Review: 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

By Kevin Miller

Since witnessing the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon make its debut in Detroit in early 2009, I’ve wanted the chance to get behind the wheel. I’ve got a soft spot for wagons, especially ones whose tail lamps trace the vertical shape up the car’s D pillars. In that regard, the CTS Sport Wagon doesn’t disappoint. Based on the second-generation Cadillac CTS Sedan that went on sale for the 2008 model year, the CTS wagon is Cadillac’s first production wagon for sale in North America.

Fortunately, the CTS sedan is a great starting point for this wagon. In addition to being the first Cadillac wagon ever in North America (aside from funeral cars), the CTS is one of GM’s few non-crossover wagons in this market.  (The Saab 9-3 based BLS was Cadillac’s first passenger wagon, but was only offered in European markets, and was unloved by buyers).  Cadillac’s shapely Art and Science design language translates very well to the CTS Sport Wagon, and the car looks great with the 19” wheels that are a part of the Summer Tire Performance package.  I’d call its appearance powerful, sporty, and purposeful.

So from the outside, my first impression was great- the CTS  Sport Wagon absolutely looks the part.  Climbing inside, front legroom is horizontal, not vertical. I appreciated how close the seats are to the floor. Unfortunately, the seats aren’t as comfortable as I would have hoped; they were hard, firm, and narrow. I felt like I was sitting on the driver’s seat rather than in it.  The bottom cushion was not long enough, and didn’t have a cushion length adjustment available as can be found in some of the CTS’ competitors.  Hour-long drives in the CTS resulted in a numb backside.

While I didn’t find the seats very comfortable, I did appreciate their three-speed ventilation on hot summer days. They worked very well, cooling off my backside as it sat against the black leather on the seating surfaces. The seats are also also heated for cold winter days, also with three degrees of heat.

Looking up at the instrument cluster, the CTS offers very clear analog speedometer, tach, fuel, and temperature gauges attractively displayed in front of the driver. The dash top has attractive French-stitching detail that continues on to the tops of the front doors, contributing to an upscale feel. In addition to the clear analog instrumentation, there are separate electronic displays for climate control, gear indicator, odometer, and navigation. Curiously, none of those digital displays match one another; the font/character type, size, and color differs between each display, which makes the interior feel as though it was put together from disparate pieces rather than from a single design.  Most unusual is the red LED gear-position indicator, which looks like it was lifted from a digital alarm clock from 1985.

Moving beyond the instrument cluster, I liked the Sapele wood trim in my CTS- it actually looked like wood (because it is) and was tastefully used throughout the cabin.  I was less enthusiastic about the silver-painted plastic plinth that comprised the center stack. While silver-painted plastic works to make inexpensive and mainstream cars like Ford Fiesta and Chrysler Sebring look more more upscale, it seems out of place in the $50k-plus CTS.  While the controls set into that painted plastic surround were attractively arranged, the ergonomics were questionable; the center stack has a proliferation of small, similarly-shaped buttons with small text identifying them, and it is a long reach to the tuning audio knob.  At night, the CTS’ clear gauges are accentuated by white LED ambient lighting of the door pulls and all four footwells.  There’s also indirect lighting beneath the wood trim on the door panels and across the dashboard in upper-trim CTS models like my test car, which really improves the nighttime ambiance.

The armrest between the front seats is nicely padded, though it’s covered in shiny vinyl rather than leather.  When the CTS has been sitting in the hot summer sun and the shade on the panoramic sunroof has not been closed, it gets far hotter than leather would. The console between the front seats features two cupholders of average size which did a great job holding drinks; this is a welcome change from the BMW 535i I had driven before the CTS.

The CTS I tested was equipped with the Navigation system, which has a large, power-retracting color LCD touchscreen.  Even when the navigation screen is lowered, its top third is always visible atop the center stack; in this orientation, it can be used to control audio playback while minimizing driver distraction. To use navigation (or have more information about audio), you must raise the screen, which is actuated with a pushbutton. The system uses a hard disc to store navigation map information and also allows users to store music files on the hard drive. Somewhat annoyingly, the audio system has to be powered on (so music or radio playing) in order to see the navigation map or get guidance- you can’t get route guidance without a music source playing, unless you push the mute button on the steering wheel. When looking at the navigation screen on “fullscreen” mode, there is no display of audio track/information, though the system does offer a split-screen mode that displays audio information on the left side and the map or upcoming turns on the right side.. Happily, the rear view camera displays automatically on that screen whether or not the audio system is turned on.

