There are few American-made car you can truly lust after. If you are in LA, you may be thinking about a tricked-out Escalade.
You could be thinking about a Corvette Grand Sport or ZR-1. But we tell you that it is a station wagon that you really want. Seriously. I am not kidding.
Stations wagons have about as much sex appeal to Americans as tight speedos. They just aren't very attractive on our streets. We have had some pretty decent station wagons here over the past decade - think about the BMW Touring 5-series, for example. Unfortunately, here is a negative perception that is closely tied to the ugly 1980s Ford and Chevrolet wagons that sticks as much as the dirty diesel engine image. This car, however, has everything to redefine the perception of the station wagon.
I am talking, of course, about the 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sports Wagon. There's the extremely powerful Corvette ZR-1-derived, supercharged 6.2 liter V8 engine on one side, but there are also an attractive muscular shape that gives the car an almost coupe-like appearance from certain viewing angles. I was most impressed with the setup of the car and how Cadillac achieved an electronics setup that makes this car enjoyable to drive if you pick up groceries on one day and chase it through a racetrack as and aggressive beast on another day.
The V wagon comes with the same engine you can order for the sedan and coupe - the V8 makes an astounding 556 hp at 6100 RPM, which propels the car to a top speed of 175 mph with the automatic or close to 190 mph, if you choose the stick version. Our automatic version hit 0-60 mph in an astonishing 4.2 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 12.5 seconds at 125.8 mph. It pulled 0.88g on the skip pad. Compared to other 500 hp cars on the market, the Caddy is a relative bargain: It starts at around $62,165. Our tester had, among others, the $3400 Recaro seat package, a sueded steering wheel and shifter, stain graphite painted wheels with yellow calipers. the sticker was just over $72,000. The next cheapest way to drive a 500 hp car is the Corvette Z06, which starts at about $74,000 and you can get the new Nissan GT-R for near $90,000 after that. If you want to get into the horsepower range of the CTS-V, you will have to be ready to spend well more than $100,000 or even more than $200,000 for a German or Italian car.
Seriously: A Station Wagon?
During our week with the CTS-V, it was easy to forget that we were driving a wagon. It never felt like a wagon that is reluctant to be thrown around corners. You may look at the lines with some doubt from the outside, but you forget the overall perception as soon as you take your seat in the stiff, but immensely supportive Recaro seats that keep your body in place in any driving situation the average driver may encounter on the street and a racetrack. I have heard plenty of complaints about the seats lacking a basic level of comfort, but there is a clear purpose in this furniture: If you are driving this car to the limits of its capabilities, you may want to have the right seats. If you are going on 500 mile road trips, pick the standard seats, otherwise consider the Recaros to be the first option you choose for the CTS-V. The overall interior is not different from the regular Vs. The driver's instruments feature race-inspired and LED-supported gauges. The center dash has a luxurious feel to it with leather-covered surfaces on top and (in our tester) piano black accents that surround the main controls. Personally, I felt that this is the most luxurious interior of any car Cadillac sells today.
After one week with the wagon, our first choice in the V lineup would be exactly this wagon. It has the most character and delivers an equal level of fun as its sedan and coupe siblings. Conrad Humphrey, performance engineer at Cadillac, told us that this car was designed "to do things a station wagons should normally not be capable of." You can take this car to Costco for your monthly shopping trip - and have enough space to store away that family 12-pack of paper towels, while riding home in a serious performance car.
I was most impressed with the way how easily the V could be launched. You can floor the car in a straight line, experience the brutal force of the V8 in your back and in your ears without having to be too concerned about the possibility that you can't keep this rocket on the road. There is very limited slip and if you want to embarrass Camaros, some Corvettes and even most Porsches, you easily can. In its regular driving mode, called "key-up" mode, the V is about as calm its 270 hp and 304 hp siblings in the CTS family. In standard driving, it is even rather quiet and you wouldn’t suspect the kind of power you have on tap. Humphrey told us that the slip feature is very unique to the V and it is unlikely that you will experience it in a regular CTS, as those versions are somewhat "torque-challenged" in such a scenario.
Of course, there are more driving modes. You can press the traction control button once and remove the traction control, which will give you considerably more slip (more than 10%, according to Cadillac), but leaves the stability control ESC in place. Next is the competitive mode, which will open up the ESC and give you the ability to paint black stripes on the road. Keep the traction control button down for 7 seconds and you will deactivate all systems besides ABS and you can unleash all 556 horses. It's challenging to launch the car in this mode, but an exhilarating performance beyond anything I have experience in any American car yet: You can have it both - a rather refined and somewhat comfortable and quiet car that is easy to drive, but can be turned into an untamed beast with 556 screaming horses when you request it.
On the road, the electronics system is assisted by a stiff suspension and performance rubber (Michelin PS2 255/45 ZR19 in the front, 285/35 ZR19 in the back) as well as a direct steering that make the Caddy enjoyable to drive on straight and curvy roads.
Yes, there are downsides. The V will let you know at any time that it is a heavy car. If you lose control (which happens if you deliberately throw it off and go irresponsibly go beyond your driving capabilities), you will be in trouble and it is nearly impossible to pull the car back in. The wagon weighs nearly 4400 pounds - taking them to the edge is requiring some driving talent. Requesting the V's performance will trigger an insane thirst for premium fuel: Heavy acceleration will push the fuel consumption below 10 MPG and into the 12 MPG range on average in the city. It is unlikely that you will ever see more than 15 MPG in this car, even with a feather-footed driving style. One more downside is the antiquated (standard navigation screen with graphics that reminded me of the early 2000s. There is a lack of POI descriptions and the resolution just isn't up to par anymore.
The Bottom Line
I won't beat around the bush. If I had $75,000 to spend, I would purchase one of the 500-or-so wagons that are expected to be built. It's incredibly fun, a tremendous bargain for what it offers and could possibly turn into a collector car a few years down the road. America, this is the car you want.