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2013 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon review: Fastest, best-handling wagon in the U.S.

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The Good The 2013 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon combines supercharged power with excellent handling. OnStar gives this car advanced telematics support and an app with a variety of remote features.

The Bad The Bluetooth hands-free phone system offers minimal features and there is no audio streaming to the stereo. Excessive fuel consumption means frequent trips to the gas station.

The Bottom Line The wagon format of this powerful 2013 Cadillac CTS-V gives it an undeniable cool factor, while the handling is surprisingly excellent. But outdated cabin tech gives incentive to wait for an updated 2014 model.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.2 Overall
  • Cabin tech 6
  • Performance tech 8
  • Design 8

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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.

Pop-up LCD
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.

2013 Cadillac CTS-V

The CTS-V Wagon uses a hard drive to store maps, and shows navigation on a pop-up LCD.

Josh Miller/CNET

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.

2013 Cadillac CTS-V

The CTS-V Wagon uses its traffic data, received from satellite, to warn drivers of problems on the road ahead.

Josh Miller/CNET

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.

App control
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.

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