America has had an aversion to station wagons for the better part of the last 30 years. The early 70’s were the last of the glory days for wagons. But those five thousand pound land yachts with their fake wood paneling on their flanks turned off an entire generation to these vehicles. Yet when the time came for the generation that scorned wagons, for hauling kids, and all the gear that’s required these days to move kids around, they too bought wagons, though these were four wheel drive wagons with eight inches of ground clearance. Because these were aggressive off road vehicles, and the extent of their off road achievements were mall curbs and the occasional groomed dirt road, it was OK, because they weren’t the station wagons of their youth.
This was fine in a world of sub two dollar gas. Even when gas went to three dollars it was tolerable, But once gas went north of three dollars, the jig was up. SUV’s overnight became as acceptable as a telemarketer calling at 6AM on a Sunday, and in some circles that might have been less objectionable! The CUV’s or “Crossovers” are essentially the same thing, just on a unibody car platform rather than a full frame truck chassis. For those that had no need for for big SUV’s or CUV’s but needed to haul “things” the choices were very limited in the wagon segment. You could get a Jetta Wagon out of VW without going bankrupt, or you could take out that third home equity loan and get a wagon from BMW or Mercedes.
In Europe wagons, or estates as they refer to them, are quite popular. The market for SUV’s in Europe is fairly limited to do the prices of fuel and the size of the roads. Many in the US have long wanted a quality wagon to call their own here. Well it’s not inexpensive, at all, but Cadillac has taken their acclaimed new CTS and created a wagon version for the North American market.
As we said the CTS has been widely acclaimed by almost everyone as a world class car capable of competing with the best in the world, and we were excited to see just how far Cadillac had come. Our last experience with the CTS was with one of the first production models of the first generation years ago. Back then, we liked the car, though we saw quite a number of things that needed to be worked on.
The styling direction of Cadillac with the art and science direction has people in two camps, you like it or you don’t, almost no one is ambivalent about it. When it debuted it was controversial, now, while not common, it’s not the shock it once was. The latest version of the CTS takes this styling to another level. Where the first generation was just about angles, this evolution is about angles having an elegance and a purpose. With the wagon all these surfaces have more length to come to natural conclusions in the tail. One thing that struck us at the tail section of the wagon, was a stubble hint at Cadillac’s or yore. We aren’t sure if it’s on purpose, but their are hints tail fins! Overall the wagon is bold and elegant without being so overtly masculine as to turn off women.
But while the styling of a car is what draws you in, it’s the interior and the driving experience that keep you coming back. The funny thing is that our first impressions were pretty MEH! The first day or two we wondered what all the fuss was about, but the more time we spent with the car, the more we were drawn to it. There are a few things about the interior that we still have some issues with, and we’ll get to that shortly, but it was the driving experience that made the car grow on us. For better or worse our first reaction to, well, just about everything is usually the correct one. Experience has taught us that if you have to be talked into liking something, or it doesn’t strike you right away, then you should move on. The CTS Wagon is the exception that proves the rule. After our first day with it, we were prepared to really knock this thing. By the end we were trying to bribe people to let us keep the Caddy as a long term tester.
The CTS Wagon is no autocross champion, but it’s not the land yacht of days past either. It’s sporty and firm without being harsh, even on the bomb craters that we call roads in South East Michigan. It will roll down the boulevard, play in stop and go traffic and eat up the miles on the highway. The best part of it is that this wagon drives and feels like a sedan, yet swallows most things with ease. As you will see, it will haul a Christmas tree, and though she didn’t fix exactly, an English Mastiff!
On the inside the car is nice, it has a good driving position, and good room, but I have questions about some of the materials used. I’m not expecting Connolly Leather, wool carpeting and burl walnut when I get in, but the materials that were in the Buick LaCrosse that we had a couple weeks later weren’t very different. There are soft touch surfaces, but they were barely soft touch. The “aluminum” and “wood trim” in the car are plastic that have been treated to appear as aluminum and wood. I know this because a friend of ours works for the company that developed the process, and immediately said, “hey, this is out product”. Cadillac has made great strides in the last five to seven years, but I will maintain that American cars need to exceed expectations, not just have a level that is “good enough” or “about what you would expect”
The pop up nav and entertainment is nice and works well. The picture quality when watching a DVD was good, as you can see here in the opening scene in LeMans. The hands free for the phone and the entertainment system work well too. One thing I would like to see, and this is not exclusive to GM is that when it’s cold outside and you remote start the car to bring it up to temperature, it would be nice if the seat heat would stay on a setting that you left it. Nothing will wake you more on a cold morning that plopping down on to an ice cold leather seat! It’s even more noticeable if the car has been warming up and the heat has come on in the car and begins to warm up the cabin, yet the seat remains ice cold.
The 3.6 liter, 304 horsepower V6 has a nice spread of power. While the torque peak is a bit higher that you might want, the torque curve feels fairly broad. Acceleration is brisk and while we can’t wait for the V Series to come out, we could be quite happy with this motor.
And that brings us to the final point. Even with the negatives we pointed out this is a car that we were sad to see go. It’s nice to see Cadillac have solid execution on this car. Sadly many of the people coming into the show room will walk right past the Wagon and jump right into the SRX Crossover without trying the Wagon. 90% of the people that buy the SRX would be just as well served in the Wagon while enjoying better fuel mileage, and a better driving experience, but, most of those same people care little about the driving experience or what servers them best, just what they think they should be scene in. Our first impressions of the car weren’t the ones we left with and that’s a huge positive for Cadillac. This CTS Wagon is a car that will provide enjoyment for those smart enough and brave enough to buy it with years of happiness.