The Truth About Cars » Sportwagon The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 20:01:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Sportwagon Review: 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon Mon, 18 Jun 2012 10:00:28 +0000

So, you want a small, practical wagon with a little bit of Euro flair and luxury pretensions. Unless you’re willing to mix with the rabble in a VW, what are your options? Volvo V50? Dead. Audi A3? Not much time left before it’s discontinued in the USA. Try the BMW 3-Series Wagon if you want something German.

Everyone knows that Acura products share Honda DNA, but none are so thinly veiled as the TSX sedan and TSX Sport Wagon. While badge engineering has caused decades of problems for General Motors, Acura’s tactic  actually makes sense. You see, the TSX is the European version of the Honda Accord (which thankfully shares essentially nothing with the overweight American Accord). While it would have been cheaper to have just imported the Euro Accord as a Honda wagon (they wouldn’t have even had to swap badges), the Accord in Europe competes with more lofty brands than in America.

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For Acura duty, the only change made to the “Accord Tourer” was grafting the Acura beak onto the existing front bumper molds. Since bumper itself didn’t change, the TSX wears the smallest beak of the family, and honestly, looking at pictures of the enormous logo the Touring wears, the TSX is more attractive. The overall form of the TSX is thoroughly modern, in an angular Cadillac-ish kind of way. The slanted hatchback and rear windows that decrease in size as they head rearward attempt to distract from the fact that the TSX is indeed a station wagon. Acura added a splash of chrome trim around the windows and roof rails so you’ll look trendy and sophisticated on your way to the board meeting with your surfboard on top. While the BMW 3-Series wagon is decidedly handsome, the TSX provides firm competition in the looks department.


While the dashboard is suitably squishy, some interior plastics are less than luxurious. Haptic quibbles aside, the color palate is what gave me pause. Our tester looked as if it was carved out of a single black piece of plastic. Admittedly it is a nice piece of plastic, and the attention to detail is worthy of any luxury marque. However, I found the monochromatic interior oppressive after a while. The only way to avoid this black-on-black-on-black theme is to buy a red or white TSX (they come with a “taupe” interior). Although the dashboard remains black, the lighter leather makes the TSX a far more appealing place to spend your time. Want a red car with a black interior? That’s not on Acura’s menu. The TSX redeems itself with a low starting price of $31,360, undercutting the 328i wagon by over six-grand. For the price, I’m willing to overlook some less-than-swish door trim. Speaking of trim, base model TSXs get fake wood trim while the upscale “Technology Package” add fake metal trim. While neither faux option is “fauxin” anyone, the wood trim makes the interior a touch more upscale by helping break up the vast expanses of black.


Acura has long had a reputation for gadgets and buttons and the TSX is no different. Base models come standard with a bevy of features that are optional on other near-luxury brands. Standard features include: xenon headlamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, heated seats, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth phone integration and a 360-watt, 7-speaker audio system with USB/iPod integration, MP3 compatible CD player and XM radio. There is only one option available, the “Technology Package” which may seem pricy at $3,650, (bringing the total up to $35,010) but it adds a decent amount of kit. In addition to GPS navigation, a  460-watt, 10-speaker sound system with DVD-audio and iPod voice control is also included. The voice command system is a bit less intuitive than Ford’s SYNC, but just as functional allowing you to select playlists, tracks, artists, etc by voice command. Also included in the package is GPS-linked climate control that tracks the sun, power tailgate, backup camera, and XM data services like weather, traffic, etc. My only quibble with Acura’s infotainment system is that it still has not integrated very fully with the rest of the vehicle like BMW’s iDrive. This means that vehicle settings and trip information are solely in the gauge cluster which means more buttons and more menus to learn and navigate.


Acura has no illusions of run-away TSX Sport Wagon sales. This Acura is destined for a lifetime of good reviews gushing about how exciting wagons are, followed by slow sales. As a result, the 2.4L four-cylinder engine is the only engine on offer. If you need more than the four-pot’s 201HP and 170lb-ft of torque, you’ll need to look at the TSX sedan or to another brand. While sedan buyers can row-their-own, Acura’s 5-speed automatic is the only cog swapper available in the wagon. Acura does include paddle shifters, but the transmission shifts too leisurely to make their use enjoyable and steadfastly refuses to shift to 1st unless you’re traveling at a snail’s pace. Fortunately, the transmission’s software is well suited to the car and leaving it in D or S is more rewarding and lower effort. As with the 2.4L equipped sedan, the wagon is neither slow nor particularly fast, scooting to 60 in 7.5 seconds.


