Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon — A smart American anomaly

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Europeans have held a monopoly on mid-sized luxury wagons in the U.S. for the past decade. There’s certainly little to criticize in the European offerings such as the BMW 5-Series Touring and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon. They offer first-class luxury transportation.

Europeans seem to embrace the wagon concept while North Americans ignore it in big numbers. Wagons have been relegated to the pages of history in North America giving way to SUVs and crossover sport utilities. So it is not surprising that American manufacturers have sporadically stepped up to the plate to build a wagon.

But wagons — or whatever term is now politically correct — are very useful commodities. We were disappointed when Dodge gave up on the Magnum. Now Cadillac has stepped into the fray with a home-grown luxury version with the creation of the 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon.

Basically an extension of the highly regarded mid-sized CTS sedan, it’s boldly stylish, fun to drive and cargo friendly; and we think it will win over a share of American buyers who had been considering a BMW, Mercedes, Audi or Volvo.

Unless you pull a weekend toy or need room for more than four people on a regular basis, why give up the performance, handling, gas mileage and eye-catching styling of a car to get increased cargo space?

The new Cadillac Sport Wagon is basically the CTS with a high roof line, and that’s a good thing because the current generation CTS is one of the best luxury cars to come out of Detroit in years. The latest CTS iteration, which arrived for the 2008 model year, is world class in many ways, and the wagon retains all of the sedan’s good points while offering 25 cubic feet of luggage capacity (the sedan trunk holds 13.6 cubic feet of stuff) and 58 cubic feet of cargo-carrying capacity with the rear seats folded.

Utility alone is enough to win us over — the sport wagon over the sedan. The CTS in either configuration is an irresistible combination of cutting-edge power and handling with a considerably upgraded interior over the first generation, and in-your-face styling that takes on a more mature stance.

From the side the CTS has an appealing raked European look with short front and rear overhangs. The wagon roof extends to a fastback D-pillar and power tailgate. Vertical taillights sweep from the roof down to the bumper flanking the tailgate.

To our eye, the controversial portion of the styling is with the bulky looking front-end treatment consisting of large headlamp enclosures and the expansive, familiar Cadillac egg-crate grille. When it appears in your rearview mirror you will take notice.

You’ll take notice behind the wheel, too, particularly in the optional 3.6-liter direct-injection V-6 version that pumps out 304 convincing horsepower. It’s tasked to move about 200 extra pounds in the wagon and suffers a bit in performance comparison with the sedan, but can still complete a 0-to-60 run in the upper ranges of six seconds.

The new direct injection engine mated to perhaps the slickest shifting six-speed automatic in the General Motors kingdom, feels good from a standstill into triple digits. And the automatic can be shifted manually for those who want to take the tachometer up to redline. Fuel economy is middle of the road for a 4,212- pound vehicle, at 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. All-wheel drive is available in all trim levels and with both engines for about $1,900.

Besides the excellent driving dynamics, enjoyment of the sport wagon comes from the interior surroundings, one of the best renditions of a modern cockpit in American passenger car history. Higher quality plastics flow nicely together with heavily stitched leather on the dashboard and door panels. The navigation screen fits neatly into the dash and pops out on command. When not in use as a navigation system, the top inch is visible for the audio display, one of the coolest ideas in the luxury ranks.

A satin aluminum finished center stack houses a classy looking analog clock, and audio and climate controls. There are numerous look-alike black buttons, but generally the layout is fairly intuitive. Bright metallic accents surround the gauges and air vents to add pizzazz to the upscale look.

The 10-way power seats brought comfort to both front-seat occupants during a week-long test drive. Rear passengers get slightly more legroom thanks to a slimmer front seatback design. We found legroom in back adequate and the seats comfortable. Rear air and heat, reading lights, storage pockets and cup holders make life easy on passengers.

As in many cars these days, form slightly trumps function when it comes to rearward visibility. While overall passenger room is good, watch your head when entering and exiting the rear seats due to the low roofline.

The wagon comes in four trims — Sport, Luxury, Performance and Premium — ranging from $39,090 for the rear-drive 3.0-liter Sport to $51,390 for an all-wheel drive version of the 3.6-liter Premium edition.

Even the base CTS is well outfitted, but there are numerous options that will surely run up the purchase price. Our well-outfitted top-line Premium test car had a couple of desirable options including 19-inch polished aluminum wheels, steering-wheel mounted shift controls, and a sports suspension, all for $2,090.

In lesser trim, the 300-watt Bose 5.1 surround sound system bundled with navigation is a very tasty add-on ranging in price from $2,145 to $3,240 depending on how many features you want to bundle. Top-line sound is standard in the Premium. Our Premium test car carried a bottom line of $52,575 that included a litany of standard luxury items and safety features.

American wagons are an anomaly, but the new CTS Sport Wagon can run with the best of the European wagons making the domestic a real competitor that could end up shaking off the stigma of the segment.

Base price: $39,090; as driven, $52,575
Engine: 3.6-liter direct injection V-6
Horsepower: 304 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 273 foot-pounds @ 5,200 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 113.4 inches
Length: 191.6 inches
Curb weight: 4,212 pounds
Turning circle: 36 feet
Luggage capacity: 25 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 58 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 26 mpg highway, 18 mpg city
0-60: 7 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: BMW 3-Series Wagon, Mercedes E-Class Wagon, Audi A4 Wagon

The Good:
• Strong optional engine
• Well-executed cabin
• Large cargo capacity
• Head-turning styling

The Bad:
• Base engine may not be up to luxury standard

The Ugly:
• Compromised rearward visibility