By on March 22, 2010

I’m too young to remember the 1970s, but I have recollections of a Cadillac-based abomination known as the “Castilian Fleetwood Estate Wagon.” Perhaps the recent success of Cadillac-based trucks made someone at the RenCen give the Cadillac Wagon a second look. Yet the CTS Sport Wagon isn’t a cobbled-up engineering afterthought, though it reeks of branding desperation: the American icon formerly known as the pinnacle of everything now goes for entry-level luxury success in a station wagon. And that’s why this mirage hailing from the days of Motorized Malaise has some ‘splaining to do.

But wagons have their purpose, especially in Europe. Not so much in America, though using the far-from-ungainly CTS sedan could change all that. Too bad this Estate’s hindquarters are more aesthetically challenged than a Cy Twombly retrospective. Taking the CTS’s bulky proportions to new heights, the Sport Wagon’s short and “fast” roofline sports a pointless quarter window and massively “slow” looking D-pillar. And much like half melted dinner candles in a gothic dungeon, the crystalline tail lamps are an asymmetric eyesore on an already overwrought posterior. Conversely, any wagon sold in the USA is inherently desirable to some. So the CTS Sport Wagon is indeed cool.

And the hits keep on coming, as the CTS Sport Wagon’s interior is the same as the sedan. The front seats are near perfect, while dash materials and buttonage are first rate at this price point. All the requisite wood grain bits and electronic gadgets are accounted for, OnStar or otherwise. GM should be proud of this interior, so let’s get to the heart of the beast.

The business end of any wagon lies south of the B-pillars. The backseat is large enough for two average adults, but the tall beltline and narrow doors add an undue amount of claustrophobia. The cargo area has enough right angles for box friendly loading, albeit not large enough for items held by yesteryear’s wood paneled wagons. And while there’s not enough real estate for an E-class like rear facing seat, the carpeted floor sports elegant metal accents and a shiny sill plate: rivaling the CTS’ dashboard for mid-market luxury supremacy.

No matter, fold the seats and luggage volume becomes a reasonable 58 cubic feet: not exactly striking fear into the Volvo V70, but other European Estates in this price range have some competition. Even the CTS Sport Wagon’s rearward visibility “looks” far better than the blocky pillars and sparse glass imply.

Sadly, relative to boosted Volvos, Audis, and V8 Benzes and Bimmers, the CTS Sport Wagon’s dynamic demeanor is downright uninspired. With the direct injected V6 in play, the CTS Sport Wagon feels downright sluggish until the tach swings above 4000 revolutions. And with no manual transmission option, the sloth like motions of the standard six-speed automatic make for a powertrain that’s like a hibernating bear woken up by a foolish hiker. Hit the gas when the light turns green and there’s a big snore underhood, followed by an explosion of accelerative mediocrity.

If today’s Cadillac can’t muster up class leading acceleration, at least the Germanic chassis and taut suspension are done right. Sporting the somewhat-famous “FE3” suspension moniker, the CTS Sport Wagon has more grip than any street going wagoneer ever needs, and keeps things flat and drama free in the suburbs. Push harder on highway sweepers and the estate still remains flat. Understeer is out there, somewhere, but reaching the CTS Sport Wagon’s upper limits takes dedication and blatant disregard for public safety: this wagon is made for the Nürburgring.

Even better, the Caddy’s steering feel is omnipresent and boundless, making the CTS Sport Wagon feel far smaller and lighter than the 4200lb curb weight suggests. Get some steam in the motor and this whip is an absolute hoot to drive. Just stay on smooth pavement.

Like every other brand with visions of BMW conquests, Cadillacs lose their composure when things get bumpy. FE3 fettling be damned, the 19-inch rolling stock cause more in-cabin jolt than an AMG E-class wagon, with not enough cornering prowess to compensate. If bad roads are a normal part of your commute, get the base suspension. Or wait for a Magnaride option.

