By Mike Levine on December 8, 2010
There’s no logical reason for the Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon to exist. It’s a 556-horsepower, supercharged eight-cylinder rear-wheel-drive station wagon with a six-speed manual transmission (optional) for $64,000. Dozens of minivans and crossovers can shuttle you, your family and your groceries around town for significantly less money, but not a single one is anywhere near as heart-pumping as this sports car cleverly disguised as a “practical” family hauler.
The CTS-V Sport Wagon is the third high-performance variant of Cadillac’s well-received midsize car, following the handsome sedan and lust-worthy coupe. This is the stealthy one. Your kids and neighbors don’t expect a wagon to go from zero to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds.
Compared to the non-V versions — which come with a standard 270-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 or optional 304-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 — all Cadillac Sport Wagons share the same sharp-edged handsome exterior styling that’s become Cadillac’s signature. But the CTS-V adds subtle bling by trading its eggcrate grille for diamond mesh and sporting unique 19-inch wheels, lower ride height and mandatory V badges. It also has a power bulge hood to cue sharp-eyed car spotters that there’s a twin-screw Eaton blower wedged in the eight-cylinder engine’s valley.
Unlike the V sedan and V coupe, the V wagon shares the same exhaust tips as the six-cylinder cars, so it’s difficult to determine which one you’re driving behind until you’re left in the dust at a stoplight by a soccer mom late for her coffee klatch at Starbucks.
The cabin is well-trimmed and cleanly executed. The basics of its layout still look good three years after debuting in the second-generation 2008 CTS sedan. The CTS-V Sport Wagon adds extra luxury by wrapping suede leather around the steering wheel and shifter knob and inserting suede patches in firm Recaro seats. High-gloss piano black trim that looks like it’s been lifted from Darth Vader’s breastplate is draped around the stick and center stack, adding both class and menace to the interior. A pop-up navigation system provides a large screen with clear, legible graphics, though some of the virtual buttons are difficult to access when presented at the bottom of the display. Hands-free phone and voice command service is intelligent too, with above-average voice recognition.
The true utility of this vehicle, though, lies beyond the second-row seat between the massive C-pillars. There’s 25 cubic feet of cargo space that can be expanded to 53 cubic feet when the second-row seats are folded down. Cadillac designers did an excellent job providing all that space while ensuring that rearward visibility doesn’t take a backseat to style.
But the moment you start the CTS-V up is when you realize this is a wagon like almost no other, except the ultra-rare Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG wagon.
In the morning, when the engine is cold, the 6.2-liter V-8 fires up with an impressive rumble that reminds you what lurks in its engine bay. In my experience living with the CTS-V wagon for a week in Southern California, my kids got a kick out of setting off the neighbor’s overly sensitive car alarm almost every time we backed out of our driveway. The neighbor? Not so much.
We used the wagon for almost every conceivable scenario that could be expected of it. It served as a grocery getter, school bus and a shuttle to Disneyland for four kids. For Dad, it also served the role as a track car.
In around-town driving in crowded West Los Angeles, the six-speed manual shifter helped liven up the drudgery of the morning commute, though the super-stiff clutch led to a leg-aching workout in stretches of stop-and-go traffic that lasted more than 20 minutes. In low-speed jams, the V-8 calmly lugged in 1st gear without complaint or stalling as it crept along at several miles per hour. Almost every shift of the six-speed was short and precise except the 5th-6th upshift, which sometimes proved a bit tricky finding the notch for 6th.
Getting on the freeway was a blast. It was nearly impossible not to want to punch the CTS-V down the ramp and onto the highway in a show of speed, to hear the rumble of its V-8 and quickly row through its gears.
We filled the CTS-V wagon’s tank frequently, able to stretch its 18-gallon tank of premium to around 250 miles, or about 13.5 mpg when we drove the car with moderately restrained behavior.
Ride tuning is changed with the touch of a button in the center stack. The CTS-V’s shocks stiffen or relax between Sport and Touring suspension modes. A special Competition Mode can be activated with two presses of a button on the steering wheel. This mode turns off most electronic traction control aids if you want to control the CTS-V’s yaw angle instead of leaving that up to a computer.
The sum of all of the capabilities we’ve described in the CTS-V Sport Wagon gloriously came together when we picked up a Christmas tree that we delivered to our friends at Willow Springs Raceway north of Los Angeles. Since we don’t get much white stuff in these parts during the winter, we decided to make some of our own at the track. As they say, let ‘em smoke, let ‘em smoke, let ‘em smoke.
Right now, if you’re looking for a family carry-all that can haul five passengers and a healthy amount of luggage or groceries while offering the performance of a high-powered sports car that you could race with a straight face on the weekend, there’s probably no better option. Actually, there are no other options at this price.