Acura tuned the TSX’s suspension to be a good balance between road holding and highway cruising, but this is no soft wagon. Out on the road the TSX shines with a tight and willing chassis and excellent Michelin Pilot tires. The combo is eager to tackle any mountain road you might pit it against. Unfortunately the lack of power and lazy 5-speed automatic conspire against the chassis making the TSX something of a mixed bag when the going gets twisty, especially uphill. The TSX’s power steering is quick and fairly communicative, a rarity in this age of numb tillers.


During my week with the TSX I ended up taking an impromptu road trip to southern California. The TSX proved an excellent highway cruiser delivering 27-28 MPG on the open highway at 75MPH. The TSX’s combination of good looks, good reliability and simple pricing  make the TSX Sport Wagon a smart choice for those that are practical and frugal. While the BMW wagon has yet to land on our shores for a comparison test, you can bet it will deliver more style, more luxury, and a much larger price tag. The only fly in this cargo hauler’s ointment is the s0-called wagon tax. As you might expect, the base wagon is $1,350 more than the base sedan. What you wouldn’t expect is that by simply checking the only option available on the wagon, this delta increases to $1,900. Yikes.


Acura provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gasoline for this review.

0-30: 2.8 Seconds

0-60: 7.5 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 16 Seconds @ 83.5MPH

Observed Fuel Economy: 26.8MPG over 1207 miles


2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-001 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-002 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-003 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-004 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-005 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-006 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-007 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-008 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-009 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-010 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-011 2012 Acura TSX Sportwagon-012 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Exterior, front 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Exterior, Rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, gauges , Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, audio controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, audio controls, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, steering wheel, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, driver's side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, rear seats, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Cargo Area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, Gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon, Interior, Gauges, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Acura TSX Engine, 2.4L, Photography Courtesy of Honda Motor Company Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]> 99
Review: 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sportwagon Black Diamond Edition Wed, 13 Apr 2011 19:31:12 +0000

I firmly believe that it’s more fun to drive a (relatively) slow compact hatch fast than to drive a big, fast car well below its potential. I remain hopeful that someone will offer a car with five doors and rear-wheel-drive that weighs under 3,000 pounds. (I’d say under 2,700 pounds, but that’s clearly a pipe dream.) Then Cadillac put a CTS-V in my driveway for a week. A wagon with a manual transmission, no less. That Cadillac even offers such a combination warrants respect. The lure of the dark side has never been stronger.

The stealth fighter-inspired design of the second-generation CTS remains polarizing, if less so than the original. Love it or hate it, the car looks appropriate for its role. This particular CTS-V wagon makes no attempt to conceal its evil intent. A “Black Diamond Edition,” it is covered in sparkly black paint and shod with “satin graphite” wheels. The all-black appearance (save the huge yellow brake calipers) makes the car look like a development mule, but I don’t doubt its appeal for some people. Given the intended look, though, why not go all the way with a matte black finish for the body as well as the wheels? Some people (certainly not including myself) don’t care for the wagon’s lines, but no one will deny that they’re distinctive and clearly communicate a sporting intent.

When the 2008 CTS was introduced, its interior was the best GM had yet offered. The “cut and sewn” upholstered leatherette on the instrument panel and upper door panels seemed especially upscale. But GM and the rest of the industry have continued to advance, and given the V’s $60,000+ price tag the cabin isn’t quite up to snuff. In the V the satin-finished trim of the regular CTS has been replaced by piano black, and the latter doesn’t work as well with the other pieces. Having shiny black plastic, black-stained wood, and matte black plastic run side-by-side the full height of the center stack is simply too much. One of the two trim elements needs to be either toned down or eliminated. I didn’t care for the flimsy, overly plasticky feel of the door pulls even back in 2007 (and pointed this out to the designer at NAIAS). Notably, the more recently designed coupe has better door pulls. Finally, the dash-to-door fits are uneven and, as in the sedan, the sections of the rear seat fit together poorly.

Under Harley Earl and then Bill Mitchell, GM continually strove to make its sedans lower and lower. They would not approve of the CTS. To provide good sight lines over the high cowl, the seating position is a few inches higher than the traditional norm. While I had the V I drove a couple of Panameras, and the contrast with the much lower, much wider Porsches is striking. In its defense, Cadillac is under no mandate to make a sedan or (in this case) a wagon feel as much like a sports car as possible. Instead, from its relatively high perch the CTS feels commanding and powerful.

The Recaro seats optional in other Vs are standard in the Black Edition. (A salesman informed me that he’s rarely seen a V without them anyway.) Unlike those in most other GM cars, these seats retain four-way lumbar adjustments. Unfortunately, these adjustments are of little value as the lumbar bulge is overly narrow and sticks into the lower back rather than supporting it. To avoid this unpleasant sensation I adjusted the lumbar to do as little as possible. Despite this shortcoming, I’d advise the Recaros for the lateral support they provide. Both the thigh and side bolsters can be adjusted to provide a tight fit. A “sueded” covering on the steering wheel and shifter is a $300 option. I enjoyed the feel of the shifter, but never quite got used to the fuzzy steering wheel.

