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Review: 2012 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon [w/video]

Grand Funk Railroad roared into existence in 1969 by way of Flint, Michigan. The trio of Mark Farner, Don Brewer, and Mel Schacher immediately made an impact in the American music scene by selling more albums than any other rock band in 1970. Just one year later, Grand Funk Railroad would sell out Shea Stadium in 72 hours, besting a mark previously set by The Beatles. Still, critics failed to see the appeal, and the band was generally panned by those supposedly in the know.

Sometimes critics are very wrong, and fans proved this point by flocking to GFR shows and buying large quantities of the band’s records.

Flint has more to be proud of then Grand Funk Railroad, however, as it also serves as the birthplace for General Motors. Now, of course, based in Detroit, GM are the proud parents of the Cadillac brand, which in turn has given birth to a vehicle that is an odd reminder of the issues faced by GFR. I’m referring to the 2012 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, a car beloved by automotive critics and enthusiasts, yet sold in small numbers because the general populace sees no use for it.

Like the critic’s views of Grand Funk Railroad, the average automotive consumer… is stupid.

Cadillac managed to impress a lot of folks when it introduced the original CTS-V back in 2004. That particular four-door was powered by a 400-horsepower 5.7-liter V8, and all the go-fast energy was sent out to the rear wheels by way of a six-speed manual. Soon after, a 6.0-liter V8 was swapped in yet power remained the same. The benefit offered by the larger engine was the wider torque band it offered, with max torque was reached at a lower rev point.

Cadillac gave the CTS-V a break after launching the 2007 model, however, a new version wasn’t far behind. In 2009 the automaker produced the 2nd generation CTS, and with it came the updated CTS-V. Power was now supplied by the mighty supercharged 6.2-L LSA V8 engine, which is good for 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of torque. Cadillac decided it was time to plunk down that engine into a variety of new CTS bodystyles alongside the updated sedan. First came the CTS-V Coupe, and rumbling right in line behind the two door was the CTS-V Wagon.

Mind=blown.

General Motors has effectively built the car of many an enthusiasts and automotive journalists dreams. Some might feel this an underhanded tactic to promote good press amongst the rest of the brand. Personally, I don’t care how the car is viewed by others. We’re talking about a manual-transmission-equipped wagon with a Mad-Maxian mill sending power out back. How is this a bad thing again?

Short answer: it’s not. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

The 2012 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon is the stuff enthusiasts dreams are made of. Some might struggle at the thought of owning a wagon of any kind, nevermind one that gets horrible fuel economy and costs between $60,000 and $80,000 depending on the options checked. I see the CTS-V Wagon as a muscle car with room for my friends, my dogs, my groceries, my snowboard, my golf clubs, my newly-inflated ego and my credit card bills, because I’d go broke just owning this car… and I wouldn’t care.

Those who dislike the CTS-V Wagon have their reasons. Most of the reasons coming from actual enthusiasts focus on others liking it because of the “I’m different than you” factor. So now we’re disliking it because we think others like it only because other others dislike it. Right. Why not enjoy the car for what it can do, rather than hating it for being a perceived marketing gimmick? If GM really did produce this car to make a group of journalists happy, I don’t give a shit.

They made it, and I want one.

Enough ranting, let’s get on to some semblance of a review. However, as you’ve probably already guessed, I kind of like this one.

What Cadillac has built, is a useful muscle car that actually handles like a sports car running on a longer wheelbase. Magnetic ride control keeps things in check while hustling the vehicle through a carved-out canyon road. The suspension gets some additional help in the form of 19-inch wheels, massive 255/40ZR19 Michelin Pilot Sport Cub rubber, and rather large Brembo brakes. Inside, the optional (heated and ventilated) Recaro seats take some getting used to, but once you find the sweet spot you’re dialed in.  Additionally, Cadillac has employed “sueded fabric” (read: faux Alcantara) on the steering wheel and shift lever.

As a complete package, the CTS-V Wagon is almost shocking with regards to how well it allows you to attack your favorite backroads. Though that shock disappears when you consider the performance pedigree set forth courtesy of the sedan. This car can hustle, and it’s even a confidence-inspiring vehicle when pushed. I’ve had the pleasure of driving one around a race track, and nearly every other car on said track is caught (and passed) with relative ease. Body-roll is minimal, power is immense, and braking hauls the ever-accelerating action down in a hurry.

Of course, this long roof would be going nowhere were it not for the mighty LSA mounted under the hood. Other outlets peg the 0-60 miles per hour figure around the four-second mark. Top speed is… plenty. Beyond the power and speed, however, is the sound. The CTS-V wagon belches forth a guttural gurgle that turns into an angry roar as you press the pedal to the carpet. 

Despite the evil engine, this car still wears a Cadillac badge up front. That means there is a level of luxury one expects to find in the cabin of this five-door. Both front seats are heated and cooled, the touch-screen infotainment display provides access to the navigation system, Bose 5.1 surround system, and dual-zone climate control, and the key can stay in your pocket thanks to the keyless start and entry system. The ride isn’t overly harsh, so when your journey is tame, your passengers won’t hate you or puke all over your “Alcantara”… which is nice.