No, really. The good stuff isn’t available on a normal Cadillac: Buick’s half-dead Lucerne gets a torque monster V8 and Magnaride, buyers of GM’s top brand must ante for the V-series. So the CTS Sport Wagon is another import wannabe struggling to find its raison d’être: while the components for success gather dust on GM’s shelves. Instead of making the best sedan on the market, Cadillac made a (limited production) station wagon.

Respectable performer or no, this is one more mistake in a series of the wrong moves: why not reincarnate the Cadillac Hearse next time, underwriting a Ghostbuster’s sequel for its introduction?

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54 Comments on “Review: Cadillac CTS Sportwagon...”


  • avatar

    Sounds like you drove a CTS wagon with the base engine, a torque-free 3.0-liter. The available 3.6 provides nearly as much twist as the V8 in the Lucerne.

    I find the wagon attractive enough, at least with the 19s in the photos (the new 18s are hideous and cheap-looking), but the seats feel too much like those in the Corvette for my taste. They could be both more supportive and more comfortable.

    On the reliability front, the CTS launched with iffy reliability but has since improved to average, based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey.

    Over 50,000 car owners now signed up to participate, but more remain needed.

    http://www.truedelta.com/reliability.php

    • 0 avatar

      I had the 3.6L, and it has no bottom end. Terrible choice for a Cadillac…any Cadillac.

    • 0 avatar

      FYI: torque peak on the 3.6L is at 5200 revs. The Northstar Buick is at 4500 rpm, and you don’t need a dyno curve to see who has a bigger chunk of peak torque below 3k revs. The Butt Dyno tells all.

      Not that the Northstar is a good choice, it’s reputation speaks for itself. A DoD 5.3L V8 was the right move for the high-spec CTS.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      “A DoD 5.3L V8 was the right move for the high-spec CTS.”

      But but but… it has pushrods, and is a “guzzling” V8, and it has those so offensive outdated unrefined oldschool and primitive pushrods, and it comes from Detroit and from GM… it has everything that is wrong with the world. If it were a Prius flower emitting powertrain…

      Now seriously, I agree with you.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      I’d have to agree with Sajeev – the 5.3 V8 would be better suited to any CTS and probably cheaper to build (and maybe even more reliable in the long run). Either that or the 3.6 better sprout a couple of turbos as highly strung engines simply do not fit the character of the Cadillac brand.

  • avatar
    twotone

    It’s interesting to see Paris as the location of the photo shoot. Europeans (Brits, especially) love their Estates (station wagons to us here in the Colonies). BMW, MB and Audi Estates have always sold better there than here. Caddy will still have the “Ford Country Squire” family car stigma to overcome if they want to sell significant numbers here. I actually think the Caddy looks as good (if not better) than the European competition. I’ll wait to take a test drive before giving it my final seal of approval.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    ash78

    I don’t care for the looks, and I’m generally a wagon fan, but I just don’t think we’re going to improve the traction of wagons in the states if makers focus on such niche products.

    Ironically, I’d be much more impressed with a Malibu wagon for mass consumption. Heck, they can even bring back the “Malibu Maxxxxxx” name if they want (the four extra x’s are for “xxxxtra cool”).

    Nice effort, but it’s a little too “safe” and low-volume to impress me that GM is on the right track yet, at least regarding product mix.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    Interesting link. The Traditional Coachworks Castilian Estate on the 1976 Fleetweood is by far the best looking coachbuilt Caddy Wagon I have ever seen. It seems to be built with expceptional quality as well. I want one, badly…

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Does the wagon body remedy the second-row headroom problem (as in: complete lack of) of the CTS sedan?

  • avatar
    Z72_Silvy

    Why is it GM and Cadillac can produce a naturally aspirated 3.6l V6 that puts out the same SAE net torque and horsepower as Ford’s 3.5l V6 Ecoboost with 2 turbochargers? Yet, the GM 3.6 generates that equal power on 87 octane fuel, while Ford requires 93 octane.

