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Handsome styling, sharp handling, generous cargo capacity.
Stiff ride with optional Performance package, rear seats uncomfortable for taller adults, not as engaging to drive as some rivals.
Published: 01/28/2010 - by John DiPietro, Automotive Editor
When it comes to wagons, those made stateside have historically tended to be looked down upon, while those made in Europe are held in high regard. That may have something to do with the stereotype commonly held regarding domestic wagons: Many expect them to be large, lazy-handling beasts festooned with fake wood paneling — the kind driven by Clark Griswold in National Lampoon's Vacation. The 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon should help put that thinking to rest. With its rakish good looks and athletic personality, it's as far removed from the American wagons of yore as Brad Pitt is from Chevy Chase.
However, we would advise Griswold — or anybody considering the CTS Sport Wagon, for that matter — to skip the optional Performance package, since it includes a suspension so stiff it'd make an old Corvette proud. With that said, the CTS Sport Wagon offers all the goodness of the CTS sedan, including spirited performance, a handsome cabin packed with user-friendly luxury features and an overall size that's probably just right for most shoppers in this segment. And of course it has a far more generous cargo hold.
Still, a few of the 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon's rivals best it in a couple of respects. The BMW 535i xDrive wagon offers a more engaging driving experience, along with a more comfortable backseat. But this Bimmer only comes in all-wheel-drive form and lists for a couple grand more than the top-of-the-line CTS Premium AWD Sport Wagon. If we were considering a lower trim level of the Caddy wagon, we'd also look at the Audi A4 Avant, the BMW 328i wagon, and maybe even a sporty crossover, such as the Audi Q5 or Infiniti FX35.
So yes, we would cross-shop some European wagons, but the fact that the CTS can proudly hold its head up high in this group says something, something that couldn't be said way back when. If you'd like some brash yet classy American style in your sporty station wagon, then the CTS Sport Wagon will likely bring you as much joy as a trip to Wally World. When it's open, that is.
The Premium version of the CTS Sport Wagon comes equipped with the more powerful of the two V6 engines offered in the CTS lineup, that being the 3.6-liter V6 with 304 horsepower. The only transmission choice is the six-speed automatic — unlike the sedan, the wagon isn't available with a manual gearbox, though for most consumers we're sure this will be a non-issue. Taxed with hustling more than 2 tons of luxury wagon, the 3.6 provides fairly energetic performance, getting the CTS Sport Wagon to 60 mph in 7 seconds flat and through the quarter-mile in 15.1 seconds. Though generally quick, that time still lags that of some others in this segment. An Audi A4 Avant 2.0T, for example, can sprint to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds and run down the quarter-mile in 14.6.
The CTS's transmission is what we call a tri-mode, offering automatic, sport automatic and manual-shift modes. In automatic mode it's a smooth operator that's reluctant to kick down a gear when you want more juice unless you give it the boot (ostensibly, its reluctance to downshift exists to optimize fuel economy). In Sport mode, it's too much the other way, downshifting eagerly but holding onto the lower gears too long. While running through a curvy mountain road, it resolutely remained in 2nd gear after we came out of the twisty section and onto a long straightaway, screaming along at high rpm when it could've upshifted to 3rd. Manual mode, worked via a pair of buttons on the backside of the steering wheel, was about average in operation, meaning it reacted fairly quickly to a downshift call, but had a noticeable delay when you hit the button to upshift.
Within the sport-sedan class, a stop from 60 mph in less than 120 feet is considered pretty good. This CTS wagon did the deed in 118 feet, an impressive performance given the wagon's 300 additional pounds of curb weight over the CTS sedan. There was no fade noted at the track during back-to-back panic stops, and the pedal provided an easily modulated, progressive action during normal driving.
We've raved about the previously tested CTS sedan's excellent ride and handling balance, and the same can be said of this wagon. Handling was hard to fault, with quick, precise steering (albeit without much road feel) and a flat, composed attitude through quick transitions.
Well-bolstered and generously padded, the front seats of our test car provided comfort on longer trips and support during aggressive cornering. The power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel's generous range of adjustment allowed each of our staffers — who range in height from about 5-feet-1 to more than 6 feet — to find an ideal driving position. Both the seat heaters and coolers were powerful, warming us up quickly on chilly mornings and preventing sweaty-back syndrome while driving home on sunny afternoons.
In back, it's another story. The rear seat may look inviting, and for smaller folks it's fine. But bigger staffers (5-feet-10 and up) complained that although legroom is ample, the short seat cushion and aggressive outboard side bolsters made for a somewhat pinched, uncomfortable perch.
Equipped with the optional Performance package that includes a firmer suspension, our test car's ride was just too darn stiff. Around town, when bombarded with broken pavement and potholes, the CTS Sport Wagon gave us a bumpy ride that was seriously out of character for a car wearing the wreath and crest. Though this package also includes some enticing features such as xenon headlights and 19-inch alloy wheels (versus the standard 18s), we'd suggest skipping it and enjoying a more supple ride along with still-respectable handling capability.
For a car fitted with so many luxury features (navigation system, seat heaters/coolers, dual-zone automatic climate control), the CTS Sport Wagon is easy to acclimate to. The audio system features a pair of tried-and-true knobs for power/volume and tuning, while the individual temperature controls are angled toward the driver and passenger. An analog clock sits up high, and even though the center stack has various like-shaped buttons, they are grouped logically. The nav system is simple to use and also features traffic reporting along with rerouting options. The cheeky rear roof pillars hinder vision to the rear quarters, but the Premium comes with a reverse park-assist system and a back-up camera that make parking a snap.
With the rear seats up, the Sport Wagon provides 25 cubic feet of cargo space — that's more than an A4 Avant and about the same as an FX35. Flip them down and you'll have 58 cubes, which is 7 cubes more than you'll find in the A4 and 4 cubes shy of the FX35's maximum. Notably, the cargo floor is dead flat when the seats are down and features adjustable tie-downs on either side.
The Sport Wagon mostly boasts the same clean, chiseled lines as the sedan, and even with the wagon roof line still manages to have a jaunty, sporty presence. Though the rearmost side window is canted aggressively, the trailing edge of the roof line is more vertical, which optimizes cargo room. The stacked headlights and large egg-crate grille — both part of Caddy's newest design language — work well here, and the car's proportions are spot-on. Somehow the CTS Sport Wagon manages to look lower and sleeker than an equally long but taller crossover, while providing nearly identical passenger and cargo space.
The cabin design is likewise a feather in the CTS's cap, an interesting mix of textures and shapes arranged in a cohesive manner. The materials are mostly quality pieces, with just a few minor missteps. Lustrous wood accents abound, and nearly the whole dash top is covered in handsomely stitched, soft-touch vinyl, though the hood over the instruments is hard plastic. Overall fit and finish is very good.
If you're a casual driving enthusiast who wants a wagon with a decidedly new-age Cadillac flavor — that is to say not subtle yet not overdone — the CTS Sport Wagon should offer strong appeal. If you demand a more involving drive from your set of wheels, then we'd strongly suggest back-to-back test-drives with the rivals mentioned earlier.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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