It’s not all handshakes and high-fives with regards to the level of luxury offered up here. Other automakers have a better understanding of what it takes to really wear that luxe moniker, and Cadillac is still playing catch-up. The CTS-V Wagon is not as comfortable and tech-forward as an Audi A6, as well equipped as a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, or as posh as a Jaguar XF. Instead, this long Caddy offers sniffs of near luxury without ever actually delivering the goods. Despite this, I view it as a welcome trade-off for the gratuitous violence offered up courtesy of the powertrain. In one hand, I have luxury, and in the other I have driving experience. I’ll take driving experience every time, and so will all the tens of people who actually plunk down money for this hi-po Cadillac wagon.

Still, as I mentioned earlier, all of this power and (near) luxury doesn’t come cheap. The base price of a 2012 Cadillac CTS-V Wagon is $63,215, and the version you see here is $72,080 thanks to a handful of optional extras. A car like this shouldn’t be cheap though, as only those who are really interested will cough up the dough to own it (or wait a few years when depreciation absolutely hammers the asking price of a used one).

The thing is though, the CTS-V Wagon is worth every penny of its MSRP. We’re talking about a car that hauls gear and people, yet also hauls copious amounts of ass. Some out there view the car as a marketing tool designed to lure folks like myself into drooling over its $995 Black Diamond Tricoat paintwork. I view it as everything I’ve ever wanted in a car, wrapped in one sinister black package. 

Cadillac, listen to me, and return me, my ship.
I’m the Captain, I’m its captain, and I’m feeling mighty sick.

The CTS-V Wagon brings me closer to my home…

[Disclosure: Cadillac flipped me the keys to this 2012 CTS-V Wagon, and let me hold on to them for a week. The automaker threw in a tank of gas as well, which didn’t last long, and was replaced by many more tanks of expensive gasoline.]

  • Hey, a reach around is a reach around, I always say.

  • schigleymischke

    I briefly considered the regular CTS wagon before buying the big Volvo. It's just small. That's its main problem. Why buy a wagon that is small?

  • I have only seen one of these running around town, and if I would have had my wherewithal, I would have stopped to shake that gentlemen's (or gentlelady's) hand.

  • My mother actually drives a 1st gen CTS (non-V) wagon. For some strange reason GM decided to jack up the ride height, pretend it was an SUV and call it the SRX.

  • SirNotAppearing

    I dismiss this review completely. You can't possibly have a proper opinion unless you drive it for a year on a free lease.

    • Age_of_Aerostar

      …and give away 2-weeks of that lease as the gift for winning the "Capture This" feature.

    • …and only if that is a full year of bragging!

  • scroggzilla

    So, if I understand your review correctly, CTS-V Wagon > Grand Funk Railroad?

  • Charles_Barrett

    So, has anyone worked up the nerve to ask Loverman to borrow the keys to his CTS-V wagon-with-manual-transmission…? Anyone think bribing Knuckles with cute outfits and tasty treats would do the trick, or curry favor…?

  • SSurfer321

    Jeff, this is a great good review. You are obviously smitten with this car. I would like your opinion on the user-friendliness of the infotainment system and observed fuel economy (gallons per mile). Not that I am in the market for one as, like most other members here, the CTS-V series is out of my price range.

    I don't quite get the rant with links to others websites, though…I think it's a distraction and detracts from the review. IMHO

  • "$60,000 and $80,000 depending on the options checked."
    That is clearly not the stuff THIS enthusiast's dreams are made of.

    • Give it 20 years.
      Look at the original sticker price on your Towncar and compare it to that, adjusted for inflation.

      • Ah, but they sold a hojillion Town Cars, they had mediocre cred to begin with, and were replaced by better models.

        I suspect these will be more like Volvo V70Rs, AMG or Audi RS# wagons. Which, in fairness, aren't more than ~5 years old, but absolutely refuse to drop into an affordable price range. Though, I suppose the Caddy will be a much more reasonable maintenance proposition at 10+ years than any DOHC Krautwagen.

        • I have a feeling that the close American equivalents of the CTS-V wagon will be the 1990s Impala SS, Buick Grand National/T-Type, and Mustang SVTs. Cars that everybody knew were special to start with. However, all of these have seen some point of <$10k values so there is hope.

      • According to the BLS's CPI Inflation Calculator, the cost of a '92 Town Car in today's money is about $51-55K, so you're not all that far off the mark. But I think the other commenters are right; the CTS-V Wagon will never drop in value like the Town Cow.

  • cruisintime

    Love the CTS-V ,however I will not be able to afford one until they are at least ten years old.
    Oh well ……………

  • topdeadcentre

    It's an attractive and awesome car. I'd buy one if it were in my price range; as it is, it's waaaaaaaay above what I can afford. We'll talk in five years, when hopefully nobody else will even think of these cars and the depreciation can make it affordable.