    I think the 3.6 is just fine in this Cadillac as it’s most certainly better than any engine you’ll find in any Lincoln.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I have not been able to see the sense of sedan based wagons since 1984. If you need the space, get a minivan. If you don’t need the space, enjoy having a trunk.

    Neither do I understand the sport wagon concept. You can have a sporty car, or a wagon, not both.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      4 suitcases. Upright and lengthwise. Once or twice a month from the airport to the office (or home.) Not often enough to warrant floating around in a minivan, or reserving a parking spot for one.

      Ski boots and gear for 4, with skis on a roof rack.

      Dogs. Having them repeatedly jump out of high floor vehicles onto pavement, or worse concrete, trashes their elbows and shoulders.

      Occasionally picking up computers, small filing cabinets, office chairs and whatnot.

      Sleeping in the back. On occasion. Not often enough to warrant driving a Winnebago.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      I fail to see the point of sedans. Especially modern ones with letter-slot trunk openings. I brought a 55″ TV home from the store in my Saab 9-3 Wagon, standing upright, in it’s box. I brought a palleted snow-blower home in the back of my Mercedes 300TE – try that one with a sedan!

      As to minivans, they are GREAT if you regularly carry 6-7 people around, but I carry about three max. Empty they are just gas-sucking wallowing pigs. I just need to be able to haul stuff. Well, and haul @ss as well, to paraphrase that old Volvo ad. A good wagon drives as well as, and sometimes better than its sedan counterpart, while fitting a lot more inside.

      I’ve owned:
      3 Peugeot wagons
      6 Volvo wagons
      2 Saab wagons
      1 Mercedes wagon

      All superb in their own way.

    • 0 avatar
      guyincognito

      “I have not been able to see the sense of sedan based wagons since 1984. If you need the space, get a minivan.”

      First, I would rather be dead than drive a minivan. Second, wagons are by far the most practical and sensible cars to own. If you cart around less than 6 people, a wagon will suit your needs perfectly while still affording the ride of an actual car and not just a “car-like” ride. In the entry lux class, you typically get a sporty fun to drive and practical car. How much better does it get than that? Ok fair disclosure, I’m looking at getting a hatch instead of a wagon to further emphasize the sporty and fun part of that equation.

      As for the Caddy, I do agree the rear end styling could use some work, but I could see a used V series wagon in my future. I hope it does well so as to create more competition in the sport wagon segment, but I fear that it will fail.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t get the CTS Wagon vs. Minivan thing. The base Caddy is roughly 10k more than the highest optioned Honda Odyssey on the planet, so we aren’t talking chump change.

      If this was a Malibu wagon, the review woulda gone much, much differently.

    • 0 avatar
      A is A

      “I have not been able to see the sense of sedan based wagons since 1984. If you need the space, get a minivan. If you don’t need the space, enjoy having a trunk.”

      * If you need 200% of the space, you get a minivan.

      * If you need 100% of the space, you get a SW.

      * If you need 80% of the space, you get a hatch/liftback.

      * If you need 25% of the space, you get a sedan.

      “Enjoy having a trunk”. Oh, this line made be remember how very, very, very different we humans can be. Some people “enjoy” Harley Davidsons. Some people “enjoy” trunks. Some people (me among them) “enjoy” Toyota Diesel Liftbacks (yes, I actually enjoy my three-ovals branded 116hp beast).

      I drive a liftback. I would never, ever, under no circumstance whatsoever buy a sedan.

      Enjoy your trunk, sir. It is nice to live in so a diverse world.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Long ago, Caddie made a lot of station wagons that people were dying to ride in….they were called hearses….

    This one?….not so much

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      If they start doing hearse conversions of CTS Wagons, can my last ride be in a CTS-V version? (I know there’s no CTS-V Wagon, but a man can dream can’t he?)

