At the end of this year, the all-new 2014 Cadillac CTS will be released. That means the, hopefully temporary, demise of the current high performance CTS-V, as well as our favorite variant, the CTS-V Wagon. It's an instance where the least popular CTS on the market is also by far the best.
(Full Disclosure: Cadillac wanted me to drive the CTS-V Wagon so bad that after weeks of me begging they gave me one for the weekend and let me drive it up to Boston. The car got 17.5 MPG on the highway. That's awesome.)
Cadillac sold just 1,200 V Wagons over the life of the car. That's 0.5% of CTS production and makes the V Wagon the least popular version of the car by far. See, wagons don't really sell all that well in America, but car enthusiasts and auto journalists love them. For its part, Cadillac only needed to sell five of them to break even (they had all the components and tooling already), so why not do it.
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And good thing they did, because the CTS-V Wagon isn't only my favorite version of the CTS, it's one of my favorite cars in the entire world. It's a family hauler with 556 horsepower. It can beat nearly anything off the line. It's comfortable. It sounds great. And it's a wagon.
It reminds me of the best car my mom ever had: A 1998 Volvo V70 R. It's a car that doesn't shout about its lineage or yell at you that it has power. People who know what the V wagon is will show you respect (like the men in the Burger King parking lot who told me they loved the car) while most people won't even give you a second look.
The V Wagon is one of those cars built by car people for car people. Bean counters didn't touch it. It wasn't meant to turn a profit or become a volume seller. This is the car that proves GM still has genuine Detroit car guys running the business. Not the Corvette, not the Camaro ZL1, but the CTS-V Wagon.
And now it's going away. Farewell friend.
I find the CTS sedan aggressive at the front, but kind of stunted out back. The CTS coupe has the same front, and then a ba-donk-a-donk ass out back that you love or hate. The wagon feels like the most cohesive design of the entire family. The tall angled lights are a call back to Cadillac's past, the rake in the roof line is perfect, and the car just looks natural. I even think that the wagon was designed first, with the other variants coming later on. It's the most cohesive design of the bunch.
Then you add in the front of the CTS-V, which I prefer to the standard CTS. You have wider arches, a mesh grille, and a great looking power dome hood. This car also had the black wheels, which are super sinister.
I know that angular designs don't always come together but the CTS Wagon definitely does. I also think that it'll age well, which is another thing that angular cars don't usually do. I've been smitten from day one.
At one point, this was a great interior. But time has not been kind to the CTS, especially since Cadillac redid every car's interior with the modern CUE system. CUE might not be the best, but it makes the center stack of the V look archaic.
But it's not all bad. The Recaro seats are supportive and I really love the grippy Alcantara insets. The steering wheel is a mixed bag. It's covered in Alcantara. That's good. It's school bus large. That's bad. If they could put a slightly smaller, slightly thicker wheel in here, we'd be good. Gauges are large and easy to read, with red LEDs that illuminate within to show you the speed.
There is storage aplenty and I do like how the nav screen rises from the dash. I don't particularly like the nav itself, but that's more a tech issue than an interior design fault.
Sweet merciful crap is this thing fast. But what do you expect when you have 556 horsepower and 551 pound feet of torque to will you along? I've driven the V Wagon in both automatic and manual forms, and while the manual is more fun, the automatic is the hot setup if you want to go fast. The auto gets to 60 in 3.9 seconds. Here are some cars that aren't wagons that take longer to get to 60. Chevy Corvette. Aston Martin V12 Vantage. Mazda Miata (I'm shocked by that one too). Lamborghini Gallardo.
You read that correctly. This car gets to 60 as fast as a Gallardo. And this car is a wagon. I'm giggling just thinking about that. It didn't earn the mantle of fastest production sedan, and I guess wagon, in the world for no reason.
So why doesn't it get an 11 out of 10 for being ridiculously wonderful? It overpowers the tires pretty easily, so getting hooked up off the line is a bit difficult. The autobox in the one I just drove that, while fast, also feels disconnected. It doesn't so much shift gears as it slides between them. I'd like to see a more aggressive set of software in there to bang some shifts home.
If it weren't a wagon it would be an 8, but it is a wagon, so bonus point.
The Cadooo has big Brembos on it that do a tremendous job hauling it down from speed. The pedal is pretty solid and braking is easy to modulate. I found barely any fade after some spirited driving.
I would like more initial bite, but this is a street car, not a track car. For road driving, the brakes are more than adequate, and actually, mind-bendingly good for a performance sedan/wagon.
