“THAT’S a nice Cadillac.”
The black gentleman, mid-30s, gazed on astonished. He fixed intently on the 2010 Cadillac CTS sport wagon, a foray into heretofore unestablished territory for the marque to bear the “standard of the world.”
Remembering that no one believed the XLR-V cost $103,000 ($45K was the highest ballpark I’d get from a passerby), I asked this gent who was waiting for his own Dodge Charger wagon to emerge from the car wash on 138th Street in Queens, what he thought this Cadillac cost.
“Forty-five.” He said without hesitation.
In point of fact, the Sport Wagon starts at $38,265 in the States, though our test vehicle was closer to $50K.
“Would you pay sixty?” I asked, nodding toward the jet black over black CTS, whose xenon discharge lamps flickered through the mist of suds and spray.
In each Cadillac review, I’ve always gotten a feeling that the American public at large has this bond with Motown’s best brand. Of course, disparaging cynics will say that as tax payers, we’ve all got a vested interest in “Government Motors” – but – truly, more than any other car this side of a Ferrari, new Cadillacs fascinate.
Without beating about the bush, I’d say that onlookers’ uncanny interest – immediate and compelling – has everything to do with Cadillac designers getting it so right.
The CTS sports wagon is an example where Cadillac sought to cater to a niche but executed the product in a way that carried forward the sedan’s smart, business persona.
What we’re given is the first station wagon ever to look like it’s expressly made for men without hulking as if on steroids. Those cleaved edges, that high shoulder line, those broad wheel arcs, gorgeous aluminum 18″ rims and tall LED taillights bring purpose that telegraphs boardroom power more than PTA meetings.
Though, I think the taillights might owe some credit to the Volvo 850.
I asked Cadillac rep. David Caldwell who Team Cadillac saw as the CTS sport wagon’s typical driver.
“Most of these buyers are primarily luxury or sport sedan owners, or previous wagon owners. These are drivers who value driving dynamics of a lux/sport car primarily, but also have lifestyle needs for some cargo carrying space. [He/She] tends to be a very sophisticated and elite buyer, which is a key reason why we’ve chosen to develop our Sport Wagon. It elevates our brand to an extent, even though this is a market niche in the US currently.”
Mr. Caldwell went on to write that Cadillac sells a few hundred sport wagons per month in North America and the bulk or 75% of wagons sold are outfitted with all-wheel drive.
Our test vehicle was rear wheel drive, which in light of the blizzards that hit the Northeast in February, proved to be an interesting option. Luckily, the car was fitted with a fairly non-intrusive stability control program and Bridgestone Blizzaks on all four corners.
In days when the roads were dry, it was more possible to safely determine the “sport” extent in “Sport Wagon”. Needless to say, this proved a disappointment.
Much as I’d remembered in the CTS sedan test back in 2008, the same direct-injection 304 hp V6 lacked teeth thanks to a dithering six cog auto and an anemic powerplant whose maximum 273 pounds feet of torque happened at a lofty 5200rpm.
There’s no combination of Sport-mode or button-shifting yourself that can make the CTS Sports Wagon more responsive. Worse, the suspension does little to keep lean, yaw, and pitch in check during hard cornering nor especially planted at triple digit velocities.
Cadillac need only look to the tremendous Pontiac G8 GT to find a GM built car whose driving dynamics could provide the bridge template between the base CTS and the exceptionally potent CTS-V. The Pontiac’s powertrain proved far more responsive and the car’s rear wheel drive handling dynamics were tighter and far safer; being less prone to plodding understeer.
So, essentially, the CTS Sports Wagon would be better suited if pinned with the label “Luxury Wagon”. Pop-up GPS, Bose audio system, heated and cooled front seats, panorama moonroof, OnStar, indash CD, MP3, power liftgate, backup camera, adaptive headlights that corner according to the wheel position – the list of amenities was comprehensive and competitive.
The fit, finish, and materials were all of respectable grade (Caddy’s made long strides) if still not quite up to par with ze Germans, though, the Sapele wood trim was especially handsome.
Where does this leave us? Or more appropriately, the CTS Sport Wagon? In character, the CTS is a city slicker, a metro area only kind of ride – particularly in that smart shade of black in which the Caddy simply pops.
Does it match up with all those conservative New Englanders who view their vintage Mercedes diesel wagons, Volvo V70s, and Audi Quattros with such vaunted esteem? Not really, I don’t see much cross-shopping.
But for an entirely new customer, one inhabiting New York’s five boroughs perhaps, who wants wagon versatility -sans SUV height and weight – and the sleek edge and professionalism of a chalk stripe suit on wheels, the CTS Sport Wagon is a new cut from whole cloth.
“With a car like that,” the guy at the car wash marveled, “America could really come back. Our car industry. We could really comeback with a car like that.”