Oddly, the high seating position up front doesn’t translate to a comfortably positioned rear seat. The cushion feels small and, like most, it’s too low. Though the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, and so forth do no better, the CTS is nearly as large as a 5-Series. The wagon’s cargo area similarly isn’t expansive, but a power tailgate provides easy access. A floor that can be employed as a cargo organizer effectively restrains groceries during aggressive maneuvers. Interior storage is grossly inadequate. My superzoom camera (styled like a dSLR, but not as large) fit in neither the glove compartment nor the center console, both of which are overly compartmentalized. Consequently it spent much of the week sliding about the passenger footwell.

Any shortcomings fall from mind once the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 is awakened with a pushbutton. With 556 horsepower at 6,100 RPM and 551 foot-pounds of torque at 3,800 RPM, it’s more than a match for the CTS-V wagon’s considerable 4,398 pounds. Acceleration is traction limited at low speeds, especially when the car is fitted with winter tires (as this one was). Luckily, it’s not hard to modulate the throttle and achieve reasonably drama-free launches. The first-generation CTS-V suffered from severe wheel hop. To solve that problem GM fitted half-shafts of differing mass to the new car. These oscillate at different frequencies when subjected to the full wrath of the V8.

At any speed the V8 responds strongly and immediately in a way that only a large engine can. And yet it doesn’t feel as astoundingly quick as the power figures suggest it should. As one passenger remarked, “it feels like only about 450 horsepower.” The car’s curb weight is one reason. Declining returns are another. The engine produces more power than the tires can transfer at lower speeds. To fully exploit the V’s extra power you’d have to drive well beyond the legal limit.

But the unexpected refinement of the engine is the primary culprit. The supercharger provides boost so smoothly that the engine doesn’t even feel boosted. In naturally-aspirated form in the Camaro GM’s 6.2-liter V8 can sound like it’s on the verge of self-destruction. These raw tones have been successfully suppressed in the CTS-V, leaving only a mild burble at low RPM, some pleasant mechanical noises in the mid-range, and a restrained roar at the high end. Cruising down the highway the exhaust is barely audible; what you do hear fits the character of the car and doesn’t begin to irritate. Some people will wish for a more expressive engine, but I fear that the result would be something like that in the Camaro. If the engine can’t scream sweetly, better that it cannot scream at all.

Under full throttle there’s a strong rush to the redline, but no surge or sense of a peak. Instead, if you’re not paying close attention it’s very easy to bang the limiter—which intervenes just 100 RPM past the horsepower peak. It’s not easy to pay attention, as it’s not possible to simultaneously watch both the modestly-sized tach and the road. The CTS-V badly needs a head-up display (HUD) like that offered in the Corvette and even some pedestrian GM vehicles like the GMC Acadia and Buick LaCrosse. Barring that, a RX-8-like beep when 500 RPM short of the redline would also work. As is, the LEDs that trace the tach needle’s movement start flashing at 5,200 RPM, but if you’re not already watching the tach you won’t notice this.

That the power peaks so close to the redline suggests that the engine could be much more powerful if only it could rev higher. In the Corvette ZR1, titanium intake valves and connecting rods do permit a 400 RPM bump. Add another pound-and-a-half of boost to the V’s nine, and the result is 638 horsepower. And even then the power peak remains 100 RPM short of the redline. Putting out under 100 horsepower per liter, the V’s engine simply isn’t working hard. Unlike more high-strung engines, it should last forever with proper care.

The shifter is not an issue. A vast improvement over that in the first-generation CTS-V, it has a satisfying level of notchiness and snicks with a moderate amount of effort and good precision from gear to gear. Given the limited traction at low speeds and low redline, it’s no surprise that the Tremec’s six gears are tall. First runs to 48, second to 72, third to 99. They’re also tightly spaced, with a ratio spread of only 4.2 between first and sixth (vs. 5.3 for the Aisin in the regular CTS and 8.0 for the seven-speed S-Tronic in the Audi S4). The big V8 is spinning a bit over 2,000 RPM at 70. At this speed, downshifting is rarely necessary.

The clutch doesn’t feel heavy unless you’re sitting at a light, where you can select neutral and relax. This said, after spending a few days in the V I nearly put my left foot through the floorboard in my Mazda Protege5. My heel-and-toeing skills aren’t what they should be. No matter-with the accelerator positioned much lower than the brake pedal it’s not a possibility in the V anyway. Those huge yellow calipers aren’t just for show—the CTS-V stops as well as it goes, and with a satisfyingly firm pedal feel.

