Orlando Sentinel's view

With vehicles like the new plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt and the 30-miles-per-gallon Buick Regal, General Motors seems to be selling itself as the sensible-shoes car company, populating its lineup with plucky, practical cars that offend no one.

GM has sort of deeded the dynamic, wind-in-your-face market to Chrysler, which is advertising cars like the Dodge Challenger and redesigned Charger with old-school campaigns that emphasize heart and horsepower over corporate responsibility.

Somewhere, then, there must be a securely locked room at General Motors where they designed the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V station wagon. Or perhaps it was a project done after class, once all the bow-tied bean counters went home, and a handful of renegade engineers and stylists appeared from the shadows and got out their secret keys to the supply cabinet, and built what is, hands down, the most ridiculous, wonderful car of 2011.

Because there is no way a car like the Cadillac CTS-V station wagon could have been endorsed by the federal functionaries who signed off on GM’s bankruptcy plan. It is inconceivable that part of the company’s restructuring blueprint would have included a station wagon with a 556-horsepower, 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 engine with a six-speed manual transmission, which uses premium gas at a rate that earns it a $1,300 federal “gas guzzler” tax, and goes 190 mph.

But here it is, shimmering in the driveway, painted a “Diamond Tri-Coat” white that alone adds $995 to the price. Slide behind the steering wheel (suede-covered, $300 extra), into the leather Recaro bucket seats (excellent, but at $3,400, you want them to follow you inside the living room), and crank up the engine, and the exhaust note is so quiet that you wonder if GM executives suddenly came to their senses and slipped in the CTS’ standard 3.0-liter V-6.

Then you slip the Tremec manual transmission into first gear, ease out onto the highway and apply the throttle, and you realize that no, this is indeed the hounds-from-hell V-8 that will leave the standard Chevrolet Corvette in its dust. And you look in the rearview mirror and see a comfortable rear seat behind you, with two more doors and a 25-cubic-foot cargo area under the electric-opening rear hatch, and you think, “How does this car exist in 2011? And be built not by Mercedes-Benz or BMW or Audi, but Cadillac?”

Two adults can fit comfortably in the back seat, though headroom isn’t great. Driven conservatively, the CTS-V is not at all the snorting, edgy thoroughbred you might expect, but a comparatively docile car that gets closer to the EPA-rated 19 mpg highway fuel economy rating than the 14 mpg rated for the city. (Unless you get the automatic transmission, which drops the mileage rating to 12/18).

But as with the CTS-V sedan and coupe, the wagon’s taut suspension, Brembo brakes, tires and wheels are all premium pieces that make the car as much at home on a road-race track as a drag strip. Handling is superb, with a ride that is firm but tolerable even on rough pavement. Sound insulation is remarkable; you can barely hear the 19-inch Michelin Pilot tires, even on porous pavement.

Inside, there’s no shortage of Cadillac-like creature comforts and safety features. There’s a pop-up, voice-activated navigation system, a 10-speaker Bose sound system, a rearview camera, and xenon headlights that turn slightly to the left and right when the car does. There are only a handful of available options that didn’t come on the test car, including a power sunroof ($1,150) and a $4,850 sport and appearance package most easily identified by its bright yellow brake calipers.

At a base price of $62,165, and an as-tested price of $69,035 (including the gas guzzler tax), the CTS-V wagon is $23,900 more than the regular base-model CTS wagon. For what you get, and for what the CTS-V wagon represents, it’s surprising General Motors can offer this car for under $70,000.

It is impossible to predict what current cars will become future classics. But no 2011 American car — and nothing that costs under $100,000 — seems more likely to roll across the Barrett-Jackson Auction stage in 25 years, selling for a premium price, than the CTS-V wagon does.

And if nothing else, it helps me answer a question I’ve been asked for 25 years: “If you win the lottery, what would you buy?” There isn’t much else in the class that allows you to pick up the groceries, and the kids from soccer practice, on the way home from the race track.

2011 Cadillac CTS-V station wagon

Base price: $62,165

Price as tested: $69,035

EPA rating: 14 mpg city, 19 mpg highway

Engine: 6.2-liter, 556-horsepower supercharged V-8

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Length: 192 inches

Wheelbase: 113.4 inches

Parting shot: Cadillac answers the question no one is asking: Why can’t I buy a 190-mph station wagon?

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