Station wagons were once a common sight on American Roads, and virtually every U.S. car brand had one or more in their lineup. Wagons were built off sedan platforms, only with an extended roof and squared-off back end. It was a perfect vehicle for those who needed more cargo space than a standard trunk would offer. Families bought them in large numbers in the years after World War II when the rise of suburbia began, and frequent trips to the landscape nursery, hardware store and lumber yard were a Saturday ritual. And, of course, for packing up the wife, 2.3 kids, and dog, to travel across the country and see America.
|1. The CTS Sport Wagon is offered with either a 270-hp 3.0L V6 or a 304-hp 3.6L V6.
2. All trim levels are available as rear or all-wheel drive.
3. Cargo room is rated at 25 cu.-ft. behind the rear seats or a total of 58 cu.-ft. with those seats folded flat.
4. Pricing starts at $39,830 with top-levels, like our 3.6L Premium AWD tester, toping out at $53,620.
The downfall of the trusty station wagon began in the early ‘80’s when a struggling Chrysler Corporation introduced the Mini-van, helping to save the automaker, and transforming our ideas about family vehicles. The mini-van did everything the station wagon could do and much more, (except drive like a car) and became the first “utility vehicle.”
Not long after, truck based vehicles were modified and gentrified, and were marketed as “sport utility vehicles.” And soon the new trucks became almost a fashion statement for suburban moms and dads who liked the high seating position and rugged image that SUVs provided, and the cheap gas supply didn’t cause concern about poor gas mileage. So the station wagon went the way of the buggy whip.
In the last decade, “crossover vehicles” have become the new station wagon. The truck chassis were replaced by car chassis, and the vehicles kept the tall stature for high seating positions, more bold truck-like styling cues, but received the creature comforts of sedans, and their more car-like ride quality and handling. And now, crossovers come in almost every size and shape, and from almost every manufacturer, including sports car icon, Porsche. It wouldn’t surprise me anymore if even Ferrari or Lamborghini got into the game.
In the last few years, however, the true station wagon – meaning a production sedan with an extended roof and liftgate – has made a small comeback here in the states. Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi all have traditional wagons in their lineup. While the total market in the U.S. is estimated to be a meager 30,000 vehicles each year, traditional station wagons have remained wildly popular in Europe, where gasoline prices are high and gas mileage is very important. So the three German manufacturers mentioned have all enjoyed strong sales there and import those models here.
But now Cadillac has entered the station wagon fray, and while they don’t expect sales to explode here, they do want a share of the roughly 250,000 units that sell each year overseas, where Cadillac is making strong inroads in the global marketplace. And with the CTS being its most successful selling model, it was a natural to receive the wagon treatment.
DELIVERS AS PROMISED WITH SPORTS SEDAN PERFORMANCE, EXTRA CARGO ROOM
I got to spend a week with the all-wheel drive version of the mid-size CTS hauler, and I was impressed with the vehicle, just as I was with the sedan version. It’s really no surprise, because it’s basically the same as the sedan, except for the extended roofline and rear hatch. The wagon adds some weight, but it’s mostly over the rear wheels, which gives the wagon a better weight distribution, so it’s even more balanced than the sedan model. And that balance is appreciated when you feel like driving the CTS Sport Wagon aggressively on a challenging road. You won’t feel the high center of gravity or excessive body lean that a true SUV or crossover delivers, but a hunkered down, sure-footed sport sedan that is ready to take on the twisties with ease… and yes, even some driving excitement!
While a driver can marvel about how a crossover can almost approximate the handling of a car, with the Sport Wagon, there are no compromises – you get true sports sedan handling. The ZF Servotronic power rack and pinion steering provides excellent steering response, and the Premium AWD model comes standard with an independent performance suspension, and 18-inch polished aluminum wheels with all season tires. Traction control and Stabilitrak are always on the job. So you can drive the Sport Wagon hard into a corner, and feel it track smoothly to the apex, and power it out to the next turn with ease and with a smile on your face.
When relaxed cruising is the order of the day, you’ll find the wagon to be very quiet, with little mechanical noise form the engine and drivetrain, and no discernable wind noise. The ride quality on the interstate is luxury smooth, and even the sport suspension is well mannered over potholes and broken pavement.
TOP LEVEL V6 DELIVERS 304-HP
My test car came with the optional 3.6-liter V6 direct-injection motor, which puts out 304-hp and 273 ft-lbs of torque. That’s up from 270-hp and 223 ft-lbs on the base models. Full EPA fuel mileage estimates are not yet available, but Cadillac does expect a gas mileage rating of 18-mpg city and 26-mpg highway for 3.6-liter RWD models – so AWD models should be slightly less.
