Station wagons used to be a staple of the American automobile industry. Introduced before World War II, typically with wooden body elements, station wagons hit their peak starting in the 1950s. Early in that decade, all-metal wagon bodies became the rule.
Well before the turn of the 21st century, however, station wagons had lost their allure. The big family-style station wagons that once dotted suburbias across the land were long gone. What kept wagons alive were the sporty editions issued by several European automakers, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
Cadillac launched its first-generation CTS sedan for the 2003 model year, but only in sedan form. Wagons had never been part of the Cadillac repertoire, though for decades they were an integral element in the lineups from other General Motors brands: Buick, Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac. Naturally, then, redesigning of the CTS for 2008 also was sedan-only.
For 2010, on the other hand, Cadillac has introduced a CTS Sport Wagon, obviously intended to compete against those European sport models. Cadillac calls it a "progressive take on the classic wagon body style."
Similar to the sedan up front, the wagon wears a sleekly-profiled V-shaped rear body that accentuates the CTS's chiseled look. Luggage tucks into a hold behind the power-operated liftgate, in conventional wagon mode. Cadillac promotes cargo capacity that's nearly double that of a CTS sedan: 25 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and 53.4 cubic feet with that rear seat folded down.
Two engines are available: a 3.0-liter V-6 that produces 270 horsepower and 223 pound-feet of torque, and an optional 3.6-liter V-6 that generates 304 horsepower and 273 pound-feet. Both engines feature direct injection and run on regular-grade gasoline. Each drives a six-speed automatic transmission. Years back, big station wagons had comparably large V-8 engines, but Cadillac has been edging away from V-8 power in the interest of greater fuel-efficiency. With the smaller V-6, Cadillac estimates highway gas mileage at 28 mpg.
Built in Lansing, Michigan, the CTS Sport Wagon is offered with either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Standard tires ride on 17-inch wheels, but 18- or 19-inch rubber is available. Cadillac also offers three suspension choices: FE1, FE2, and FE3.
Performance is vigorous with the 3.6-liter engine, though the CTS does feel as if it's pulling quite a lot of weight. Few cars come across as more solid than Cadillac's CTS, and more so in wagon form. Solid and heavy, too. Doors are heavy. Steering is on the heavy side - though by no means difficult. With 19-inch tires and a sport suspension, the ride is firm indeed, yet surprisingly comfortable most of the time.
Instruments are stylish but easy to read at a glance. Most controls are logically positioned, but there's one annoyance: the electronic turn-signal lever can get confused when holding it lightly in activated position, flicking past "off" to actuate turn signals on the other side of the car.
Expensive it is, topping $52,000 (including destination charge) with the 3.6-liter engine. Even so, the CTS Sport Wagon serves as a compelling example of GM's move toward impressive quality in the past couple of years. Not every model has enjoyed sufficient improvement, but CTS stands tall in solid build quality, matched by a confident nature.
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