Google+

BBC Autos

Joyride

Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon: Beloved, but doomed

About the author

Deputy editor of BBC Autos, Jonathan was formerly the editor of The New York Times' Wheels blog. His automotive writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Details, Surface, Intersection and Design Observer. He has an affinity for the Citroën DS and Toyota pickup trucks of the early 1990s.

HIDE CAPTION

What qualifies a car to be considered a future classic?

And who among the world’s pre-pubescent soccer prodigies will become the next Lionel Messi? Such is the challenge of predicting a car’s allure to tomorrow’s collectors. For those who try, however, consensus has recently coalesced around the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon.

As with artworks that are regarded as blinding masterpieces only decades after their creation, so it is with certain cars. Over its four-year lifespan, the CTS Sport Wagon has earned just 8,600 customers worldwide. During that same period, Cadillac shipped 232,000 of its SRX sport crossover, a vehicle priced on a virtual par with its stable mate. Popular, the Sport Wagon is not.

But beloved it is, if only by a thin slice of the marketplace and the ranks of automotive journalism. Pat Devereux wrote in Top Gear magazine that in CTS-V guise, which brings a 6.2-litre V8 engine derived from the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, the Sport Wagon may be superior to its pricey German rivals – the Audi RS6 Avant and Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG Wagon. Alex Lloyd of Motoramic recently called it the best-looking wagon on the market.

The compliments were delivered in the context of eulogies. Rumours of the Sport Wagon’s demise began circulating in 2012, and with the introduction of the 2014 CTS sedan in March, Cadillac all but officially consigned the Sport Wagon to the great Motorama in the sky. If this car was appreciated before, it would now count martyrdom among its virtues.

So what kind of classic might the Sport Wagon become?

From a weekend spent in a Premium model equipped with an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, 10-speaker Bose audio system, wood trim and glinting Black Diamond Tricoat paint, the car ought to be considered, at minimum, the high water mark for Cadillac’s post-millennial design. Walking from profile to a ¾ view, the wagon’s rectilinear shape evolves into something more nuanced. The fenders flare subtly, in keeping with all-wheel-drive CTS models, and the stabbing D-pillars – though broad enough to obscure a Honda Civic in the adjacent lane – are pure drama.

Inside, leather Recaro seats with suede-like inserts should hold their bolstering well into the car’s collecting years. The cheapish General Motors switchgear may not age so gracefully, but the car’s utility makes a great salve. With rear seats folded flat, the wagon yields 58cu-ft of cargo room, just 3cu-ft shy of the SRX. Though negotiating the liftgate’s narrow aperture takes some skill, the Sport Wagon will swallow a bicycle.

This car does not inspire whoops and hollers from the driver’s seat – unless said seat is bolted to the 556-horsepower CTS-V. The tested Premium model’s 3.6-litre V6 engine is indifferent to anything but the most loutish of throttle inputs, despite its stout 318hp. And below highway speeds, the suspension and steering can feel limp. The observed 20mpg average over roughly 300 mixed miles will not earn the 3.6 a hypermiler cult, either. (A standard 3-litre V6, rated at 270hp, achieves the same fuel-economy ratings as the 3.6: 18mpg city and 26mpg highway.)

This all serves to highlight the quantum leap Cadillac has made in just the past year. Utilising the same 3.6-litre engine found in the Premium wagon, the ATS sports sedan is a carving tool on par with the BMW 3 Series. Cabin quality in the ATS and larger XTS sedan also evince keen eyes at work in Cadillac’s interior design department. The brand is on to better and brighter things.

These strides make the Sport Wagon seem like an inflection point between the very-good-but-not-great Cadillac of the 2000s and the world-class brand that is emerging in the 2010s. With arresting machines like the 2014 CTS sedan and ELR plug-in hybrid on deck, Cadillac has swagger to spare.

If the Sport Wagon is dead, long live the Sport Wagon – but roll on the new standard of the world.

Vital stats: 2013 Cadillac CTS AWD Premium Sport Wagon

  • Base price: $51,650, inclusive of $895 destination charge
  • As tested: $57,550
  • EPA fuel economy: 18mpg city, 26mpg highway
  • Drivetrain:  318hp, 3.6-liter V6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission
  • Major options:  Touring package (chrome door handles, wood trim, leather seats with Alcantara inserts, Recaro high-performance seats), $2,810; All-season tire package, $850; Black Diamond Tricoat, $995