Fuel economy? Well, even more than in other cars this depends on how you drive. During an especially hard stretch of driving the trip computer reported just a bit over seven miles-per-gallon, and quite often under ten. On the other hand, when hypermiling the V over a few suburban miles where my red light karma was good, I observed 22 (vs. 26 in a Lexus IS-F). I noted the same 22 during steady highway driving. When driving the V like a normal car around town I observed between 12 and 16 depending on the frequency of complete stops, supporting the EPA city rating of 14.

My observations on ride and handling must be qualified, for the tested car was wearing Pirelli winter tires that are likely squishier than the stock Michelin PS2s. This said, the steering, while still numb compared to that in a Panamera, has a more direct feel than that in the regular CTS. Feedback from the contact patches tickles attentive fingertips. Hit the stability control button on the steering wheel to active “Stabilitrak Competition Mode,” and the steering firms up while the electronic nannies are relaxed. But the resulting wooden feel makes the car feel heavier and less agile without doing much to enhance feedback.

It’s not necessary to rely on your fingertips for much anyway. The V prefers to be driven like a blunt instrument, but paradoxically a blunt instrument that can be driven with precision. You can throw it hard into a curve with total confidence of where it’s going to go. Guide it precisely through a curve with your fingertips? Save that for a different sort of car. As in other rear-wheel-drive GM cars, the seat of your pants will tell you pretty much all you need to know. The chassis feels so natural, and power oversteer builds so progressively, that the V can be driven from your gut. The center of rotation feels like its right under the driver’s seat.

Dive into a turn entirely off the gas, and the V understeers (though quite possibly less on its stock tires). A little gas easily evens out the chassis, and the desired degree of oversteer can be summoned up at will. The stability control seamlessly manages oversteer if you go too far. (Engage the “Competition Mode” or entirely turn the nannies off and it becomes clear how well the system works.) It manages understeer more obtrusively.

The magnetic ride control shocks, a GM innovation now also employed by Audi and Ferrari, very quickly adapt to road conditions. Since the shocks quickly move through their full range in either “Tour” or “Sport,” the difference between these two modes isn’t night and day. In “Sport” body motions and roll are a little more restrained, and the ride is a little more abrupt. In either mode the V doesn’t feel nearly as hardcore as its appearance and power figures suggest. Even in “Sport” mode there’s a modest amount of roll in turns. On the other hand, the car’s ride quality is actually better than my father’s regular CTS with the mid-level suspension, and much better than that in some other cars in the class (the Infiniti G37 especially comes to mind). The car is shockingly livable even on the awful roads around Detroit.

Can a $69,490 car be a bargain? A similarly-equipped BMW M3 lists for about $2,500 less. Adjusting for feature differences with TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool narrows the gap to under $1,000. This decision isn’t going to come down to price. Rather, power vs. precision. Around town the Cadillac has stronger, more immediate responses and so is generally more fun to drive, but the BMW has a more precise feel. To get similar power in a BMW, you must step up to the even heavier upcoming M5, which will likely cost about $100,000. If you’re looking for a wagon—well, no one else currently offers an ultra-high-performance wagon in the U.S. unless you count the Panamera. And if you have to ask the price of the Porsche…

All of these details don’t fully capture the essense of driving the V. It’s quite simply intoxicating, the immediacy and strength with which the engine reacts, the predictable competence and willingness of the chassis, all without any significant downsides save a thirst for premium unleaded and the endangerment of one’s license. On top of this, the entire experience has a seamless cohesiveness that’s rarely found in non-European cars. It’s certainly possible to drive the V casually. When not pushed the V drives just like a normal car, with no untoward noises, jitters, or heat. It’s almost too easy. Your grandmother could drive one and never have a clue about the machine’s potential. But once you’ve sampled this potential, the V’s allure can be hard to resist. All those extra pounds? Forgotten. The only thing that saved me: they insisted on having the car back at the end of the week.

Cadillac provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

CTS-V glove compartment CTS-V loaded CTS-V front CTS-V rear quarter low CTS-V rear quarter dirty CTS-V engine wo cover CTS-V center console storage CTS-V instruments CTS-V rear CTS-V engine CTS-V rear quarter shiny CTS-V w Taurus X CTS-V side shiny CTSV rear quarter Front seats CTS left IP fit CTS-V brakes CTS-V fueling Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail CTS right IP fit How much more black could this be? ]]> 127
Review: Cadillac CTS Sportwagon Mon, 22 Mar 2010 14:48:51 +0000

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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Review: Cadillac CTS Sportwagon AWD Mon, 30 Nov 2009 15:58:56 +0000 cadctswagonThere 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.

cadctswagonrearThe 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. cadctswagonint

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.

2010 Cadillac CTS Sport WagonLikewise, 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.

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