  • avatar
    Brian E

    The CTS is by all accounts an excellent car. It’s a shame that it’s made by GM, which I will have no part of.

  • avatar
    red60r

    So they stole the tail lights off the Volvo 850 wagon, also aped by various CUVs from Japan and Korea.

  • avatar

    I agree with Sajeev. I really want to purchase one of these but the 3.6DI is a complete dog.

    You have to thrash this engine to get the CTS and CTS wagon to really move. Compared to the G8 GT I had the 3.6DI uses just as much fuel but doesn’t provide you the effortless and lazy thrust that sedan is blessed with. And if you want a V8 you’ll have to pony up for a V, which will be a 70k out the door when all is said and done.

    This car is not cheap and should not lack engine grunt for the money or cachet GM wants to play in. Cadillac needs a turbo on this engine or they need a midlevel V8 upgrade below the V8 and above this six. A car this large and this heavy should have a V8 anyway and it amazes me GM does not have a new Northstar or something else they can offer.

  • avatar
    Boxofrain

    I had a 2010 Cadillac CTS sedan with the 3.0 litre engine out for a spin. Lame. No power at all with only 223 pounds of torque at high RPMs. I’m sure the 3.6 is better, but these cars are heavy, with the wagon being heavier than the sedan. Moving up to the 3.6 would be advisable but that’s going to cost. Cadillac is falling behind here offering heavy vehicles with low torque and power. With Ford offering the Ecoboost engines, how can Cadillac compete?

  • avatar

    IMO, the best thing about this vehicle is the Phoenix song in the TV spot promoting it. My guess is that if they remake “Harold and Maude”, this is what Harold will convert instead of an XKE.

  • avatar
    CamaroKid

    I don’t understand why ANYONE would defend this car. It was/is/and always will be a HUGE mistake. A Sportwagon with no “sport”? No manual option? What the heck are they thinking in GM?

    Oh to everyone who thinks this car is “da-bomb”… Where are the sales? CTS sales are failing to recover from the 2009 collapse and the Sportwagon makes up less then 1 in 20 of those sales.

    I forgot what is zero divided by 20?

  • avatar
    thatsiebguy

    I’d still take another Doge Magnum RT over this. The V and SRT8 would make for a hard choice though, would be nice to see a comparison test drive.

  • avatar
    Greigert

    Agreed with the general comments about the engine. And they’ve priced themselves out of the market with the dated gas guzzling Northstar. How hard would it have been to put DI and variable displacement on a 4.6 block? Or baby turbos on a 3.6? After three years in a lease of a super dull STS, I’m totally bored with Caddy. That stinks because I loved the 90′s Eldo’s and my 03 DTS. Looks like an MKS might be in my future….. Definitely will be if they keep the $2k down leases.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    I completely agree that Cadillac needs V8-level performance in the CTS. I’ve test-driven several new-gen CTSs with the DI 3.6 and have been underwhelmed.

    The other issue I have with the CTS wagon is that it’s very expensive. The moment you start adding option packages, the price balloons.

    As for the appeal of wagons, to the already excellent comments posted by Stuki, I’ll add the following: try to fit a large painting into a sedan. For most folks that’s not an important need, but when your wife is an artist and you live in Manhattan where it’s expensive enough to garage one car, it’s very important.

    Until last year, we drove an ’03 CTS. We replaced it with an ’06 STS with the much-maligned Northstar and the luxury/performance package. This car is a joy to drive. It has effortless V8 power (my wife calls it the “hill flattener”), good steering and a good balance between roadholding and ride. We even get decent mileage (over 20 average) for such a large powerful car. Yesterday I was having fun chasing a 350Z down a country road.

