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2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon. (GM/GENERAL MOTORS)
2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon. (GM/GENERAL MOTORS)

2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon

Cadillac's welcome wagon Add to ...

The Cadillac people insist that they're impatient for results. They should be.

Cadillac has been in its renaissance stage for a decade now - two lifetimes in the car business. The Cadillacs of today are certainly light years beyond the lumpy, bland, uninspired rides of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But Cadillac remains a work in progress, a promise, an idea of what General Motors' premium brand should and could be.

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As I see it, Cadillac's biggest hurdle is perception - and perception is keeping potential buyers from even test driving the new Cadillacs. There is also a problem with dealerships in Canada. Without a stand-alone Canadian dealer body, one the likes of Audi, Lexus, Infiniti, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and so on, Cadillac is a second-tier premium brand.

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Here's the shame of it: the new Caddies have plenty about which to shout. Take this 2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon ($44,325-$53,790). We're talking a wagon version of the CTS sedan. Nearly identical mechanically, though the wagon design puts your head on a swivel when it appears.

Caddy's design language seems to work better in the CTS wagon than the sedan. Visual signatures: a raised roof and a rear end with tall taillights designed to be 21st century tailfins. Then there are the fat rear roof pillars and the clean, unbroken roofline. Caddy designers seemed to have also mastered the crisp fenders and sharp hood creases. All that, yet the record shows that from the rear door forward all the body panels are the same, sedan and wagon.

Why Cadillac took forever to nail a wagon version of the CTS will always be an unanswered mystery. Obviously the designers had the talent. And the concept really does seem like a simple enough proposition. The Europeans have happily spun off wagon versions of Audis and BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes, filling out the lineup and giving buyers more choices. Not Caddy, not until now.

But that's ancient history. Let's move on to talk about the best versions of the car itself. They use GM's 3.6-litre V-6 (304 horsepower) teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission. I like this engine. It makes a lusty rumble when spurred, and then delivers the goods with strong get-aways. The six-speed does the job, but I'd like even tighter, smoother shifts. GM keeps working on the shift programming for its six-speed autoboxes, so the corporation is paying attention and learning.

Now, I did say versions, correct? The lineup includes both rear- and all-wheel-drive, and the base models have a 3.0-litre, 270-hp V-6. Get the bigger, better, more interesting, more responsive 3.6. It should put a grin on you, ear-to-ear.

You'll surely like the cabin, too - aside from the intrusive front centre console. Let's get the bad stuff out of the way. Your knee, the right driver's knee, will surely bang it from time to time. Same story for the passenger's left knee. If you do, you'll accidentally activate optional seat-temperature controls.

Second opinion: Brash and bold, it's a practical alternative to gas-guzzling SUVs

Other than that, Caddy's interior designers have proven a match for the exterior people. Start with the dashboard. The look is modern and elegant, with real analog gauges in the instrument cluster. The big speedometer and tachometer tell the performance tale, and then there are useful gauges for oil pressure, coolant temperature and fuel level. All very useful, yet also visually entertaining. Want to know more? Use the digital info readout for the numbers on tire pressure at each corner and to learn other tidbits.

The practical, sensible stuff is all there, too. In particular, I'm talking about a clever cargo area with multiple configurations and tie-down points.

In back, well, chunky types might start thinking about Weight Watchers. Yes, it's a little tight. Cadillac omitted a head restraint for the middle rear seat, in perhaps a tacit admission that this car is for four passengers, not five.

Cadillac seems to have taken some time on the details, too. The exposed stitching of the leather coverings evoke sportiness and there is no need to crack the owner's manual to figure out how to work all the switches and knobs. The front seats are padded just right for long stretches of travel.

You'll be tempted to keep driving, in fact. This Caddy starts, stops and corners in serious ways. GM's engineers feel they nailed the chassis with the first CTS years ago. It's just better tuned now.

What could be improved is rear visibility. Those voluptuous roof pillars look sexy, but they mean your view backward is through tiny windows. The optional rearview camera is one answer. And Caddy should find a way to enhance stowage for the driver and front passenger. Just where exactly would someone put a Blackberry - where is the handy place for it?

So, unanswered questions remain for Cadillac, though the big ideas behind the marque seem clear enough here.

jcato@globeandmail.com

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2010 Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon 3.6 AWD

Type: Premium mid-size wagon

Price: $53,790 (plus $1,420 freight)

Engine: 3.6-litre V-6, DOHC

Horsepower/torque: 304 hp/273 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.7 city/7.4 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: BMW 5-Series Sport Wagon, Audi A6 Avant

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