Reviewing the 2010 CTS wagon, The fact that you can now buy a Cadillac sportwagon gives you an idea how much has changed at Cadillac. Pop-off wire wheels and vinyl roofs are no longer on the options list. Beating BMW and Audi is.
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Preying Mantis malevolent good looks. Knife-edged handling. Outstanding performance from optional direct-injected 3.6 liter V-6. Huge cargo area. Sharply crafted interior. More powerful - and quicker - than a BMW 3-Series wagon. Much more powerful than an Audi A4 Avant. Vastly less expensive than a BMW 5-Series wagon ($55,800 to start) or Audi A6 Avant ($53,310 to start).
WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD
Preying Mantis malevolent good looks may be too edgy for some buyers. No manual transmission option (even though one is available in the virtually identical CTS sedan). More expensive than a BMW 3-Series wagon (starting price $35,400 for rear-drive, $37,400 for xDrive all-wheel-drive) or Audi A4 Avant Quattro ($35,350).
The four-cylinder-only Audi A4 Avant, meanwhile, is totally outclassed.
The fact that the CTS wagon is also a larger car than either the 328i or the A4 Avant makes matters even bleaker (for BMW and Audi). Their size (and power) equivalent models - the 535i wagon and A6 Avant - are as much as $10,000-$15,000 higher-priced to start than the CTS wagon. Advantage, Cadillac. Both CTS engines feature variable valve timing technology and direct fuel injection, a more efficient way of getting fuel into the engine's cylinders without sacrificing power.
Both engines are also high-compression (11.7:1 for the 3 liter engine; 11.3:1 for the 3.6 liter engine) yet operate on regular unleaded fuel. Many high-powered (and high compression) engines in this segment either recommend premium for best performance and economy - or require it. The Caddy's 18 city/27 highway EPA fuel efficiency rating (3 liter engine w/RWD) is also slightly better than the much less powerful BMW 328i wagon (17 city/27 highway) and even more impressively, matches the four-cylinder A4 Avant's highway number (27 mpg) while only giving up 3 miles per gallon to it on city mileage (21 for the four-cylinder Audi, 18 for the V-6 Cadillac).
The BMW 5 wagon (with 300 hp engine) slurps it down at the rate of 16 city, 23 highway. The also-300 hp A6 Avant does better: 18 city, 26 highway. But neither beat the CTS. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard with either CTS engine; no manual transmission is available. All-wheel-drive is optional with either engine - a nice touch when you look around and notice that with many AWD-available luxury cars (sedans and wagons) you have to buy the optional engine to get the AWD. That's not the result of greed; it's necessary because the standard engine lacks enough power to deal with the added weight/loading of the AWD without noticeably hurting acceleration.
The CTS has no such problems. Both 3 liter and 3.6 liter versions are quick cars (0-60 in about 6.8 seconds for rear-drive versions with the 3.6 liter engine and just over 7 seconds for rear-drive models equipped with the 3 liter engine).
It's stronger and quicker, first of all - at least when equipped with the 3.6 liter engine. As noted earlier, BMW withholds the 3-Series sedan's optional twin-turbo six from the 3-Series wagon - allowing a gap of 74 horsepower between it and the CTS sedan. And it's not just raw power, either. The Caddy's engine is an engineering tour-de-force, upping the ante with both variable valve timing and direct injection - which gives it more power with better gas mileage than the BMW six. The Caddy's engine is also a high-revving engine, like the BMW's. Floor it (even in Drive) and the tachometer will swing close to 7,000 RPM and feel (and sound) good doing it, too.
It's just a shame that Cadillac decided not to offer the same six-speed manual transmission that's available in the CTS sedan in the CTS wagon given the aggressive/performance theme of the CTS. This is the one area where the BMW wagon has an edge over the Caddy as a sportwagon.
The car's handling/grip/ride, however, cannot be faulted. It will corner without squeal or lean or feeling unwell at very high speeds. My local "test track" is Bent Mountain road, a series of hairpins and sweepers that runs up about 1,000 feet in elevation from the valley to the top in about two miles of serious fun - in the right car. The CTS wagon is such a car.