As for acceleration, those power numbers are good enough to scoot the CTS wagon to 60 mph in 7 seconds. A sporty 6-speed manu-matic transmission is standard and lets you play boy racer if you feel like rowing through the gears yourself.
And while this CTS has all the juice in the “go-pedal,” it also pays attention to the “whoa-pedal,” with large, powerful 4-disc ABS brakes that offer excellent feel. In short – it’s a driver’s car. And by the way, if you feel like hauling some cargo, you’ll almost double the carrying capacity of the sedan’s trunk with 25 cu.-ft. behind the rear seats and 58 cu.-ft. with the rear seats folded.
MODERN AND STYLISH INSIDE AND OUT WITH JUST A HINT OF RETRO FLARE
Since the front of the Sport Wagon is the same as the sedan, the styling is crisp and creased. The back end gets a unique styling treatment with long, slim, slivers of tail lights that run from the top of the car to the bumper, and is somewhat reminiscent of the famous Cadillac tail fins of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Chrome moldings outline the windows, and chrome strips highlight the roofline and disguise the roof rack rails. The profile is long, low, rakish, and sleek looking. The Sport Wagon is handsome from any angle, and nobody will ever mistake this Cadillac for a hearse.
The interior is stylish, classy and not overly busy. The dash has wood trim, along with the doors, steering wheel and shift knob, and the right amount of chrome accents can be seen on the bezels of the three gauges in front of the driver, outlining the heat vents, and judiciously sprinkled throughout the cabin. It’s actually quite nice to see more chrome coming back into car interiors.
All controls are easy to use and well laid-out on the dash and center stack, and the interior switches are very well lit for night driving. You can leave the key fob in your pocket to open the doors and to start the car. The perforated leather seats are very comfortable, 10-way adjustable, and are both cooled and heated for comfort year round. There are memory settings for the seats, and they can be programmed to retract (along with the power tilt and telescope steering wheel) when you shut the car for easy in and out.
The rear seats are nicely contoured for comfort and there is good head and legroom for two adults. The middle seat is small, and the transmission hump robs legroom, so it’s best used for a child. The rear seatbacks split 60/40, and leave a flat floor for cargo. The cargo bed has handsome trim rails for adjusting a cargo net to meet many needs, and is nicely carpeted. There’s also a removable cargo screen to keep prying eyes from seeing what you’re carrying back there. And the liftgate is electric and can be programmed to open at full height or three-quarters height, in case one has limited clearance in the garage.
PREMIUM MODEL FULLY OPTIONED OUT
Also standard on the Premium model is a large dual section moonroof. The front section slides open or tilts, and the rear section provides the back seat passengers with light and a view of the sky. An electric sunshade is made from an opaque material that will block out the warm sun, but still allow some light into the cabin when closed. The 10-speaker, CD/DVD/MP3, Bose sound system is excellent, and is Satellite ready.
The only thing I didn’t like was the standard Navigation System. I found it hard to program addresses into the address book, and it wouldn’t even accept my daughter’s address in the city of Chicago. Unless you go to the split screen view, you don’t get to see what radio station you’re listening to, and the information offerings on the screen are limited. That was a big disappointment since a few weeks earlier I had a GMC Yukon Denali that had an excellent Nav system. For once, I’m lamenting that GM didn’t share something across its products.
The CTS Sport Wagons start at just under $40,000, which is about $3,000 more than the sedan. The top of the line 3.6L Premium AWD model that I tested stickers for $53,620. The only extra on the test car was the $995 Blue Diamond Tricoat paint. But don’t bother looking for a long option list to check off; the Premium model comes loaded and outside of the dealer installed rear passenger DVD screen, the only options are things like roof rack crossbars and all weather floor mats.
This is a great car that offers luxury and honest-to-goodness driving excitement in a mid-size package while simultaneously allowing you to haul some cargo when you need to. And with gas mileage of 18/26 mpg, you won’t need to stop at the gas station every other day. Plus, it’s a luxury car that doesn’t require premium fuel!
I think that more people can use this vehicle, and would enjoy this vehicle, rather than a crossover or SUV. But I’m afraid that few Americans will buy this vehicle, opting instead for more traditional luxury crossovers – luckily Cadillac also launched one of those (the 2010 SRX) this year.
When it comes to station wagons, the Europeans have the right idea and follow-through. Cadillac’s new Sport Wagon offering is right on target and when you look at the price it’s the winner of the bunch.
Sadly, not to many folks are likely to take notice on this side of the pond, but Cadillac should win over quite a lot of followers in Europe.