We're stopped in traffic when a clunker of a Corolla slots up on our right and comes to a stop. Odd behavior, really, as that lane has a green arrow, while our 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon is waiting at a red.
A horn blares and we look ahead. Still red. Shrug. Beeeep. Still red. Shrug. Beeeeeeeep. Our right window is still full of off-white Corolla, and we take note of the passenger, a kid of maybe 17. The driver is his girlfriend or his big sister, and either way he's reaching over and holding down the horn with his left hand and she doesn't stop him. Suddenly he's giving us the thumbs-down and orders his chauffeur down the ramp and onto the highway.
We signal right, kick the 304-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 into gear and rocket the CTS Sport Wagon after them. Not looking for trouble, mind you. It's just that this station wagon, Cadillac's first for North America, has lit a fire under this kid and we want to know why.
Are We There Yet?
The ramp is bone straight and we're pulling hard. When prodded, the DOHC, direct-injection, 3.6-liter V6 in this 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon revs slowly, even if it does make 304 hp at 6,400 rpm and 272 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm.
We've tested this engine before in the Buick Enclave and Chevy Camaro V6 and the sound it makes has been all intake drone, valvetrain thrash and clatter from the high-pressure injectors. In the CTS, however, there's but a subtle whir, and as the engine reaches its redline of 6,700 rpm, it's obvious that this Cadillac has undergone more NVH love than anything else from the GM lineup that cradles this motor.
This high-tech V6 is optional for the CTS Sport Wagon. Standard fare for the CTS Sport Wagon is a 270-hp 3.0-liter V6, while a 250-hp 2.9-liter V6 turbodiesel is in development for European and Asian markets.
If we were to keep our foot planted, we'd have traveled 1,320 feet in 15.1 seconds and Mr. and Ms. Corolla would have a mirror full of CTS going 93.3 mph. At least, they would if this roadway had the same surface as our test track and if such things weren't illegal. Instead 60 mph passes in 7.0 seconds (6.7 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), which is very reasonable quickness, but the Corolla is gone, lost in a sea of bland, sleepy sedans and lumbering SUVs on the freeway.
Are We There Yet?
With your right foot in the carpet, the 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon always responds the same way whether the transmission is in Normal, Sport or Manual mode. There's no tire scratch, just a strong whir with a slight pitch increase as the gears change. (Think of the sound of someone vacuuming in the apartment next to you.) At cruising speed, the fan for the air-cooled driver seat is louder than the engine note.
The six-speed Hydra-matic automatic is good. Shifts are imperceptible in automatic mode, and in manual mode it will hold a gear for as long as you want to abuse the engine. The buttons on the steering wheel that trigger the shifts are very similar to the ones on the automatic-equipped Chevy Camaro, and are far less offensive in a luxury wagon than they are in a muscle machine. Sport mode is a welcome feature in the CTS's transmission, but the internal logic seems lacking. All too often the transmission goes up a gear — or down two — for no good reason. It's irritating and jerky and makes us skip this altogether and use Manual mode when the need for shenanigans arises.
This car came equipped with the FE3 suspension (the most aggressive of the three available calibrations) and hyper-grippy 245/45ZR19 Continental ContiSportContact 3 tires. While the tires prevent dramatic oversteer (either accidental or intentional), they more than make up for this shortcoming (yes, such behavior is a shortcoming in our world) on our test track. A performance of 0.81g around our skid pad is more than enough cornering grip to compress all of your kids into a single, wriggling, screaming pile against the door. And if that's not enough for you, this thing rips through the slalom at 67.1 mph. That's 67.1 miles per hour, a speed that will get you a ticket on some highways, yet this station wagon can sustain it while weaving between cones.
Are We There Yet?
The 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon has the same rear-seat headroom measurement as the CTS sedan — 37.2 inches. This means that there's not a lot of it back there and twisting your frame past the awkward C-pillars behind the back door isn't fun, either. Full-size adults will wish for more room; taller people will wish they'd brought their own car. Anyone sitting in the middle spot, even for a few minutes, will never want to hang out with you again. The rear seats look cool, but their usage is limited.