The logic and graphics on the  navigation system perhaps a half-step behind state-of-the art. The route calculation (and re-calculation) was on the slow side. The navigation screen had a menu system, but it wasn’t integrated to the car’s feature setup menu which sets options such as door un/locking and lighting; that information is displayed on the small digital instrument cluster display below the speedometer, and accessed/programmed by pushing small buttons to the left of the steering wheel labeled with arrows and odd symbols. Too, the CTS Sport Wagon has a USB cable connection for music and iPod interface. However, my iPod with approximately 2200 songs on it took a long time to index songs- over 60 seconds, every time the car was started.

In the marketing “Fact Sheet” that GM provided with my test vehicle, GM suggested that the BMW 5 Series wagon and Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon were the CTS Sport Wagon’s competition. The CTS simply doesn’t measure up to those German rivals in either size nor interior materials. For example, the keyless entry/start solution is sub-par for this car’s price point.  Essentially, the ignition lock is still present on the steering column; There is simply a rubberized dummy key always in place which must be twisted to start the car when the key fob is present. In the world of pushbuton starting, this solution takes away from the upscale feel of the CTS.

Also, while some CTS models are equipped with an electric parking brake (whose actuator resides immediately behind the gear selector on the center console), my car had the manual brake, which is actuated by stepping on a pedal in the left of the driver’s footwell and is released by pulling on the release handle immediately above; unfortunately the release handle was made of an inferior-quality plastic which looked and felt like it was a Lumina-era GM leftover, while the “dummy plug” where the electronic brake actuator would have been didn’t match the shapes of its surroundings.

The back seat is tight on knee room, especially behind a 6’4” driver; in this regard it is much like the CTS sedan. The backs of the front seats have hard plastic panels with storage nets rather than leather or vinyl upholstery, which means that back seat passengers’ knees will be pressed against hard plastic rather than possibly soft upholstery. The CTS Sport Wagon’s rear seats have lower LATCH carseat attachment points which are located behind vertical zippers in the lower seat cushions. Unzipping those zippers to access the LATCH points also revealed unfinished foam behind the upholstery, and a void where countless cracker crumbs and cereal pieces will end up when a child seat is installed. Further, the zippers are visible and exposed when no car seat is in place. The back seat has a fold-down center armrest into which two cupholders are molded. Cadillac states that the CTS Wagon has leather-upholstered “seating surfaces”, but that doesn’t include the surface where a center-rear passenger would sit; it was clearly vinyl, as the difference in grain and texture was quite noticeable between the leather and non-leather portions of the rear seat.

Out back, the CTS Sport Wagon’s dramatic shape has the unfortunate side effect of robbing a lot of space from the cargo area. While the CTS has a clever load floor with storage beneath (much like the Saab 9-3 SportCombi), the forward-sloping D-pillars and sloping rear roofline decrease both length and height of the cargo area. The CTS Sport Wagon also has a retractable cargo cover, and its housing further impedes into cargo area, pinching the width between the rear wheels and encroaching on the height of cargo that can fit.  Removing the rolling cargo cover, the split seatbacks fold forward to form an essentially flat load floor.  A collapsible cargo divider net (to separate the cargo from the passengers) is stored in two Velcro straps under the load floor. Unlike similar dividers in European competitors that retract into second-row seatbacks, the Cadillac’s balky divider has to be erected and assembled to the car, clipped and cinched in place; it’s such a hassle that I doubt many owners would ever use it.

The same sloping roofline and raked D-pillars that intrude on cargo space also cut in to outward visibility at the back of the CTS Sport Wagon.  The view out the rearview mirror gives only a view of an area relatively close behind the car due to the wagon’s sloping roofline.  When reversing, the small window in the tailgate doesn’t allow the driver to see anything close behind the car.  Whether changing lanes or reversing, the view out the back is poor. Fortunately, Cadillac provides a (relatively low-resolution) backup camera integrated with the navigation display for reversing, as well as rear parking sonar.

In addition to poor visibility out the rear, the forward visibility also suffers from the Cadillac’s function-over-form approach. The thick A-pillar and and high beltline contribute to making the CTS Sport Wagon tough to see out of, especially when maneuvering around tight parking garages or lots. A front parking assistance program (in addition to the one fitted at the rear) would have been a useful tool for judging distances.

