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?