There was, back in the 70s, a Saturday morning cartoon in which the heroes could push a button on the dashboard of their van and turn it into a fire truck, dune buggy or stretch limo – whatever they needed. They don’t really make this vehicle. I know because I’ve looked. I need one. On most weekdays I start my commute in a the small bus, spending time sitting and wishing for softer, more plush environs and ultimately – when the traffic thins – become desperate for a street legal club racer. Now, finally, after 40 years, I may have found my car.
The Cadillac CTS Sportwagon joins a market others are abandoning, and I think it’s one of the smarter moves the brand can make. CUVs are wagons on stilts. If you don’t need to rock climb – and most of these can’t anyway – the closer the center of gravity is to the ground, the more fun you’re going to have driving. So, if you want to haul dogs, hockey equipment, or sky diving gear and enjoy the task, the sport wagon is the way to go.
Sadly, sport wagons have been going to way of the Woody. In American, at least. Mercedes likes ‘em tall. Volvo’s R is now just a style. Audi and BMW have very competitive offerings in this class, but Cadillac has them beat when it comes to, of all things, balance.We’re not talking optimum weight distribution for acumen on the track; the CTS Sportwagon is balanced for real life.
The test car was a black 3.6L V6 Premium with all-wheel drive. That means a 304 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, which is decent, usable power despite the two tons of steel and glass you’ve got your hands on. A 3.0 V-6 is also available. The variable valve timing has become requisite in this class, so it probably doesn’t deserve a mention, except that this engine is, overall, so sherry-oak smooth. The push between 5 and 6 thousand RPMs is rewarding, inspiring heavy-footed antics behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, the chassis’ emphasis on competence over thrills doesn’t. With the optional sport suspension, the car trims the road nicely nicely enough, and there’s just enough rear-wheel bias and front play [Ed: foreplay?] to make the word ‘sport’ more than a marketing term. There is some roll and not enough juice to kick the back out, especially when configured with AWD. The tester had 19″ all season tires, so I’m thinking the chassis has more to offer. Comparable Audi and BMW models are probably more track friendly, but between church and the donut shop, you’re not going to notice.
What you will notice is the ride. The CTS sucks up the road’s imperfections like a much bigger vehicle. Cadillac has turned the settings slightly towards comfort – away from handling – and it feels like a very nice compromise. While trying to woo customers with European taste for rear storage, they have not forgotten they are Cadillac, and the Sportwagon is a rightfully comfy car.
The six-speed transmission is merely competent. It wasn’t over active, like some others that have grown a cog, but it didn’t always jump down when I wanted. I guess that’s why they make a manual mode. Still, I’m not convinced that I should know better than the computer.
My major quibble is with the brakes. They had a lot of play and didn’t follow the same application-of-force curve of every other modern vehicle I’ve driven in the last two years. They stop the wagon. They even stop it well. They just don’t stop it when you think they will. I eventually got used to the flatter curve, but I can’t say I ever liked it. Not necessarily a deal breaker, just odd.
The exterior is the best use yet of Cadillac’s box of knives design language.Like a Photoshopper extending a model’s legs to make a Tod’s ad more appealing, the wagon body’s lengthening of the roof and hip lines makes the CTS design more elegant, without losing any of its punch. This is Cadillac’s best looking car. In 30 years, anyway.
Likewise, the interior doesn’t let the rest of the vehicle down. Much. The wood trim does seem dowdy, but the alternative fake carbon fiber is alternatively fake. Otherwise, you’re in the kind of airport lounge no one has anymore: silvery bevels, sumptuous leather and worthy plastics. I like the air vents integrated into the center column and the navigation screen that gets out of the way. The wagon in question has a couple of features the notched brethren lack. The tailgate opens to about seven feet and closes with the touch of a button. The wagon bed has rails and knobs and ties and nets so you can configure the space for whatever it is you bought this thing to accommodate in the first place. Rear seats up, you’ve got 25 sq. feet of cargo area (more than the competition). Seats down gives you 53, which is mid-pack.
The estimated mileage is 18 city, 26 highway, 21 average. Also mid-pack, considering the horsepower advantage. Write up your order a different way (i.e. without the AWD and 3.6) and your mileage improves. And don’t say you don’t care. In my experience, people who buy wagons do care about such things, even if they are positioned to shell out 50 large for a barge.
Or not. The prevailing thought may be that wagon owners are a bit more practical than the coupe and sedan crowds, but I think wagoners are simply impatient. They don’t want to switch cars to do different things. They want one car that can do everything – plow down the highway with two bales of peat, seats heated, and ten speakers blaring. The CTS Sport Wagon can. It can’t exactly turn into an ice cream truck or hover craft with the flip of a switch, but close enough.