Test Drive

The Cadillac CTS-V offers a thrill ride for everyday travel

Let's clear this up first: You probably don't need a 556 horsepower station wagon. But after careful study, I can confirm that you definitely will want one. 

The Cadillac CTS-V Wagon is so much more than the old "big-dumb-engine-stuffed-in-a-practical-grocery-getter" formula. Huge engine, yes, but it's matched with enormous brakes, otherworldly grip and handling, and a design that gets more striking the more you look at it, inside and out. It's a complete package – track-ready performance combined with comfort and style.

This car is for people who know. People who get it. I expected to see approving nods while waiting at red lights. I looked around for silent acknowledgements from people who knew what it was: The best of the breed. The Fastest Production Wagon in the World. But acknowledgment was surprisingly rare — usually, the silver wagon just blended in unnoticed. 

Back to the issue of the 556-horsepower. Under that bulge-stamped hood lies a supercharged 6.2 liter LSA V8 derived from the 638 horsepower Corvette ZR-1. They retuned it a bit for refinement in this application. And if anyone asks "What'll it do?," be sure to keep these numbers handy: 191 miles per hour. And 0-60mph in just under four seconds. 

Prod the throttle (trust me, the temptation is constant) and you're rewarded with an unending surge of power that just builds and builds and builds. The supercharger whine gets louder as it gets going and so does the rush. It feels as though the power doubles with every growing RPM all the way to its 6000 RPM redline. I'm convinced that if it could rev to 7,000 it would go into space. 

The Cadillac CTS-V Wagon joins the CTS-V Coupe and Sedan for 2011. The CTS  has been praised for its exterior design, and I think the wagon is the best of the bunch. It looks like it was designed as a wagon first and everything else came after. The angular design language seems more pure in this form, and the lines can be fully realized with fewer visual interruptions. 

"This car is dangerous!," exclaimed a passenger. While showing off the perks of 556 horsepower, it was often necessary to demonstrate the profound stopping power it's equipped with to counteract that force. It is delivered by 6-piston front/4-piston rear Brembo calipers — that means huge stopping power, over and over again. It can literally do high-speed brake checks all day long without fade.

What can I say about the handling? I didn't crash the car despite having command of more power than a 1970s Formula 1 car and virtually no training. Caution is the key, and honestly you really shouldn't be pushing the handling on the street. There is a ton of grip available, and if you are foolish enough to exceed it you're on your own. A racetrack is really the only place to explore its limits, which could approach quicker than you think with so much power. That said, the CTS-V has standard traction control and the  StabiliTrak Electronic Stability Control System, which is very good at keeping you from exceeding your own limits but doesn't cut in when you don't want it to. 

The steering feel is pretty good and on par with what you'd expect from a 4,400-pound car. The Magnetic Ride Suspension actually changes the viscosity of the shock fluid in milliseconds by running an electrical charge through it. Which means that the "Sport" button actually does something.  The sport mode makes everything a little bumpier and reduces body roll when cornering. Touring mode is gentler and stays composed over Houston's many jarring street imperfections.

The CTS-V Wagon starts at under $65,000. Competing high performance sedans from BMW and Mercedes both begin at upwards of $85,000 and don't offer as much power.

Inside, it's a modern, sleek, comfortable interior. The console buttons feel a little bit cheap and "GM parts bin," marring an otherwise excellent interior. The turn signal chime sounds cheap and tinny, and identical to the one in the '91 Buick that was once in my family.

But grab the fat, suede-trimmed steering wheel, and you can tell you're driving something special. The suede shift knob complements it nicely, and both of them seem to encourage you waste gasoline. 

If you've got an extra $3,400 lying around, tick the box for "Ventilated driver and front passenger Recaro 14-way power-adjustable performance seats." You'll want them considering how frequently you'll be pushed back into them.

The backseats offer enough legroom to be comfortable on long trips and headroom isn't an issue. 

Top tip: If you take the toll road, forget the E-Z Tag, you'll want to pay with change. As soon as the gate lifts, accelerate up to the 65 mph posted speed limit in a timely manner so you can remerge with traffic.

The CTS-V Wagon is rated at 14mpg city/19mpg highway. Economical it isn't, but you can get halfway decent mileage if you act responsibly. Good luck with that.

In the back there's a clever sliding system of tiedowns to keep cargo in place.

When cruising on the highway, there's a certain confidence in knowing you're driving a car that can accelerate better than any car around you, almost guaranteed. It's nice to be able to press the gas and get out of the way of anything and know that you are using just a fraction of the car's capabilities. 

How useful is a thirsty wagon that can break speed limits with ease? Surprisingly practical. The same power that makes it erupt off the line also makes it fantastically capable on the highway and around town. What gear am I in? Oh that's right. Any of them — it doesn't matter. It will pull, smoothy and comfortably, any time, from any speed. And it will just as easily dawdle around at 15mph in 1st gear as you look for a parking spot. 

After carefully researching, not to mention frightening a few passengers, I've made my verdict. This probably won't replace your sports car, if you have one. It's too big and too daunting to truly connect with like a pure sports car. But the CTS-V Wagon can be used every day and can carry five people plus a lot of your stuff. It looks outstanding and offers tremendous value over its German rivals. And on top of all that, it can thrill you immeasurably. A little bit of throttle is guaranteed to put a smile on your face. If you want a car that can multitask, this is it.