After turning the ersatz ignition key, pulling away from the curb and coming to a stop sign after half a block, my first thought was that the brake feel in the CTS was off-putting; pedal feel was hard, and it didn’t feel like there was adequate stopping power until the the pedal was pushed very hard. That impression was one that remained for my entire week with the CTS Sport Wagon; the hard pedal required significant effort before I got the level of stopping power I expected, especially at lower speeds around town.

Among the best things about the CTS Sport Wagon is that it drives like a (slightly heavier) CTS sedan. The CTS Sport Wagon is available only with a six-speed automatic transmission. On the back of the steering wheel, I was happy to find shift actuators at my fingertips.  Even after a week with the CTS wagon, I didn’t have a good feel for what the automatic transmission’s logic was going to command the gearbox to do. The unit was slow to kick down for acceleration when poking along around 35 MPH and not in Sport mode, and whether in D or Sport mode, multigear downshifts are prolonged, feeling one-cog-at-a-time. Much like my experience with Porsche’s PDK box in the Cayman, the transmission in the CTS always seemed to be in the wrong gear when I wanted to go faster.

When finally in the appropriate gear, though, the fat rubber on the 19” wheels from the Summer Tire Performance Package had plenty of grip, and was composed at speed. Steering feel was good, and I was impressed by the direct steering response. The 304 HP supplied by the 3.6 liter DI V6 is plenty of power to make the CTS Sport Wagon live up to the “Sport” in its name.

CTS Sport Wagon equipped with 3.6 liter DI V6 is rated 18/26 miles per gallon city/highway by the EPA. During my week with the CTS, I covered around 200 miles, with an average speed of 30.8 MPH, and a stated fuel economy of just 16.8 MPG based on the Cadillac’s trip computer. I don’t know how I managed to do worse than the EPA city rating; I didn’t think my right foot was THAT heavy.

Pricing for the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon starts at $39,090. The Premium Collection trim level has a standard price of $48,665, with standard equipment including Cadillac’s 3.6 liter V6 Direct Injection engine, paired with Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic transmission, and power rear liftgage. The Premium Collection package adds features such as the navigation system, heated steering wheel, keyless access/starting, heated/ventilated front seats, Sapele wood trim, backup camera, ultrasonic rear parking aid, and the panoramic Ultraview sunroof. The vehicle I tested also had the $2,090 19” Summer Tire Performance Package (19” polished aluminum wheels with summer-only tires, sport suspension, steering wheel-mounted shift controls, performance cooling system, and performance disc brakes), $250 Compact Spare Tire, $110 Rear Lower Cargo Tray, and $100 Underhood Appearance Package. Including the $825 Destination Charge, the total MSRP is $52,040.

While that $52k price is for a loaded CTS, that price tag is in the league plenty of cars that are a class better than the CTS. While GM’s considers the BMW 5-series wagon and Mercedes-Benz E-Class wagon to be the main competitors for the CTS, I think that the 3-Series, C-Class, and Audi A4 are much closer comparison when considering the car’s usable interior volume (both in the back seat and in the boot). The CTS finds itself bigger, heavier, and more expensive than the 3 Series Touring, sized similarly to the 5 Series Touring, but still heavier and almost $8,800 less expensive than a 535i Touring.  Some of that money pays for better interior materials, a more sophisticated vehicle, and the BMW badge.  While I loved the CTS Sport Wagon’s looks and chassis, I was disappointed by the seats and interior materials.  For some folks, the Cadillac’s distinctive good looks and lower price compared to the German competition may be enough to sway them toward the wreath and crest brand.

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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3 Comments

  1. Is anyone actually buying this? I don’t think GM breaks out sales by body type for the CTS, but I have still yet to see one in person. Seems to me it’s going to go the way of the Dodge Magnum.

  2. Going the way of the Dodge Magnum…..Speaking of the Magnum, someone on CanadianDriver taught then the Magnum will become a collectible “modern classic” car http://www.canadiandriver.com/2010/08/04/modern-classics-dodge-magnum-2005-2008.htm

    So collectors, grabs a CTS wagon now while you can and hide it safely in a barn or somewhere else. And besides, I chose the CTS wagon since it’s less common then the Audi and BMW wagons 😉

  3. I have the CTS Performance model, I really like the firm seats on a long trip, the handeling is supurb, and the car gets plenty of looks; think you’re review is a bit off the target. Great car!!

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