These curves, posted at 35 mph, can be taken at 60 with no real worries other than the possibility of a cop coming down the mountain the other way. My test car had the optional FE3 performance suspension, which includes limited slip axle, 19-inch rims and 45-series ZR-rated summer tires. The FE3 package also includes sharper suspension settings and larger four-wheel-disc brakes. Along with the 304 hp engine, smartly shifting six-speed automatic and 3.42 rear axle ratio, it is a formidable machine.
STYLING & UTILITY
The funny things is, BMWs used to have the crisp styling - and now they're kind of blobby looking, with cottage cheesy rear ends and awkward styling elements - while Cadillac has emerged as the brand defined by its sharp lines and well-packaged, coherent styling.
The CTS wagon has the same basic nose and front end as the sedan but is defined by its dramatically styled aft section, especially the unusually shaped rear side glass, "dummy" C pillar and fixed mini-sized quarter-window. Take a look at the complex shapes and lines; individually, they seem unrelated but when you step back and view it as a whole, it all comes together, giving the CTS a car-show/concept look that is really wild. Ditto the rear section and liftgate, with its relatively small glass section flanked on either side by two huge LED brake/tail-lights that taper upward all the way to the roofline and which are shaped to echo the proud fins on classic '50s and '60s-era Caddys.
The cabin is likewise uber-modern and beautifully finished, with satin-nickle trim plates and high-quality Sapele Pommele wood inserts. It's a neat-looking and inviting space, contemporary but not austere. The only downside is the CTS gives up some passenger (and cargo) room for the sake of its avante-garde good looks. The stodgier BMW 3-Series wagon, for example, has a bit more total cargo capacity (61 cubic feet vs. 58 for the Caddy). But the upside is the Caddy's got a bit more rear seat head and legroom - about half to three quarters of an inch in each category. That may not sound like much, but if it means the difference between having some air between your head and the car's ceiling, it's the difference between usable back seats and not usable back seats.
The CTS wagon easily beats the A4 on cargo capacity (51 cubic feet) though (surprisingly) the physically smaller (outside) Audi is roomier for passengers inside than either the CTS wagon or the BMW 328i. It has 40.4 inches of front seat headroom and 38.2 inches of rear seat headroom.
The BMW 5-Series wagon and A6 Avant have roughly the same front and back seat head/legroom - and almost exactly the same total cargo capacity (58 cubic feet for the BMW, 59 cubic feet for the Audi). But as with the power/performance issue, to get "par" in these brands, you have to pay through the nose. The CTS is priced much closer to the the 3-Series and A4 Avant than it is to the 535i and A6 Avant - both of which start within striking distance of $60,000 vs. under $40k for the Cadillac. You are literally getting more for your money with the CTS.
QUALITY & SAFETY
Cadillac has come back - and pulled dead even with the best that Europe and Japan have to offer. There may be reasons not to buy a new CTS (wagon or sedan) but they have nothing to do with issues of build quality, fit and finish or materials and workmanship. This is a magnificently put-together car.
Cadillac's confidence in its renewed excellence shows through in the CTS wagon's standard four year/50,000 mile comprehensive and five year/100,000 mile warranty coverage - which is stronger than BMW and Audi offer (four years/50,000 mile basic and four years/50,000 miles on the powertrain).
Lexus doesn't sell a sportwagon, but for perspective, the drivetrain warranty on the much-vaunted ES350 is six years/70,000 miles. Mercedes-Benz is apparently even less confident in the long-term durability of its products. The E-Class wagon (which is larger than the CTS wagon, not really a sportwagon and also priced at $57k to start, so there's no direct comparison, vehicle to vehicle) comes with a rather skimpy four-year/50,000 mile drivetrain warranty.
As far as safety equipment, the CTS wagon comes with all the gear (ABS, side-impact and curtain air bags, traction and stability control) that has become as much a given in a luxury car as air conditioning is in family cars - plus GM's OnStar system, with one year's subscription included. OnStar can summon police and EMS to a crash scene automatically, even if you are not conscious. A transponder in the vehicle lets the OnStar network locate the car wherever it is. Some may not like the Big Brother-ish aspects of OnStar but there's no denying the help it can provide in an emergency.
THE BOTTOM LINE
There are only a few luxury wagons on the market - even fewer real-deal sportwagons that are as fun to drive as they are useful. The CTS wagon is easily the standout among them, if you want style and driving excitement along with room for a couple of labrador retrievers in the back - for potentially a lot less money than BMW or Audi are demanding for a similar powerful/similarly sizable machine.