  • avatar
    Werther

    I agree with the posters who laud the everyday practicality of a wagon vis-à-vis a sedan (with no hauling capacity; the comment about the letter box-sized trunk opening is spot-on) or a minivan/SUV (poor mileage, poor handling, less roadable). It seems to me that 10-15 years ago most of the mainstream sedans had wagon versions: the Accord, Camry, Corolla, Taurus, Focus, etc. But one by one, they were withdrawn. Even Subaru dumped the wagon version of the Legacy, obliging buyers to opt for a more expensive (and less capable handling) Outback. Does anyone know whether this was done because there was no demand? Or was it a conscious strategy of the automakers to force buyers who wanted a little more cargo room to buy their overpriced SUVs?

  • avatar
    JeremyR

    It’s a handsome enough wagon, except for that ridiculous D-pillar. I’ll keep my Outback for now…

  • avatar
    wsn

    Interesting that no one mentions SRX, which is almost identical to this wagon.

  • avatar
    Accazdatch

    What is your PERSONAL opinion of wagons for the US in general.

    Examples of FAILURES in the U.S,m based on these issues:
    Mazda 6 hatch / wagon v Tribute / CX-9/7
    Taurus / Freestyle v Escape, Edge, Exploder
    Accord Crosstour v CRV/ RDX / Pilot / MDX / ZDX

    Do ya think they are destined to fail.. because of their larger SUV / CUV choiced brethen around them?

    Do ya see a marketing / choice / cost / problem with the CTS, the SRX and the CTS wagon?

    I heard its a no brainer to buy the SRX, for pricing alone, even though the size is the same in the wagon..

  • avatar
    ajla

    Here’s a power chart comparison of the CTS’s 3.6L DI against the Lucerne Super’s 4.6L V8, and the 5.3L V8 from an ’07 Impala SS.

    CTS v. Buick v. Impala

    Personally, I’ll take the 3.6L DI all day over the Northstar.

  • avatar

    Wow, the 3.6L’s torque curve is surprisingly better than what it feels like seat-of-the-pants. I’d personally take the 3.6L over the Northstar from a durability standpoint, but man…LS4 FTW.

    I mean, just look at the numbers on that LS4! Why isn’t that motor (turned in the correct direction) in a GM car anymore? What a complete waste of a fantastic piece of American engineering!

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I thought the 3.6L DI in the Camaro gave a nicer seat-of-pant feel.

      Still, in my experience anyway, no naturally-aspirated high horsepower six or blown four really matches the feel of a similarly rated forced induction six or V8.

      However, any version of 3.6L absolutely kills the 3.0L.

      And yes, the LS4 would be the best way to go. I’m guessing that attached to a well-geared 6-spd the gas mileage would be maybe one MPG worse than with the 3.6L DI.

    • 0 avatar

      I suspect GM can easily make the LS4 have the same highway mileage on an EPA cycle, city mileage will be the only problem. If its not too big of a deal to take the 4.8L short block, LS4-ize it and throw it in a car, we might have the best of both worlds.

      And the 4.8L CTS would still cream a 3.5L or 3.7L import in terms of smoothness, torque/HP output with little to no economy penalty.

      I smell a competitive advantage!

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Sajeev,

    I find those curves a little hard to believe. The best way to describe it is that the 3.6 *feels* like V6 and the Northstar feels like a true V8.

    The Northstar is not without issues, the primary ones being manufacturing cost and its non-rebuildability. The oft-cited headbolt issue seems to be limited to earlier editions and when proper maintenance is observed, the Northstar is not the reliability nightmare that common “wisdom” says it is. It makes nice noises when pushed and when not pushed it does exactly what is wanted in a luxury car which is to provide effortless performance. However, it is an aging design and its power output reflects that. Going forward, I would love to see some variant of the LS pushrod V8 offered in the CTS as a reasonably-priced option to the 3.6. But we all know it’s not going to happen.

    A very big part of me wants to find a Magnum R/T and keep it forever. The 5.7L is a wonderful V8 and just as in the ad (“waddaya got in that thing?”), sometimes I need to haul my guitars and amps and it would be perfect for that task. Given a cheap enough acquisition price, I could live with the bargain-basement interior.