We employed a team of test children for a brief ride, and complaints were constant and focused on the fact that there aren't enough power outlets. The seats are too deep. The seats are too hard. Can't see out the windows. Kate's touching me. It's hard to get into. Billy spilled cereal. It's bumpy. There's nowhere to keep our juice. It turns out that Bluetooth, iPod, 3D navigation, weather (kids love weather) and the hard drive are all reserved for front-seat passengers. But one of the test tweens was smitten with one rear-seat goodie, the Cadillac-badged Autonet WiFi system that's a dealer-installed option. It costs $499 for the box and installation and then an additional $29/month for the service itself.
All of us having had enough of that, we dropped the rear seats to create a flat load floor, opened the motorized hatch and filled the 58 cubic feet of empty space with 85 pounds of flat-coated retriever, our regulation test dog. He had very few complaints. The low load floor made for an easy jump-in-and-jump-out and there was ample space for him to turn around, stretch out and take a nap.
The dog was sleeping in the back, his head resting on a pile of stinky hiking boots, and as the hatch clicked itself closed, the purpose of this Art Deco wagon started to make some sense. The 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon gets good mileage (EPA-rated 26 mpg highway is estimated; we averaged 17.7 mpg combined); holds enough gear to have a fun weekend out at the park or beach; has available AWD (winter tires are a less expensive alternative and are available for the 19-inch wheels); and the Nivomat self-leveling rear shocks keep the ride controlled even with 300 pounds of test gear. For small and even potentially childless families on the go, there are few better places to spend a few hundred miles.
Don't Make Us Turn This Wagon Around
Dear Americans: Buy this car. It's not your Tahoe or Odyssey and it's not perfect, but that's the point. It looks like an architectural design project and drives like a stiff-legged European sedan. Don't think of this as a traditional wagon. It is not the successor to the 1991-'96 B-body Buick Roadmaster/Chevy Caprice wagon (a niche filled by the 2010 Cadillac SRX).
Instead, think of the 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon as a continuation of a car put on hiatus some 55 years ago. One of Harley Earl's dream cars, it was outlandish, gorgeous and by all measures impractical to all but a very specific audience; it was the 1954 Corvette "Waldorf" Nomad. In the way it combined a gentleman's sports car with a luxury car and even to its funny C-pillar that was wider at the top than at the base, the Nomad was the natural precursor to the CTS Sport Wagon.
So we've got a shot to buy something different — something functional and fun. It's a lifestyle wagon for those who could use a Subaru, but don't want to replace their cashmere sweaters with flannel button-ups. It's a new chapter in an old book and we hope it's one they keep writing.
As for that kid in the Corolla? Good job, Cadillac. It's easy to get thumbs-ups and friendly waves with new cars, but when you make tough kids hate you for no real reason, that's when you know you've arrived.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Executive Editor Michael Jordan says:
Well, you have to give them credit for even making the damn thing, really. While every other car company has wimped out, Cadillac is still making stuff that makes you hold your breath when you see it and when you drive it. (And we mean this in a good way.)
It's refreshing just to drive a CTS. There are cars that drive better than this Cadillac, but not many, and every CTS has a strong, lively personality that's far more enjoyable than almost anything else you see on the highway around you. Of course, this particular CTS of the wagon persuasion has way too much spring and tire under the fenders. Good test numbers are the result, but you'd have to be witless to drive around the choppy freeways of L.A. with such an aggressive setup.
Nevertheless, driving is the prime directive here. If you're thinking about the CTS wagon and hoping for some glorious SUV-size package magically reproduced inside a luxury sedan, then you should stand in line for your very own witless sign. All the greatness in this car is in the front seats and under the hood. Everything in back of you is just convenience, not a reason for being. It's a CTS first and a wagon second, and that's pretty much what I want a sport wagon to be.
The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2010 Cadillac CTS Wagon in WA is: