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Update: A Cadillac spokesperson informed CNET that the company will offer a CTS-V Wagon as a 2014 model based on the current generation. Cadillac will also use this generation for a 2014 CTS Coupe and CTS Sport Wagon. The only model getting the next generation update will be the CTS sedan.
Station wagons, once the family car of choice, plummeted in popularity after the 1970s, making the 2013 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon a rare thing. Such a powerful wagon is an even rarer thing, yet fitting a wagon with CTS-V performance gear seems so right.
The CTS is, of course, the model that carried Cadillac through the recession. It proved so popular that the company offered it as a sedan, coupe, and wagon. A convertible was the only type the company did not release. This 2013 model is the CTS' victory lap, as Cadillac showed off a much-needed update, the 2014 CTS, at the last New York International Auto Show.
The CTS-V is, of course, the high-powered version of the car, also available in sedan, coupe, and wagon form. Boasting 556 horsepower from that supercharged V-8 and an adaptive suspension, the performance is let down somewhat by the six-speed automatic transmission. Fortunately, a six-speed manual is available.
The look of this 2013 CTS-V Wagon remains fresh, and the example delivered to CNET showed off a sparkly tri-coat paint job, satin-black rims, and yellow brake calipers. Not so fresh is the CTS-V Wagon's cabin tech. Demonstrating the lack of synchronicity between electronics and automotive development, what were cutting-edge features in 2008 now appear dated and react slowly, at least compared with my expectations.
The CTS-V still features a motorized LCD, showing navigation when deployed and neatly leaving a little ribbon of screen available for audio information when recessed. Its interface is a little confusing, mostly controllable with the touch screen but offering some menu navigation and selection from a dial on the center stack. Hard buttons on the stack give ready access to audio and navigation functions.
Voice command in the car was primitive by today's standards. It offered limited control over the stereo, and when entering a street address, it made me say each part separately, tediously pausing and confirming at each step. For the Bluetooth phone system, voice command did not make it possible to place a call by saying the name of a contact.
In fact, the Bluetooth hands-free phone system is one of the weaker elements in the CTS-V Wagon. Cadillac didn't include it all in the original CTS electronics package, wanting drivers to rely on OnStar's hands-free phone feature. As an add-on feature, the Bluetooth system is very primitive, with no screens available on the LCD.
This feature-poor Bluetooth implementation means no Bluetooth audio streaming for the stereo. However, the CTS-V Wagon does have hard-drive space for music, as the navigation stores its maps on an internal hard drive.
I like the look of the maps in the navigation system, and appreciated some icons representing landmark buildings in San Francisco's downtown area. The traffic data worked well, and was easy to read from the maps. And one thing I've always liked about this navigation system is that it will warn about traffic jams on the road ahead even when you don't have a route programmed. It's a useful warning.
The route guidance worked well, showing useful graphics and reading out street names, but the maps seemed very out-of-date. For example, it did not seem to know about the Fremont exit from I-80 in downtown San Francisco, even though it has existed for years.
The lack of Bluetooth streaming in the stereo also showed the CTS-V Wagon's age, as did the iPod connector in the console. This 30-pin connector plugged into the car through a Y cable terminating in USB and 1/8-inch auxiliary audio plugs. Connecting my iPhone 5 to this mess with a 30-pin-to-Lightning adapter, I had full control over my phone's music library on the touch screen.
The CTS-V Wagon's stereo also parsed the MP3 files on a USB drive I plugged into the car, showing a full music library interface on the screen.
The car has satellite radio, of course, but it predated widespread adoption of HD Radio, so that feature is not available.
The 10-speaker audio system in the car is one of the best I've heard from Bose. Its balanced output was an enjoyable accompaniment to my driving, delivering nice, clear tones. It wasn't huge on bass, though, and I wouldn't put it against top systems in other luxury cars, such as the Bang & Olufsen stereos in some Audi models.
A more modern electronics component in the CTS-V Wagon comes in the form of OnStar, which has been upgrading and gaining features irrespective of the car's own electronics. There are, of course, the concierge and roadside assistance features accessible at the push of the blue button on the rearview mirror casing, but more exciting is OnStar's recent app, which works on Android or iOS. With it, you can view the car's fuel level (very useful considering the CTS-V Wagon's excessive consumption), unlock the doors, and make the horn honk so you can find the car in a vast suburban parking lot. Best of all, you can look up destinations and send them to the car, bridging the gap between smartphone and in-car navigation system.
Those OnStar features will also work with the 2014 model when it comes out, which will be worth waiting for due to Cadillac updating the CTS with its new CUE dashboard electronics.
More difficult to prognosticate is the performance technology in a new-generation CTS-V, and whether that will be worth the wait. The engine in the 2013 model is phenomenal, delivering huge acceleration with its supercharger, and producing 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of torque.
Idling at a stoplight, the low thrum of the supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 felt like a Geddy Lee bass line. Even with that writhing feeling throughout the car, the exhaust note was rather muted.
Not at all engineered for economy, the 6.2-liter V-8 sucks down gasoline at a rate of 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway in EPA estimates. In my own driving, I averaged right in the middle of that range, and spent a lot of time looking at the Low Fuel warning.
Despite the power, I found the CTS-V Wagon easily drivable in stop-and-go traffic, fast freeway cruising, and slewing through the turns on mountain roads. It was willing to take off gently from a stop, with easily modulated acceleration.
Advanced handling tech
Likewise, the performance-oriented brakes featured a long grab, making it possible to apply just a little to shave off some speed. I had to push hard to get a full stop, something that might throw off drivers used to more-average cars.
The CTS-V Wagon incorporates my favorite suspension technology, a system that uses electromagnets to stiffen the dampers based on sensor input. With a button push, I could choose between Touring and Sport settings, the latter tightening up the ride without making it uncomfortable. The Touring mode feels a little looser, and helps the CTS-V Wagon deliver a Cadillac-quality ride.
I've found again and again that this suspension technology beats anything else in keeping a heavy car stable in hard cornering.
The Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires all around give the CTS-V Wagon grip for days, while the steering tuning is tight and reactive. A little input goes a long way, highlighting the performance character of the car. However, that sensitive wheel may be a little much for the average driver.
The Achilles' heel of the car was the automatic transmission, which just doesn't shift fast enough to keep up with the engine and the needs of a driver intent on wringing some fun out of the experience. It lacks a dedicated sport mode, only offering Drive, which tends to reach for the higher gears, and a manual mode.
Cadillac says the CTS-V Wagon has paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but that is not precisely true. What it really has are buttons under the lateral spokes, which minimizes the control area I had available to shift. A true paddle would have been easier to reach in those harrowing moments of grinding the brakes on a turn approach.
However, I didn't need to change gears much, as third had a very wide power band. Second gear felt a little weak, like it didn't have much to give if you didn't mash the gas pedal, but in third I still had plenty of power on even 90-degree turns. As I could also run the car's speed up close to 100 mph in third, there wasn't much need to upshift.
Wait for it
The 2013 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon is a killer sports car, matching immense power with excellent grip and handling. The automatic transmission makes day-to-day driving easy, but the car's atrocious fuel economy argues against using it for the daily commute, so get the manual transmission.
The fact that it's a station wagon makes it even cooler, giving it a meaty look and room for a spare set of track wheels in back. There is little to compare it to in the North American market, but it sits in company with European fast wagons such as the Audi RS6 Estate.
However, the dated electronics encourage waiting for the next generation. What we saw at the New York auto show looked good, and Cadillac has improved its cabin tech substantially. There is no guarantee that another wagon will be coming, but this 2013 model would serve as an excellent template to build upon.
|Model||2013 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon|
|Power train||Supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||12 mpg city/18 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||14.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based with real-time traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Onboard hard drive, iOS integration, USB drive, satellite radio, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||Bose 10-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$69,100|