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Caddy tries to resurrect the wagon

Posted by: David Welch on November 19, 2009


Will Americans buy wagons? History says no. And by history I mean after 1980. Sure, Subaru sells wagons quite successfully to some outdoorsy types on the coasts. You also see the occasionall BMW lover in a 3-series wagon. But the jury has been in for years. Americans would rather have a crossover suv of some kind. It’s easy to understand why. Wagons were America’s family car of choice before the minivan forced their near extinction. How nerdy does a car have to be for a minivan to beat it on pure coolness factor? Just think about fake wood-grain panel wagons and the picture is complete.

Enter the Cadillac CTS sport wagon, which I took on a test run a week ago. It’s quite impressive. GM engineered a tight handling ride. The direct injection 3.6-liter V-6 is powerful and smooth and the fuel economy is pretty good with 26 mpg on the highway. Combined fuel economy is less exciting at 21 mpg. But this is a luxury car that gets 304 horsepower. That’s the same impressive combination that can be had in the Chevrolet Camaro RS.

With the 2010 CTS, General Motors has proven that Cadillac is in step with what luxury cabins are all about. The dashboard and surrounding decor is as modern-looking as anything on the market. It’s more artistic than Audi’s interior appointments and just as posh as a Lexus. When you close the doors, for example, they seal shut automatically. It’s a nice touch that shows a bit of craftsmanship.

The best thing about this wagon is the styling. GM didn’t just take the CTS sedan and stretch it back with some extra sheet metal. The company spent the money to design a different back end. It’s the right way to go. Design is subjective, but the CTS wagon looks like it’s cocked and ready to go. In the past, carmakers just stretched their sedans, creating oblong wagons with awkward design proportions. Past-generation Toyota Camry and Ford Taurus wagons come to mind. This one is actually a head turner.

As fine a car as this is, don’t expect Americans to come pouring into showrooms for a CTS wagon. GM is launching a Cadillac SRX crossover suv at the same time. That will pull in many buyers who want a Caddy with some storage space. Plus, a lot of what makes this a good car have less to do with the fact that it’s a wagon and more from the fact that the CTS is the best car made by a resurgent Cadillac brand. Surely GM will sell a few thousand CTS wagons. But don’t expect this car to resurrect a market that has been dead for years.

It’s a shame, too. Most buyers who want a luxury car with cargo space would opt for the SRX, which gets lower fuel economy with a combined 19 mpg. The CTS wagon has 53.4 cubic feet of cargo space compared with 61.2 cubic feet in the SRX. So most buyers will opt for worse fuel economy and pass up on the tighter handling of the CTS wagon just to ride up high on the road and get a few more feet of cargo space that they’ll probably never use. Maybe this wagon will break through. If not, there’s always the European market.

Reader Comments


November 19, 2009 2:00 PM

It would be my next vehicle if I wasn't waiting for the CTS Coupe . Oh please GM no more delays !

Howard Stollery

November 19, 2009 2:52 PM

My 2009 VW Jetta diesel wagon 2.0 litre has tremendous torque and lots of cargo room...and you can get one with six speed manual transmission for tremendous cornering, is as good as my 2002 Saab Aero 9-5 wagon five speed manual for handling. The Saab turbo gives dramatic acceleration at higher speeds, with just four cylinders, so it beats the VW in acceleration at high speeds, if you need it, such as on two lane highways for passing really fast. But in city driving the VW has phenomenal acceleration and it's handling is superb, with better stability. Of course, the range is terrific with 55 litres of diesel, something over 1000 km. The Cadillac is not a diesel, has too many cylinders, and has no manual transmission as base. Who needs that?

In general, SUVs are far less stable, and thus are less safe than wagons, and they often have less trunk floor space (seats down) than wagpns. They are a menace on the roads because they are used to intimidate other drivers. That's why they sell well, mostly to bullies.

The new Cadillac wagon will do very well, except in Europe, where diesels and manual transmissions appeal to competent drivers.


November 19, 2009 2:53 PM

I think this is the start of a resurrection. I hope wagons do come back, and American's realize the value of a wagon. I hope Cadillac succeeds and maybe we'll get a Buick Regal wagon too! (Based of the Opel Insignia)


November 19, 2009 3:04 PM

"The direct injection 3.6-liter V-6 is powerful and smooth and the fuel economy is pretty good with 26 mpg on the highway."

WOW! My 1998 (12 year old) Lincoln Mark 8's have a 300hp DOHC V8 that get better gas mileage. Gotta love Fords!


November 19, 2009 5:16 PM

I would love to drive a nice new wagon, if I could only afford to buy the high sticker price on it.


November 19, 2009 5:34 PM

What History are you reflecting on? The wagon never died. US consumers have been buying sport wagons from Europe ever since the big three decided market minivans rather than offer a smaller, better wagon. The CTS wagon is just another example of Cadillac chasing the European luxury auto makers.


November 19, 2009 6:29 PM

Where's all the originality you imply?? Since GM imported executives from Chrysler, perhaps even before, their cars have been copying Chrysler styling across the board. This CTS Wagon looks like a 95% clone of my 2006 Dodge Magnum. Even the same shade of red! If they also offer a 5.7 l V-8 and all-wheel-drive, it'll be more like a 99% clone.

A Oei

November 19, 2009 6:30 PM

The wagon isn't necessarily dead. I have an A3 and there are plenty of these in LA these days. There's also the Mini Clubman... a few of those. Point is... integrated styling is key. If the design flows and is exciting, the product has a much better chance of selling. May not be a volume seller but I don't think Caddy wants a volume seller either anyways.... just a wider product base to better amortize the technology etc.


November 20, 2009 1:16 AM

my first car i bought was a pinto wagon,1975 mpg model to be exact.34 miles to the gallon! i have always liked wagons,and for a small car it is the only way to go! sure wish i had that car now.


November 20, 2009 8:11 AM

There's a small population of enthusiasts driving, collecting and enjoying wagons. I've owned 40 of 'em and have 3 now. As for the Caddy wagon, I'm waiting on the CTS-V.

GM Daughter

November 20, 2009 11:58 AM

I'll choose a wagon over a minivan or crossover any day. They have a more civilized handling, although you do trade off headroom for it. The shape is more aerodynamic, which increases your gas mileage. As long as you put heavy-duty engine, shocks, and springs on it, it'll do anything but offroading. Make it rear-wheel drive and it'll pull a horse trailer or boat really nicely.


November 20, 2009 11:59 AM

Americans hate wagons because they remember dowdy old Oldsmobiles with horrible faux-wood panelling. But I think that Cadillac is going to have a massive sales success with this wagon. SUV's are dying, and the "cross-over" is slowly morphing back to a more practical shape - the wagon.

Leslie in Canada

November 20, 2009 12:40 PM

I understand that this vehicle was developed for Europe, where they like high-powered sport wagons, just in time for Cadillac's European distributor to go broke. It makes no sense to launch this ahead of the very desirable CTS Coupe in North America, but this was not the first time GM has had scheduling issues. Nice-looking car, though.


November 24, 2009 11:34 AM

Looks great. I'd buy it in a heartbeat except for one thing- why can't we get a 5 or 6 speed manual? What is it with Detroit? There are some of us that love driving with a stick shift. Guess I'll have to stick with VW. Not as pretty as the Caddy but lots of fun to drive and a great snow car to boot.

geld lenen

November 25, 2009 8:29 AM

The new saab looks kind of next-gen, I like it. The new saab looks kind of next-gen, I like it.

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Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Our man in Detroit David Welch, brings keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business.

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