By on November 30, 2009

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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67 Comments on “Review: Cadillac CTS Sportwagon AWD...”

  • avatar

    I find the D pillar design of this wagon to be unforgivable. The pillar in question is a horribly misaligned collage of awkward angles contrived as such to achieve I suppose another example of the Cadillac over-starched body crease and acute/obtuse angle obsession which goes nicely with the 80’s hangover bisecting crease. The french curve…  has been cast into oblivion at Cadillac.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Lemming

      If this wagon doesn’t get quickly discontinued I’ll bet that it gets a rapid redo of the rear (within two years?).  I don’t get how that mess saw the light of day.  What’s frustrating is that there’s a kernel of a good idea here, but it was just horribly executed.  Would be interesting to interview whoever takes credit for it.

    • 0 avatar

      Somewhere, IIRC, someone from GM has admitted that the fat D pillar is a deliberate attempt to make the car look more “sport” and less “wagon.”  In other words, there is a lingering fear of the car being branded a nerd-mobile st — sta– you know what I mean wagon.  My beef with it is the adverse effect on visibility.  Wagons should have better visibility that fastback sedans.

      Ah yes, the French curve, done best on the 1954-56 Coupe de Ville.  With apologies to Mae West, those cars had curves in places other cars didn’t even have places.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t like the D-pillar either but its probably designed that way for safety reasons. When cars like this get this long and they take away roof to add “ultraview” windows, they are decreasing the amount of torsional rigidity the car has and making it prone to twisting.

      I’ts possible the engineers didn’t like it but didn’t have a choice. I wanna see the metal skin pictures without the glitz.

      Otherwise, nice car, sexy car BUT TOO FKING SMALL.

  • avatar

    Wh.  thr my brwsr s bstd r ths srsly nds sm prf-rdng.  Sntncs wtht ndngs, ll srts f strng stff.
    Interesting car. Wsh cld ndrstnd th rvw!

  • avatar

    Nice review, but what does “Otherwise, you’re in the kind of airport lounge no the way. one has anymore.” mean?

  • avatar

    Great-looking wagon. Curb weight is on the heavy side. I’d avoid the 3.0. Few people ordered the sedan with a manual, so one is not offered here.

    My father has the 2008 sedan. He’s increasingly dissatisfied with the ride quality on the smooth but uneven road that leads to his house–too much head toss with the mid-level FE2 suspension. His RX-8 rides much better on this particular road, so YMMV.

    In terms of  reliability, the 2008 CTS had a rough start but has since improved to about average based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. The 2009 appears to be better than average so far, based on a small sample.

    More participants always helpful, for all models. For the details, and to sign up:

    • 0 avatar

      interesting observation about the ride, Michael.  I have never driven a CTS.  I have driven a 2007 STS.  It stuck to the road like glue, but at the same time seemed to have a surprisingly large amount of suspension travel.  It does cause a certain amount of head-tossing over washboard surfaces.  The combination of all that suspension motion and excellent handling in spite of it was a little weird at first, but after a while I came to like it.  Let me put it this way, this was one of the very rare circumstances where I rented a model of car I had not driven before, and after living with it for a few days wanted to own it (as opposed to the usual rental car experience, of wanting to take it out behind the  barn and shoot it).

  • avatar

    I am so looking forward to a test drive of this “sport”wagen.
    It seems the reviews are favorable.
    The ONE question I will have is low end torque.
    I spent a lot of money and my wife still won’t speak to me exchanging the 3.7 MKS for the Ecoboost.
    ALL because I need low end power.
    I don’t want to know about the power at high RPM…so what about high rpm power.
    I want t o feel push off from take off.
    IS this available with this car?
    If not, then take away all the “sport” wagen crap.
    To me …”sport” means  fun from the beginning.

