Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cadillac knows how to roll with new wagon

Sacramento, California – Hard to believe, but the 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon is Cadillac’s first-ever wagon offering in North America.

OK, the timing is strange. Just as General Motors was being scolded by the automotive press, auto industry analysts and some federal government officials for building cars outside its bread-and-butter niches, GM rolls out a $40,000-$50,000 Caddy wagon dishing out 270 or 300-plus horses on the power curve.

Makes you feel like you’re back in the 1990s, doesn’t it?

Well, in GM’s defense, if it’s going to produce a wagon, it might as well produce a quality wagon. And the CTS Sport Wagon is precisely that.

Best off, you get the full Cadillac CTS experience on the front end – the rakish cowcatcher of the future grille seems capable of devouring compact cars in a single gulp. Looking at the Sport Wagon straight-on, you’d swear it’s a hot CTS sedan model.

Walking 10 feet left or right of the grille tells you: Oops, it’s a wagon. A hot wagon riding on 19-inch wheels, but a wagon nevertheless.

Wagon is not a word all automakers like to apply to their cars. It implies old, stodgy family car. However, you don’t need to feel that way in this ride. It looks cool enough to preserve your hip adult reputation and delivers enough oomph to trump any sports car-envy feelings you might have.

Central to the oomph factor on the tester was the 3.6-liter V-6 pumping out 304 horses, mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. Acceleration is brisk. Ditto climbing capabilities. Steering was firm, yet just easy enough to do with one hand. Response instant. The tester took on a slalom course like a champ.

The 304-horsepower engine was standard on my tester – the V-6 Premium versions with rear drive, starting at $48,655. There are a whopping 10 trim levels of the CTS Sport Wagon, and six of those have a 270-horsepower V-6 as standard. The base rear-drive model starts at $38,265.

Please note that the power plant with 304 ponies gets a tepid 18 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

All CTS models feature an independent short/long arm front suspension system, with multi-link on the rear. Cadillac engineers did their homework here as the tester glided butter-smooth even on winter-beaten surface streets. Not much noise makes its way into the passenger cabin. Four-wheel disc brakes, with hydraulic brake assist, had serious stopping power.

Interior amenities included most of what you’d expect in a contemporary Cadillac, which is to say a lot. Standard on the tested CTS wagon included a sunroof, tire pressure monitor, power/heated exterior mirrors, retractable cargo shade, leather seating surfaces, wood trim, rearview camera, adaptive headlights and so much more.

For those who must have their mobile tech fix, available features include a 40-gigabyte internal hard drive and a pop-up navigation screen.

The wagon’s rear cargo area is wide and spacious, also getting the additional plus of a power liftgate. Press a button on the fob to trigger it open; press the button mounted on the liftgate to close shop. I’m appreciating this feature more and more in my old age as it seems my hands are full whenever I need to open/close the rear hatch. There must be some scientific study to back this up. Maybe another time. Otherwise, this CTS Sport Wagon came off as a top-tier offering for a mostly top-tier income bracket.

Lap of luxury? Absolutely.

Capable of hot laps? No worries.

Nice effort for a first-time wagon? I’d say so.

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