Magnetic ride is the sort of thing you wish you had patented. You'd be rich and living on your yacht now, which also has magnetic ride, sipping on a rum punch in the Caribbean. But I digress.
On the highway in touring mode, the car is comfortable and compliant. It's not trying to break your back.
Sport mode is more solid and lets you feel things like compression joints, smaller potholes, imperfections, etc. It's really magic how the modes switch, and now I see why Ferrari started using the tech as well. It's one of the better riding sports wagons out there, so after a long trip, you don't feel like you've had Bruce Lee kicking you in the back the whole time, no matter which mode you're in.
The V has a ton of grip and limits that are far higher than someone could reach on a public road. In spirited driving, it sticks to the road like stink on a monkey. It's seriously delightful to fling it around on your favorite back road and keep up with other, much more overt sports cars.
But the steering is slightly numb and that big wheel makes placing the car a little tougher than I'd like. In fact, the big steering wheel is probably my biggest gripe with the car. On a bus, you need a big wheel. On a performance car, a small, chunky wheel works wonders and is a huge part of the experience.
Both gearboxes are solid. The Tremec in the manual car has medium throws and a decently heavy clutch. The automatic is fast off the line and swaps cogs quicker than you can. In manual mode, it actually holds a gear, which is a refreshing change of pace from all the automatics that think they know better than you.
But I noticed that the automatic is also a little lazy. When it shifts in automatic, it slides from gear to gear lazily, like a seal falling off a dock or Jello off a counter. This is a performance model, shouldn't it be more aggressive and shift with immediacy? It also defaults to a second gear start when it isn't in sport mode. I understand, it's saving fuel, but this is not a fuel saving car. This is a shut-Saudi-Arabia-down-we're-using-all-your-gas sort of car.
I actually felt more pride the worse the gas mileage got.
You'd expect this would be through the roof. It's a supercharged V8. Come on, it has to have an excellent note. It doesn't.
That's because this is a family car. The V is rather subdued, and when you hammer it you get a bit of growl and some supercharger whine, but nothing that makes you want to rip off your clothes and run screaming into the moonlight.
It has a decent stereo too, but nothing to write home about. It also refused to recognize my iPod. Not sure why that was.
So it has a lot of toys. Nav, backup cameras, satellite radio, magnetic ride, Bluetooth, cruise control, etc. They are far from perfect.
Here are my gripes: The nav takes you on routes that make absolutely no sense. Like when I left Boston to go to New Jersey, it wanted me to go North for a while. For those that aren't familiar with the eastern seaboard, New Jersey isn't north of Massachusetts. There is no button to link your phone to Bluetooth, you have to do it through voice commands, which gets annoying. And, for reasons I don't understand, it decided my iPod doesn't get to play in the car. Maybe the Caddy hates Belinda Carlisle?
I guess we'll never know.
The most recent V I drove is limited for 2013, the Stealth Blue Special Edition. That means you get special blue paint, black wheels, black chrome grille, Alcantara interior, and Recaro seats. It's a pricey $6,200 option and brought my car close to $73,000. That's a lot of coin. I'd leave out the stealth pack and just get mine in silver with black wheels, Alcantara inside, and the manual gearbox.
Think of it another way. It's a sleeper that's faster than most anything else on the road, including super sports cars, and you can fit a lobster trap in the back. The only other mega-wagon you can get, the E63 AMG, will cost you a pretty penny more than a CTS-V. It's also one of those automotive landmarks. It's the sort of car that had a perfect storm of bean counters and engineers come together and say "let's have some fun." They're still building all of the CTS-Vs, including the wagon, through the 2014 model year so you can still buy one.
Will we see another V wagon? I'm not sure. And I'm not sure it'll happen in the same brash way that this one happened. I don't care that the interior is getting on or that the tech is behind the times. I don't care that the steering wheel is gigantic. I don't care that I need to take out a mortgage simply to pay the gas bill. This is one of those cars that strikes every note with you on a visceral level, and it's tough to quantify. The V Wagon is not the greatest car in all of the land, but it is basically my favorite thing on the road.
Engine: 6.2 Liter supercharged V8
Power: 556 HP at 6,100 RPM/551 LB-FT at 3,800 RPM
Transmission: Six-Speed Automatic
0-60 Time: 3.9 seconds
Top Speed: 190 mph
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 4,425 Pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 14 City/19 Highway/16 Combined
MSRP: $64,515 ($73,000ish As Tested)