thinking about passing on its Touring (wagon) body style for its new 2011 BMW 5-Series this time around, now that the all-new 2011 5-Series GT fastback is available. Why? The 5-Series wagon has been selling at a rate of well under 1,000 a year, before the GT arrived. We don't blame them.

So at the risk of preaching to the choir, we'll try it again: The 2010 Cadillac CTS Wagon has everything we love about the CTS sedan, only in an even better, more useful and, dare we say, more attractive package.

Better looking than the sedan?

Just as in the CTS sedan, we like the sparing use of chrome in the grille, and the contrast between gray plastic and chrome vertical accents with the chrome Cadillac wreath. And the swept-up-and-back headlamps are still almost mesmerizing in their detail. While the sedan looks a little too boxy and high-tailed to some eyes, the angular-ness of the Wagon's taillights and back end—especially the way the back lights come to a tip at the top—seem to better fit the front-end cues. And there's a great contrast in the way the plentiful fine details in front and in back volley with the deliciously neat and uncluttered side profile.

We did notice one curious, counterintuitive thing about the CTS Wagon almost right away: It doesn't ride nearly as well as the super-high-performance CTS-V sport sedan this reviewer drove just a couple of months prior to our time with the Wagon. We weren't nearly as happy either with the support from the seats in this test car as we were with the snug Recaro sport buckets in the CTS-V.

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.

The instrument panel is identical to that of the CTS sedan, thankfully, and the interior materials are just as premium looking and well fitted. The fit and finish of the CTS controls and interior trim pieces is about perfect, the soft stitched dash surface feels like more than just an appliqué, and we couldn't find a creak or rattle in the place. The Sapele wood trim in CTS Premium test car was a great pairing with the matte-metallic and gray hues that line the lower dash and doors.

Tight backseat, awesome cargo space

Just as in the sedan, we're not so fond of how low the climate-control display is from the line of vision, but that's a minor quibble. A more significant quibble is the CTS Wagon's surprising lack of backseat legroom. If you have taller adults to fit both in the front seat and in back at the same time, someone's not going to be happy. Also, the dull, hard plastic used at the back of the front seats and the rear of the center console is hardly inspiring for rear passengers.

The cargo floor is perfectly flat and quite low (wide, too), with a low sill and huge hatch opening for easy loading. And even with the back seats in the up position, there's lots of cargo space, along with anchor points and a small recessed area with a cargo net.

Really, it's all the space you'd get in a crossover, but at an easier load height. And we told you about the handling?

An automaker official recently mused that the only people who actually buy sport wagons are those who work for the automaker, automotive journalists, and a very narrow band of enthusiasts. Sad as it might be, he said, it's barely enough to justify a separate body style.

Come on. Please prove 'em wrong.

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