    • 0 avatar

      The CTS definitely comes up a little short on torque from takeoff, but the engine loves to be wound out, and the transmission plays along (unlike Mercedes, which has a bad habit of deciding how hard you should be driving). The positive, though, is that the CTS is a more relaxing drive than, say, the BMW 335 or Infiniti G37, which are both hard-edged sports sedans. The CTS actually reminds me of the Jag XF.

      I guess it just depends on what kind of driving flavor you want.

  • avatar

    I’ll go with the 335ix wagon it can be had with a real 6 speed

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer


  • avatar

    Why is there a picture of a 4-door hatchback instead of a picture of a station wagon?
    In a true wagon, the B, C, and D pillars are close to vertical.
    In a true wagon, the back end of the roof is as high as any other point.
    In a true wagon, an awesome greenhouse offers outstanding visibility in all directions.
    In a true wagon, no stylistic nonsense compromises the interior cargo space.
    I haven’t seen an honest wagon offered in the USA since the Volvo 850 and the BMW E39 wagons.
    This Caddy wagon will fail just like the Honda Crosstour.

    • 0 avatar

      Findude: +1. Especially the bit “In a true wagon, the B, C, and D pillars are close to vertical.”
      Obviously, a vertical D pillar maximizes cargo space. What’s less obvious–that is, until you’ve tried it–is that a vertical C pillar makes it much easier to lift your toddler into a car seat without smacking your head or your toddler’s head.
      Owning both an S60 and XC70, I can tell you that when I’m taking my daughter anywhere, I’d rather take the XC70.

    • 0 avatar

      I bought a true wagon earlier this year; my second from this manufacturer.  All-wheel drive, 5-speed stick.  Made in Lafayette, Indiana.  The 2010 model is rather odd-looking but a little roomier than my ’09 and there’s a new 6-speed manual transmission.  Choose from 4-cylinder with or without turbo, or a 6 cylinder.  It’s no secret here in New England as you see these wagons everywhere.

  • avatar

    Uh, no it’s not.

  • avatar

    A bit of road clearance is a good thing — the Volvo R models (real ones, at least) are at risk from steeply-angled parking ramps and railroad crossings, not to mention ruts and deep snow. The exhaust system is the lowest point under the sedan and costs over a couple hundred bucks to re-weld and replace brackets. Once-burned led to twice-cautious! It made me remember the old days of “OK for Austin-Healy” rallyes.

  • avatar

    No 335i xDrive wagon for the US unfortunately.  Such a vehicle would be very appealing though.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    I fixed the obvious typos. The style is the author’s. Are there more typos?

  • avatar

    Wagon guy here (recently a saab 9-5, now a 3 series and A4 wagon in the driveway).  This looks good to me, despite the D Pillar.  But I suspect that my wife would look at that D pillar and say ‘NFW’.
    I was going to complain about how heavy this thing is, then I did a cursory check, and a 5 series wagon (size if not class/$$ competitor) is also something like 4100 lbs.  Which seems pretty holy crap to me.  I looked up the curb weight of my old same-size 9-5… about 3300 lbs.
    I guess I shouldn’t start complaining about car weights, as that’s not going to get me anywhere (it would be like complaining about not getting Euro Fords or Euro Diesels), so I should be thankful that there’s another decent wagon choice out there :)

  • avatar

    “They don’t’ really make this vehicle.”
    Extra punctuation.

    “On most weekdays I start my commute in a the small bus”
    Makes no sense.

    “So, if you want to you need to haul dogs,”
    Pick one.

    “The tester had 19’ all season tires”
    Can God make a rim so big, even He cannot bend it?

  • avatar

    Paul –

    Example: “I like the air vents integrated into the center column and the navigation screen that gets out of the way when the wagon in question has a couple of features the notched brethren lack.”


  • avatar

    I have no idea what all the griping about this car’s styling is about. This is a DYNAMITE looking piece. With the V package, it’d be perfect.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Thanks; even more fixed now. Sorry; Monday morning rush. Any more?

