NYT Review: A Power Wagon From Cadillac

TESTED 2011 Cadillac CTS-V Sport Wagon

WHAT IS IT? A wolf wagon in sheep’s clothing

HOW MUCH? Base price $63,040; as tested $68,640.

WHAT MAKES IT RUN? A 6.2-liter supercharged V-8; 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.

IS IT FAST? Blindingly. Car and Driver clocked its 0-to-60 m.p.h. performance at 4.3 seconds.

IS IT THIRSTY? The automatic’s 12/18 city/highway m.p.g. rating draws a $2,600 gas-guzzler tax; the guzzler tax on the manual (14/19) is $1,300.

ALTERNATIVES: Nothing, really. Mercedes has discontinued, for now, its E63 AMG wagon.

WHEN General Motors sought its Washington bailout in 2008, its chief executive drove to Senate hearings in a prototype of the plug-in Chevrolet Volt, a shining symbol of the new G.M.

The CTS-V Wagon, one assumes, was hidden in a vault, several stories below the G.M. Design Center. Because if those senators had gotten a whiff of this delightfully loony, weapons-grade station wagon, they might have torn up the bailout checks and sent Rick Wagoner packing on the next Amtrak train out of D.C.

That would have been a terrible thing. Because as unnecessary as this American autobahn hauler might be, enthusiasts would swear before Congress that cars like this — not just hybrids and E.V.’s — offer evidence of G.M.’s rising prospects.

As it joins sedan and coupe versions of the CTS-V, this wagon completes the holy trinity of Cadillac’s high-performance line. All three add enough hardcore accouterments to the basic CTS to make a German jealous: a 556-horsepower supercharged V-8, Brembo brakes, magnetic shock absorbers, even a 6-speed stick-shift option that you can’t get from Mercedes.

Since Americans shun wagons in any guise — let alone a $63,000 wagon that drinks a gallon of premium fuel every 9 or 10 miles when driven as intended — the Caddy is Detroit’s most counterintuitive car since Dodge bolted the Viper’s V-10 engine into a Ram pickup.

But while Dodge’s lurching Frankenstein seemed to harbor murderous intent toward pilot and populace alike, the Cadillac wagon is as sweetly approachable as its sedan and coupe siblings. Whichever body style you favor, the CTS-V is among the most explosive yet confidence-inspiring luxury cars yet created.

And this one’s a wagon, with all the practicality and geek appeal that suggests. Forget Clark Griswold’s Family Truckster. The CTS-V wagon can reach nearly 190 m.p.h. in stick-shift trim. It seems expressly designed to embarrass hotshots driving anything from BMWs to Mustangs.

A Cadillac spokesman, Nick Twork, acknowledged that this high-performance wagon might be the ultimate niche-within-a-niche. “If we can do 500 copies a year, that would be pretty healthy,” Mr. Twork said, adding that dealers weren’t stocking the car but would wait for buyers to place orders.

So while almost no one will buy this thing, Internet chatter makes it seem that every car lover wants one. That’s the kind of credibility that is steadily recasting the image of Cadillac: it is no longer a snowbirds-in-Florida joke, but a robust American alternative to foreign luxury cars.

Instead of rehashing CTS-V feats on the Nürburgring road course in Germany, I’ll mention how the wagon toyed with the rolling roads leading to the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts. Girded with Pirelli Sottozero winter tires, the Cadillac didn’t have to tiptoe on the rain-slicked surface; for all the effect the weather had on the car, it might as well have been the Fourth of July.

Flab is the Cadillac’s only real fault. The wagon weighs 4,398 pounds empty, nearly 180 more than the already heavy sedan. Yet with 551 pound-feet of torque underfoot — compared with, say, 398 for a Lamborghini Gallardo — and the same fine steering and fade-free brakes as the sedan or coupe, I often had to remind myself which one I was driving. Only fast transitions revealed any dip in performance, with the wagon’s heavier caboose less willing to change direction quickly.

The Cadillac is actually fractionally shorter than the sedan. Along with a falling rear roofline, that allows just 25.4 cubic feet of space behind the back seat, compared with 33.6 in the BMW 5 Series wagon. But fold the seats and the 58 cubic-foot hold virtually ties theBMW’s.

There’s not another wagon in this league, at least until a new Mercedes E63 AMG wagon goes on sale later this year. That makes the Caddy the wildest family-car fantasy this side of a Porsche Cayenne Turbo or BMW X5 M.

But you may have to slip the Caddy past an unsuspecting spouse. Just be sure to shush that V-8 rumble and coast into the garage.

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