When Italian carmaking giant Fiat announced it would be taking over bankrupted, fed-rescued Chrysler, I was skeptical. Indeed, I thought the whole plan had ingested powerful hallucinogens. And yet I continue to hope that somehow, one day, I might be able to go down to my local Fiat/Chrysler dealer and purchase an Alfa Romeo 159 Sportwagon. This is a gorgeous, Roman lyre of a car, a sleek transporter that - when painted gloss black and kitted with 19-inch turbine alloy wheels - will stop traffic like an overturned big rig.
Until that day, the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon will have to do.
I know, "sport sedan" and "station wagon": The terms might seem as notionally dissonant as "Rhodes Scholar" and "Wasilla, Alaska." And yet, as I've said many times and many ways, the sport wagon genotype - which involves grafting a cargo hold to the back of a fast sedan - is the perfect solution for emotionally mature motorheads. Sport wagons combine nearly all the velocity and road-grabbing craftiness of a proper sport sedan with the family-friendly utility of an SUV/crossover. Actually, some sport wagons supply more functional cargo space than the comparable brute-utes from the same company (BMW X5, I'm looking at you).
2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon
• Base price: $39,830
• Price, as tested: $55,630
• Powertrain: Naturally aspirated 3.6-liter DOHC V6 with variable valve timing; six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode; rear-wheel drive with limited-slip differential
• Horsepower: 304 at 6,400 rpm
• Torque: 273 pound-feet at 5,300 rpm
• Curb weight: 4,300 pounds (estimated)
• 0 to 60 mph: 7.1 seconds (estimated)
• Wheelbase: 113.4 inches
• Overall length: 191.6 inches
• EPA fuel economy: 18 miles per gallon city, 26 mpg highway
And once in a while, the sport wagon version of a great-looking sedan looks even better. Not always, certainly. The BMW 3- and 5-series wagons (the Touring models, in the company parlance) aren't much to look at. Ditto the new Mercedes-Benz E-series wagon.
But the CTS Wagon and the Alfa 159 Sportwagon? Ahhh. With both cars, something cosmic and magical happens at the stern. The extra yard or so of sheet metal allows the styling and character lines to land gracefully at the rear, converging with deeply sloped rear windows, sharply canted D pillars and elegantly bowed roof lines. In the Caddie's case, the rear hatch is outrageous, set off by immense blade-like vertical taillamps that extend from bumper to roof. The LED center-high-mounted stop lamp (the CHMSL) stretches broadly across the rear glass. This thing has more red lights than downtown Amsterdam.
Some housekeeping: Like the sedan, the Cadillac Sport Wagon is available with a choice of two direct-injection V6 engines - a 3.0-liter, 270-horsepower unit and a 3.6-liter, 304-horsepower mill. All-wheel drive is available with both engines, but neither is available with a manual transmission (a six-speed automatic transmission is standard). There has been some talk of a future CTS-V Sport Wagon - a super-performance variant equipped with the end-of-days, 557-horsepower mega-motor - but I'll believe it when I see it.
In almost all cosmetic and mechanical respects, the CTS sedan and the wagon are identical, so the reasons to buy the wagon boil down to two: the compelling exterior styling and the cargo versatility. As for the latter: The wagon provides about 25 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats (double the trunk space of the sedan). With the seats down, the interior space expands to a generous 57 cubic feet, nearly as much as the butt-end of a Cadillac SRX crossover. In other words, loads of space. Also, the interesting chromic flourishes along the roof rails actually are there to conceal an integrated cargo rack system, if you should want to add a roof carrier.
The cargo hold is nicely trimmed, with several chrome tie-down hoops and a retractable cargo shade. At the same time, the CTS Sport Wagon is equipped with a cool power-hatch mechanism with programmable height setting, to prevent it from rising out of the owners' reach or clunking into the garage ceiling.
The additional sheet metal and power liftgate - and the general uptick in content that comes with the sport wagon package - adds a couple hundred pounds to the weight of the car, and it does feel a little less athletic than the sedan. Our test car - a 3.6-liter, rear-wheel-drive model with the limited-slip differential, 19-inch summer tires, sport suspension and brakes - accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in about 7 seconds and seemed to labor a bit under hard highway acceleration.
It's been a couple years since I drove the CTS sedan, and I must say, the CTS is beginning to feel a little dated as compared with the German and Japanese luxury competition.
The interior quality - the switchgear, the faux-leather upholstery on the dash, the soft-touch alloy finish on the center console - has been outpaced by fresher designs and better materials found in the cabins of, well, Infiniti, for one. Also, the powertrain doesn't feel or sound particularly refined. When you start the 3.6-liter V6, it sounds a little hoarse and harsh, certainly not the purling stream of butter of a BMW or Lexus engine. If you kick the throttle hard, the engine will emit some rather remarkable bleets and howls from the induction side. And the transmission can get pretty out of shape, too, with big walloping shift shocks and other odd behavior.
Still, there's nothing wrong with the way this car goes around corners. The CTS Sport Wagon corners with tight, controlled agility, with little body roll and lots of bite on turn-in and loads of sideways grip. The steering feel is nicely hefty, certain, well isolated, yet communicative. Good brakes, too.
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