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Agreed! I think this thing looks hot and that seems to be the general consensus reading other reviews/comments of it on the web. Maybe this is the car that will make wagons cool/popular again in the US.

    Thanks for the review, I’m in the market for a wagon and the caddy is one more option.

  • avatar

    I like this car A LOT! Dead sexy! And it is even available without AWD, which I have no use for. But no manual=no sale to me. I keep hoping BMW will bring over a 2wd 320D-T six-speed by the time I am ready to trade my Saab, but I am not holding my breath.

    I don’t get the American obsession with sedans. A wagon will do absolutely everything that a sedan will do, while a sedan can’t do many things that a wagon (or hatchback) can do. I brought home a 55″ TV in it’s box in the back of my Saab 9-3 SportCombi, for example. And the smaller the car, the less sense a sedan makes – I laugh every time I see something like a Yaris or Cobalt sedan. Utterly pointless.

  • avatar

    Someone in my neighborhood just picked up one of these, in the same color as shown in this review.  And I must say, I count myself as an envious neighbor!  This thing looks great parked in that driveway – I want one parked in mine!

  • avatar

    So, nice looking car.  Everybody wants a Caddy station wagon.  How big is it?  How many seats?  Can I get plywood from the lumber yard, furniture and power tools from the auction, skis for the mountain, or a motorcycle inside it?   Can I drive it with a load so big the liftgate won’t close?
    And, do you really believe that a 3.6 liter V6 gets 304 hp?   My 4.6 liter Northstar V8 only claims 275 hp in standard trim,  enough power to make a Deville step out right smartly.

  • avatar

    Who a wrote-a this article? Borat? :-)
    LOl seriously, I drove the CTS wagon, and it’s not bad….but for $10k less, I’d rather have one of these……if you can find one…more space, refinement, and of course way more power/torque!

    • 0 avatar

      That’s exactly what I wanted to know.
      I will look at these as I need a wagon/sports car(?) in Florida.

       FreedMike…thanks for the information.
      I will still test drive cause, hell…just ’cause I like doing it.
      It just seems to me that SPORTSwagen SHOULD mean torque.
      I don’t know why I am this way, but usually about 2 months after buying a large car, the take off begins to really bother me.  I guess it’s because there are so, so many traffic lights that you get tired of the sluggish, non turbo feeling of these larger automatics.

    • 0 avatar

      MB only imports about 60 E class AMG wagons a year. I was lucky enough to find a pristine one recently. What a fantastic all purpose vehicle!

    • 0 avatar

      Ahhh…but even more stealthy…the R63 AMG. Gotta love a minivan that can go 0-60 in about 4 seconds. Hehehehehe…..

  • avatar

    The D-pillar is indeed atrocious – this car apparently is even more difficult to see out of than a Dodge Magnum (an earlier example of a slant-backed, sedan-based “sport wagon” with big wheels and available AWD). And for what? Why couldn’t a larger window have been fitted in that huge pillar? With any luck this Caddy will be as short-lived as the Magnum.

    • 0 avatar

      Have you ever actually driven a Magnum? As an owner of one, I can tell you that the sightlines are excellent if you bother to check them. Rear and side views are as clear as my previous sedan, a Ford Contour, which had narrow B and C pillars. I regularly back into tight parking stalls without ANY problems. The Magnum is a terrific vehicle I would purchase again. I have begged Chrysler to re-introduce it as a 300 model. Once again, Chrysler led the pack and the rest dutifully follow along. BTW, have you considered remedial driving lessons, or shoulder checking?

  • avatar

    I agree with the styling. I’d also go as far as saying this is the best looking wagon currently on the market and Cadillac’s Art & Science theme really fits a vehicle like this well.

  • avatar

    I don’t understand arguing about the looks. That’s like debating color … buy what you like. I happen to love the looks of this thing, but I don’t have a problem with people who don’t. This review was helpful, nonexistent proofreading and all — thanks. The only other car on my short list is an A4 Avant, which is practically the same money comparably equipped. The Audi drives well, and has maybe a slightly better ride/handling compromise, but the 4-cylinder/automatic combination (the only configuration they offer here) just doesn’t have enough guts.

