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2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon: It sleekly transports your stuff

Once in a while, the sport-wagon version of a great-looking sedan looks even better. In the case of the CTS Wagon, compelling exterior styling and cargo versatility give it the edge.

November 06, 2009|DAN NEIL

When Italian car-making giant Fiat announced it would be taking over bankrupted, bailed-out Chrysler, I was skeptical. Indeed, I thought the whole plan had ingested powerful hallucinogens. 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 a 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).

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 rooflines. In the Caddie's case, the rear hatch is outrageous, set off by immense, blade-like vertical taillamps that extend from the bumper to the 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 V-6 engines -- a 3.0-liter, 270-horsepower unit and a 3.6-liter, 304-hp 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-hp 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 in the butt end of a Cadillac SRX crossover. In other words, loads of space. Also, the interesting chromic flourishes along the roof rails are actually 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. Meanwhile, 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 of 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 zero to 60 mph in about 7 seconds and seemed to labor a bit under hard highway acceleration.

It's been a couple of years since I drove the CTS sedan, and I must say, the CTS is beginning to feel a little dated 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 V-6, it sounds a little hoarse and harsh, certainly not the purling stream of butter like a BMW or Lexus engine. If you kick the throttle hard, the engine will emit some rather remarkable bleats 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.

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