Published March 31, 2011
So, Cadillac has a new station wagon that goes 190 mph.
Yes, you read that correctly: Cadillac makes a station wagon.
The only thing crazier than that is the fact that it goes 190 mph. Maybe more.
The Cadillac CTS-V Wagon may be the most significant American car of the 21st century, so far. Not because it's green – at 14 mpg combined it is the least fuel-efficient American car currently on sale – or some segment-busting re-imagination of the automobile, but because it is the first time in a long time that a Detroit automaker has built something just for the heck of it.
Based on the CTS-V Sedan that was introduced in 2009, and the CTS-V Coupe that followed it last year, the CTS-V Wagon is, for the most part, mechanically identical to both of those. It has the same engine, same transmissions, same suspension and the exact same wheelbase, despite having more than twice as many the doors as the coupe.
This is why it exists. No one around here buys wagons anymore, let alone ones packing 6.2-liter 556 horsepower supercharged V8s cribbed from a Corvette’s, as the CTS-V Wagon does. Just ask the Germans, they stopped selling things like this in the United States some time ago. But, for some strange reason – namely, to do battle in the European market – GM decided to make a wagon version of the run-of-the-mill CTS, so this high performance variant was almost a no-brainer, and as close as it gets to free to develop.
Given that the donor car already sports a mean, wide-body stance, the only significant exterior work on the CTS-V Wagon takes place up front, where a bulging hood clears up enough room to stuff that motor under it while a new grille and chin spoiler feed more air into it.
Track-ready Brembo brakes with six-piston calipers up front, four in the rear are standard. The 19-inch wheels that surround them are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport tires, the kind of shoes you find on Ferraris. You need that sort of rubber when traveling at speeds that would raise eyebrows on the autobahn. They also help in the turns where an active suspension featuring manegetorheological shock absorbers – also from a Corvette - read the surface of the road a thousand times each second and make adjustments accordingly and instantly. This allows it to provide a relatively civilized ride on your commute, while delivering the kind of cornering ability once only the purview of cars with two seats.
Pushing the limits of absurdity a little further, the CTS-V Wagon is available with a six-speed manual transmission, although a six-speed automatic is an option. For better or worse, my test car was fitted with the latter. It's not the smartest auto on the planet, but at least it comes with buttons on the back of the steering wheel to change gears manually.
The car was also one of the Black Diamond edition CTS-Vs, which get satin graphite wheels, bright yellow brake caliper covers and black tricoat paint with glass-encased metal flakes suspended in it to create one of the most unique finishes ever seen on a car. It sparkles like the inside of a geode. I’d love to see the paint shop match it after an accident.
Inside, the changes to the already glitzy interior are subtle, but effective. Optional Alcantara-like microfiber on the steering wheel and seats, Recaro front buckets with adjustable bolsters, dark sapele wood on the dash and a center console finished in a black obsidian plastic so fancy that it comes with its very own cleaning cloth embossed with a V.
This is a thoughtfully-appointed car, the very essence of luxury – even if some of the switches are recognizable from the GM parts bin. One nice touch is the swatch of carpet that connects the leading edge of the front seat cushion with the floor, hiding all of the ugly bits underneath. Zippered compartments for the LATCH child seat attachment points also impress, and a reminder of the family-friendly nature of the donor car.
And, of course, there’s the cargo area, which is about 25 cubic feet with the rear seats up, more than double that with them down. It’s not very tall, so forget about shopping at Raymour and Flanigan, but certainly on par with many of those CUVs that people abandoned wagons for in the first place – including Caddy’s own SRX. To top it off, it’s finished in very fine carpet bordered with runners for the moveable cargo strap tie down points, which you’ll need.
Prod the gas pedal and any thoughts of practicality will quickly evaporate in a cloud of tire smoke accompanied by a wondrous chorus of supercharger whine and bellowing, big-displacement exhaust. That is if you use the very convenient steering-wheel mounted button to turn off the stability and traction control systems. Cycle them into Competitive Mode and you can get this well-balanced barge very sideways in the turns before they kick in to stop you from swapping ends. Not something you need to use on public roads, but neither is this car.
As odd as it seems, the CTS-V Wagon really is a track day monster disguised as a junior high jitney. In the real world you won’t often use more than 25 percent of its capability. But, much lighter on its feet than its 4390 pounds would suggest, it will happily lap even the most challenging circuit without fuss and run quarter miles all day at the drag strip in the 12s, just like the sedan and coupe. In fact, if you can tell the difference between the three of them to the extent that it matters you shouldn’t be a customer, you should be Cadillac’s test driver. They are that close.
Personally, as someone who remembers the world before it was invaded by minivans and crossovers, I’d go for the wagon. I think it’s the most attractive of the bunch, adds that little bit functionality and would be much more fun embarrassing Camaros in than a sedan or coupe. Granted, this kind of nonsense would be an expensive proposition. The CTS-V wagon sports a sticker price of $63,454 – also exactly the same as the sedan and coupe.
Dressed in its Black Diamond evening wear, the price jumps to over seventy grand. That’s a lot of spare change for a car that lacks a blind spot warning system and radar cruise control, features that are becoming common fare among the competition. But that’s assuming it had any real competition, which this cruise missile doesn’t.
Only one car comes close, is the Porsche Panamera Turbo, with its not-quite-a-wagon hatchback design. The German oddity has been the CTS-V’s arch rival ever since it broke the sedan’s record for fastest lap by a production four-or-more-door around Germany’s 13-miles-long Nurburgring race track…by 3 seconds. The wagon won’t win back the title, but for half the price of the Porsche – and with twice as menacing of a presence – can you really complain?
I won’t be the first person one to associate the CTS-V Wagon with Darth Vader - although the references would really only be apt if things had worked out for him and Padme and the Jedi didn’t have to send his kids off to foster homes - but I do so for a different reason than most.
Remember the end of "Revenge of the Sith" (also the third in a series) when Anakin was crawling out of that lava pit? Silly me, of course you do. That’s exactly how I felt climbing getting out of the Recaros after a long trip. My wife and friends of similar age agree. It’s unfortunate, because I’m sure the kids love them. Good thing you can order the CTS-V with the buckets from the standard car. But then, what’s the point?
Oh yea, when it comes to the CTS-V Wagon, there really is none.
Caution, meet wind.
2011 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon
Base Price: $63,454
Type: 5-passenger, 5-door wagon
Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8
Power: 556 hp, 551 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed automatic.
MPG: 12 city/18 hwy