  • avatar

    Didn’t any of your mothers drive a Country Squire?  None better.

  • avatar

    Sorry! Grandmothers.

  • avatar

    I like it…
    Sure wish GM would sell me some sort of Astra/Insignia wagon derivative that I could afford. I did like what I saw of the Regal but will have to catch it on the used market unless they cancel it (like the Astra) where I won’t touch it b/c 10 years down the road I’ll have a hard time getting parts for it.

  • avatar

    findude, you nailed it.

  • avatar

    I like it, but without a stick… All the wagon owners that I know seek out manuals. OTOH we are all car geeks.

  • avatar

    Isn’t the rear-view photo of CTS Sportwagon on the plaza an export version?
    I notice the bigger white rectangle housings on the taillamps on the export version, which is for the amber turn signal indicators and reverse lamps. The North American version (the one with gate opened up) has tiny reverse lamp housings.
    I guess Cadillac is definitely selling CTS Sportwagon in Europe after all…

  • avatar

    I think it looks good.
    About the styling:
    There are different kinds of wagons.
    This belongs to the upperclass wagons.
    The buyers wants something stylish.
    It´s not that important if the loading area isn´t  a superpractical square box, or if it´s difficult to see all around.
    I think this could sell in Europe.
    A luxury wagon for people who wants to stand out in a crowd, with all the Audis, Volvos and Mercedes wagons around.

  • avatar

    Not convinced that you know better than a computer?  Haha, I can tell you’re a different kind of reviewer!  Those things are programmed by people, you know.. just kidding! 
    Enjoyed the review, and I like the car, atleast in theory.  I think you did identify what it is I seem to like about the looks of wagons– the lengthening of the roof and hiplines.  Seems to consistently give them a much cleaner appearance.

  • avatar

    ‘Tis very similar to the Holden VE Commodore Sportswagon released July last year.

  • avatar

    I think it’s one of the smarter moves the brand can make.

    Sadly, you are in the minority… and a teeny tiny minority too.   Americans hate wagons, there is a reason that MB and others are abandoning this market.   Its because this market is DEAD.   See many wagons on the road?  Me neither.
    But don’t take my word for it, how is this car doing against say a equally brand new Crossover that sits in the showroom with it?  The Wagon’s reviews have been  GLOWING … the SRX reviews have been at best “mixed” and yet the SRX are flying out of the showrooms and the Wagons just sit there unloved and unwanted.
    People love to go “Oh Ah a Sport Wagon, they are so cool, I have found my car” and then they buy a ute. 
    The sales numbers don’t lie and Cadillac is seeing the same thing. 
    The trend has not changed.

  • avatar
    Jeff Waingrow

    Even the best writers require good editing to make it all come out right. You should see some of the preliminary versions of what were later, critically acclaimed books. Academics and other scholarly types are notorious for their incomprehensible ramblings. That said, this writer just needs a little directing to be an excellent reviewer. But that will take an excellent editor too.

  • avatar

    I dont get the E55 AMG reference that car is around 80k and this is around 50k, nolo contendre in my book…

  • avatar

    Audi,bmw, and merc all import their wagons in very small numbers.  This insures they all sell and the demand stays high amongst the demographic that buys them.  Most wagon deals are orders or locates and usually sell for sticker so they have a better profit margin for the dealer.  We sell every wagon they send us.  When I was at the porshce/Audi store we couldn’t get enough avants and got over sticker for them sometimes.  I’m sure cadillac expects to only sell a few hundred of these a month and should have no problem doing so.
    BTW I think the caddy is ugly and in my opinion the A4 avant is the hot ticket in the highline wagon segment. My next door neighbor has a green e55 wagon.  That is one bad ass wagon.  When he needs service,  I bring him home a loaner and drive his e55 in to work.  It too bad audi and merc killed off their hotrod wagons here.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark MacInnis

      ….which is why we USED Wagon buyers LOVE the fact that the original owners love their wagons so much they are willing to take the HUGE depreciation hit on them….used Audi and BMW wagons are typically 5% to 15% less than similar model sedans…which makes them absolutely great bargains, especially since wagon owners, being typical car-geeks, maintain them well.