    I know it can't take the cargo of a 70-series Volvo, but I can make up for that by getting a near-junker Econoline if I can figure out where to park it.

  • Alcology

    Recaro also makes bus seats.

    • And Lambo made tractors. And Bombardier makes subway trains. What's your point?

      • Alcology

        I had no idea they made bus seats until I was walking by the bus depot and saw an empty bus with a big "recaro" stitched onto the seat. I thought it was cool and made me smile.

        You have a bad day there or something?

  • BAMacPherson

    Oh… to be a rich hoon…

  • I will seriously consider picking one of these up as the years go on. I can't imagine they'll beat it by much with any future generations. If they do, I'll be happy to be wrong.

    That said…the CTS-V line reminds me a bit too much of Daniel Craig's Bond. Too much muscle awkwardly tucked into a tuxedo, more apt to respond by beating the hell out of its opponents than outwitting or outclassing them. Unfortunately, a Chevy version of this would cost too much for a Chevy, same for Pontiac if it still existed. There's a case Buick…but Buick's supposed to the the Realtor division. No…this vehicle is most in-line with what Oldsmobile is supposed to be. Oh well.

    If we chalk it up to the pseudo-logic of a halo car, it sort of works…after all, here are a bunch of younger car enthusiasts drooling over a Cadillac. Looking forward from 2003, that's a marketing dream come true.

    But short of a Lotto win, none of us are customers. So the real question of effectiveness is whether we're more likely to recommend a Cadillac of any kind to a real would-be customer.

    Are we?

    • Number_Six

      There are plenty of people here at work who could afford CTS-Vs, wagons or otherwise. Their uniform response to my CTS-V recommendation is "I'm not buying a goddam Cadillac." Then they go buy a Mercedes/BMW/Audi…

      • Had that very conversation with my old man. His response was an A8.

      • As I read it, Cadillac's trying to follow the path that BMW did from the mid/late 70s to the 90s, or Audi 90s-00s. Win over enthusiasts and auto-journos –> become a Luxury standard after 10-15 years.

        …but I'm not sure you can build/rebuild a reputation in ~5 years that you spend ~30 destroying.

    • pj134

      Slightly on topic, the Regal GS is pretty damn good. The clutch is a bit sensitive compared to what I'm used to and you actually have to hammer it into gear, but It handles well enough, perhaps a bit too much torque for FWD but all in all a very enjoyable car. It is strange how quiet and comfortable it is when you're redlining it. Not something I'm really used to in a car. Very floaty and cushy in regular mode, but firm and tighter in GS mode.

  • Irishzombieman

    I love this car. I love the coupe. I even love the saloon.

    And I'm having a bit of difficulty coming to terms with the fact that, at this moment in time, my favorite American car brand. . . is Cadillac.

    • pj134

      GM and Chrysler both have come way up since the bankruptcy… Ford shoulda drank the kool-aid.

    • Number_Six

      I had that problem when Chevy brought out the Lotus-enhanced ZR-1 back in the early '90s. I seem to adjust pretty well after the initial shock. However, given GM's history of shitting the bed, I will be totally shocked if the ATS and ATS-V are anywhere near as good as the CTS.

      • Irishzombieman

        The ATS will be a excellent test of company personality.

      • pj134

        With a 315 horse V6, rwd and a stick weighing in under 3800 lbs or whatever that number is, it really seems like it has all the possibilities in the world. I hope it will be what it can be.

  • I've said it before, when I win the lotto, I'm buying this and a Raptor and I'll be set for a while.

    If this is the same car that MT has had, don't use a black light in the interior as Jonny has enjoyed the car a bit.

    The only universal complaint I've heard about them is the seats. They grip fantastically, but aren't very comfortable. Somewhat of a shame, but not a problem I'll ever have to deal with, that is unless I do win the lotto.

    In regards to the TTAC article, a friend of mine did just buy a lightly used '11 Vagon. It's currently in transit from Florida to Vegas (where he lives), because he couldn't find one any closer.

    • pj134

      I've sat in the seats, I'm a big dude, I was fine in them. Honestly, no complaints from me.

      • Good to know. My friend says I'm welcome to drive his car once he gets it, so I hope to find out for myself!

        • pj134

          Yeah, I guess I'm kind of easy though. If I'm busy focusing on keeping my shit eating grin to a minimum and enjoying the fact that I'm completely plastered into the seat, I'm not going to spend too much time bitching about them.

  • 12 MPG.

    I suppose if you can afford the $72,000 price tag, you can afford 12 MPG.

  • Froggmann_

    Ugh… why did I click that link. Now I'm filled with want for another GM product that will try to maim me in some way. The last one set me on fire.

  • From_a_Buick_6

    Look, I was a geek about wagons long before I realized that the internet was full of people that were obsessed with wagons. But I just can't make myself care about this car. Maybe it's because the internet won't collectively shut up about it and now I'm bored, or perhaps because it doesn't have wood paneling or bench seats. I don't know.

    Same goes for anything else in the V8/diesel manual sport wagon category.

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