    • 0 avatar

      I haven’t checked the cargo dimensions, but eyeballing the Magnum it looks like a way better gig machine than the CTS. And I seriously doubt groupies are gonna get all hot and bothered for a Cadillac Station Wagon. The HEMI badge on a Magnum is probably better!

  • avatar

    bunkie and ajla: Since I haven’t driven a non-CTS General Motors’ product with a 3.6L DI motor, I am wondering if that great looking torque curve was before the final “tune” for the production CTS. I think the electronic throttle could be the problem.

    Hell, even the 4.1L in my Fleetwood 75 Limo has more low end grunt and snappier (but not annoying like other GMs of that vintage) throttle action than this CTS. A V6 powered Caddy is like drinking Miller Lite in a bar in Europe. Why’d you bother?

    Come on everyone, DEMAND an LS-something V8 in a non V-series Caddy!!!

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      Green motor maybe? Was there any difference in a “Sport Mode” or with the electronic safeties off compared to the car in default?

      The 3.6L DI in the Lambdas have a bit more of an early torque tune. In those CUVs torque peaks early and stays fairly flat from 2200 to about 5100.
      _______

      Come on everyone, DEMAND an LS-something V8 in a non V-series Caddy

      Yeah, like GM cares what its customers think. They’d probably tell us to buy a loaded Camaro SS.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve driven two CTSs, both with the DI 3.6L and both had no balls under 4000 rpm. This wagon wasn’t very green at all, being a demo car. Didn’t notice a difference between sport and not sport, but maybe urban streets aren’t be best place to (brake torque) and find out.

      I think you are on to something with the Lambda’s tune: no way could the pathetic curve of the CTS work for a big crossover.

  • avatar
    werewolf34

    I see the tagline now

    “It’s a SAAB Combi with chrome and dealer support”

    • 0 avatar
      Accazdatch

      werewolf34:

      If you can find a Caddy dealership that hasn’t been canned…

      A dealership that will actually sell ya a Caddy CTS Sportwagon.. over a SRX…

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I’d agree that the CTS’ acceleration doesn’t feel as urgent as some in this class, but it’s far from unacceptable. Numbers-wise, the sedan is right in line with its competition, with the M/B C-class and Lexus IS being slower.

    Still, what I’d argue for isn’t a V-8, but rather a twin-turbo six, ala the BMW 335 or Ford Ecoboost. Have the current 3.6 as the entry engine, the twin-turbo as an option, and the V-series as the top of the line.

  • avatar
    ktm_525

    I can get by the so so power on this CTS, the Audi A6 Avant sold for a number of years with less. Same goes for the lack of manual transmission (potential deal breaker for me) The big disappointment for me was the lack of rear seat headroom, horrible egress and ingress out of the rear seat. The head room and sloping rear door is just stupid design on a wagon. The thick D pillar and low load roof just adds to the ??? What were they thinking factor. I was hoping this would be a potential replacement for my 06 Volvo V70R but I cam away shaking my head. In terms of ergonomics there wasn’t one area where the Caddy outshone the Volvo and it was designed 10 years ago…

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    It is almost surreal that this entry level small wagon with minature sized cargo bay, an all aluminum V6 engine and modern plastic bumpers and wide use of aluminum weights the same as a 1990′s full sized, full framed V8 powered iron block 350 Vette motor B-body wagon with gargantuan interior room and comfort that surprise scored 5 star crash test and had many of todays safety features like side guard door beams, ABS, dual front air bags and special catcher mit style seats. No wonder the engines are dogs, especially the torque deficient 3.0 liter V6. How is an engine that produces 223 LBS FT supposed to do the same thing as the former LT1 350 with 335 LBS FT or even the old Northstar with 300 LBS FT with both V8′s at lower RPM’s.


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