      Getting the wagon model you want at a bargain. Ahhhh, bliss.

  • avatar

    I really wanted to like this car.  It looks great, it’s soft and smushy, and it’s a wagon!  But when I sat in it at the SF auto, all my hopes deflated.  I’m 6’4″ and that car felt more cramped in the driver seat than a 128i convertible :(  The seats were nice, but I didn’t get the caddy coddling feeling I was expecting.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow, they must have seriously screwed the interior packaging, the Holden is only a smidgen larger in exterior dimensions and wheelbase but unless your arse is 6’4″ wide too you’d fit easily and with room to spare (Note: I’m 194cm myself – and I refuse to use your ridiculous avoirdupois system :p).

    • 0 avatar

      I didn’t have any trouble fitting in the car, it just didn’t feel like there was a lot of room to spare.  I’m a scrawny guy, but everything was just more snug than I wanted it to be.

  • avatar

    I like the looks of this wagon.  It’s one of the best-looking ones, to my taste.  Even though the huge D pillars are not practical, I can understand why they designed them this way: if they made a conventional-looking wagon with straight pillars, many people would see it as another boring high-end wagon.  This way it looks sporty and sexy = more of an eye magnet.  Hopefully the reliability will be good.  BTW, it’s a good idea to read what you write, especially when you want to post it on the Internet like this.

  • avatar

    As a current Volvo V70 R driver I am  always scoping potential rides that will replace her. Is the giant D pillar for structural reasons? Is the General too cheap to use  high strength steel or is it merely a design?  Considering that the A6 Avant is an order and wait car (4-6 months) it is nice to see other alternatives. Enough on the plate to at least brave a GM dealership and try a test drive.

  • avatar

    Nice car. Glad Mr. Mehta didn’t get a chance to torch it. Like the looks and the quality. Not too sure it will be a volume car though.

  • avatar

    It’s too bad this wagon isn’t offered with a diesel engine option. Power and good fuel economy would be a great combination.

  • avatar

    I’m a wagon guy, but this car is so FUGLY.
    I did like Magnum even if it wasn’t most practical execution of a wagon with a tapered roof and thick D-pillars. It was wide and low and looked powerful. Front end of it wasn’t the best, but overall it looked lot better then CTS wagon.

  • avatar

    If your test mule was black, why is the wagon featured here red???

  • avatar

    I really like this wagon, especially as a used alternative when I am ready to retire my 9-5 Aero Sportcombi. If I can find one. . . . Incidentally, the mileage isn’t any worse in RWD than the new Lacrosse, a FWD platform. If GM decides to sell a Regal GS here (same or very similar platform to the Lacrosse) I might actually have 2 to choose from. . .
    It’s great that they (GM) is selling it here – if enthusiasts put their money where they’re posts are, maybe it will survive long enough for the pendulum to swing back from SUV’s.

  • avatar

    Kudos to Caddy in that they’re offering us a new wagon choice, and in that this wagon has gotten excellent reviews everywhere. It seems to be the consensus choice for “car you’d most like to live with,” especially for snow-state dwellers who need AWD.

    But to my eye, it’s ugly — the giant D-pillars make it look like a Photoshop “what if” exercise, not a proper factory wagon. And that gaping eggcrate maw…ick!!! Crappy MPG without a lot of interior volume isn’t super-appealing either. And the price point is beyond the reach of mortals.

    Bring the new Mazda6 wagon stateside, stat.

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