Let me quite firmly state my opinion on the subject in question: I believe this is the most beautiful station wagon ever made. Station wagons are adored by enthusiasts, but often maligned by the general public. Part of that could be the need to eschew what our parents and grandparents drove, which also explains why minivans have become vehicle non grata. However, one must also consider the simple fact that most station wagons are hardly beautiful.
Yes, I know: the whole world is in the throes of a torrid love affair with crossovers. Crossovers, by definition, are basically jacked-up wagons. Is any station wagon currently for sale really considerably uglier than a crossover? Probably not. But there is little incentive to buy a conventional station wagon today. Firstly, as the result of a vicious cycle, there are very few new station wagons for sale, at least in North America. Why don’t people buy station wagons? There aren’t many to buy. Why aren’t there many to buy? People don’t buy station wagons. It’s almost like a chicken/egg scenario. The 1980s represented a boom time for minivans, which subsided in time for SUVs to roar to the top of the sales charts in the 1990s, before paving the way for crossovers in the 2000s. It’s hard to speculate, but could station wagons return as the family vehicle du jour? Time will tell.
Secondly, in the quest for practicality, most station wagons just end up coming out… dull. If you make the design too svelte, you run the risk of cutting into vital interior and loading space dimensions, and thus undermining the main reason to purchase a station wagon. And even if it is no less attractive than a crossover, you don’t enjoy the same command seating position or the vague suggestions of off-road ability.
Tastes always vary when it comes to design, and you could certainly make the argument that another station wagon is the most beautiful ever made. For example, how about the 1957 Buick Caballero I photographed recently? Its hardtop design is exotic nowadays, and it has just the right amount of 1950s frosting and gingerbread without being sickeningly sweet.
Dodge’s Magnum is a striking station wagon and one that experienced moderate commercial success in the station wagon’s darkest hours.
Even more recently, the Mercedes-Benz CLS Shooting Brake may have dubious practicality but boasts stellar proportions.
Still, the CTS Sport Wagon has just the right combination of athleticism, elegance, bravura, proportion and practicality. Starting from the front, you’ll notice the sharp detailing. There are no extraneous feature lines or overwrought creases, just subtly flared arches, a trapezoidal egg-crate grille and air dam that looks modern while making a nod to the past, and crisp, geometric features. There’s just enough chrome to look upscale without steering into gauche.
Moving to the side, you’ll notice the short front overhang and athletic stance. There is the obligatory fender vent, as was oh-so common in the mid-2000s, but it is pleasingly integrated into the design and doesn’t look like an afterthought (I’m looking at you, 2008 STS).
From the side-on view, you can see that although the belt line rises, it avoids looking slab-sided like its coupe sibling, which I would suggest is the least integrated design of the second-generation CTS family. There are the typical 2000s styling elements, like a fairly high belt line and a thick D-pillar, but it avoids looking like a caricature. It also avoids the typical wagon affliction of looking too long and boxy; the rising belt line and athletic stance instead make it look like a sprinter, crouched forward and waiting for the starter pistol to fire.
Much of what I’ve described so far would apply to the beautiful CTS sedan, too, but it is at the rear where the wagon makes its strongest statement.
A contemporary 5-Series wagon is not an unattractive car, but its squared off rear makes the wagon look like an afterthought.
The E-Class wagon is a little better, but it still looks like it was designed with far more deference to interior dimensions than to style.
The CTS wagon, though, looks like it received the same time and attention to detail in terms of design as the sedan did. The angular lines converging around the license plate are appealing and resemble those same features on the coupe. The tail lights, though, are a wagon signature: great, bold and paying homage to Cadillac’s iconic tail fins of the 1940s and 1950s without looking like a retro cliché.
Although we are in an era of touch screens and haptic feedback switchgear, the CTS wagon’s interior still looks modern and appealing. The dash flows pleasantly, there is no excess of buttons and the wood trim is used elegantly albeit sparingly. Miniature dual LCD screens bracket the switchgear, and the pop-up navigation unit cleverly juts slightly out of the dash, when not in use, to serve as a display screen for the audio system. An elegant analog clock is the final touch that elevates this interior above its German and Japanese rivals.
The CTS-V Wagon has a racier front fascia, with a mesh grille and air dam, more aggressive bumper and fog light assemblies and a raised hood. Such affectations could pollute the purity of a design, but the V successfully avoids that. It’s less elegant, sure, but damned if it doesn’t look like it means business.
Inside, the V featured piano black lacquer trim, a design trend that I’m sure we will look back upon and shake our heads (joining extraneous fender vents and perhaps LED DRLs). Available Recaro microsuede-lined buckets are a sporty touch, although the interior’s black-on-black theme isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the regular wagon.
Perhaps it would be enough to admire the CTS Sport Wagon just for its looks, but fortunately it boasted all the strengths that made the 2008 CTS Motor Trend’s Car of the Year. Agile handling, a pleasant ride and available all-wheel-drive means the CTS is a treat to drive. The only major chink in its armor, dynamically, was the base engine: a 3.0 V6 with 270 horsepower but only 223 ft-lbs. Low-end torque was disappointing, and fuel economy no better than the 3.6 direct-injected V6 with 304 (later, 318) horsepower and 273 ft-lbs of torque. Still, both engines were available (at least initially) with an optional six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic transmission. Firmer suspension tunes were also available if you were after greater poise, although ride quality suffered.
Of course, the V took things to a whole new level. Its supercharged 6.2 V8 thundered from 0-60 in under 5 seconds and put out a hefty 556 horsepower and 551 ft-lbs of torque. No all-wheel-drive was available, but both a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic were available. A V8 wagon with a manual?! It seems such a foreign and exotic concept, and it is interesting that General Motors offers still a surprisingly large number of models with available manual transmissions.
The CTS, until its recently-launched third generation, straddled segments. Consequently, the CTS Sport Wagon was initially priced closer to the 3-Series wagon but sized more like a 5-Series. Of course, wagons always attract a niche audience. Of the 254,000 second-generation CTS models produced, just 7,000 wagons were sold despite the wagon’s fairly lengthy 2010-2014 run (the sedan was sold from 2008-2013). Of the 7,000, just 1,200 were CTS-V wagons. Make no mistake, those wagons will be collectors’ items one day.
The North American market, it seems, just wasn’t ready for a beautiful wagon. Showroom competition didn’t help matters: Despite its less dynamic chassis, much less attractive styling and questionable powertrain options, the current Cadillac SRX sold five times as many CTS Sport Wagons ever made in its first year alone. Still, for a relatively small investment, Cadillac designed and built the most gorgeous station wagon and, if nothing else, made some dog-owning or kid-toting enthusiasts very happy. Would it be too much to ask other automakers do the same?