PINYON CREST, Calif. -- The twisty road to Pinyon Crest, California's route 111 cut into granite-crusted slopes of the San Jacinto Mountains towering above Palm Springs, consists of a series of serpentine curves climbing Seven Level Hill.
We select this road on a day with scant traffic to impede our uphill progress while testing the handling characteristics and performance traits of a new sport touring wagon that's well equipped for the task of tracking quickly but adeptly through those sets of curves.
Our test vehicle, rising off a rigid platform with pliable independent suspension components pinned above every wheel, also carries a forceful aluminum engine that translates all torque through a six-speed electronically controlled gearbox and sends it to the rear wheels in classic -- and highly predictable and controllable -- front-engine/rear-drive arrangement.
With its wide track and squatty stance for knife-edge sharp skin that ripples over wheelwells and amplifies a blunt in-your-face prow capped by a toothy grille, this four-door tourer is the first-ever car-based wagon out of Cadillac and General Motors.
Dubbed the CTS Sport Wagon, the way-cool and agile set of wheels is derived from Cadillac's premium mid-size CTS sport sedan. Essentially, the overall package size of the wagon is the same as the sedan, yet inside there's nearly double the cargo capacity due to the wagon format at the rear.
The five-seat sedan has a trunk capacity of 13.6 cubic feet, while the wagon's cargo bay aft of rear seats measures to 25 cubic feet but expands to 53.4 cubic feet when the rear seatback folds down. The Sport Wagon shares front-end styling with the CTS sedan, but where the sedan has a notchback rear-end treatment the wagon gets that boxy rear wrap.
Still, lines are bold and sharp but clean with unique forms marked by angular shapes and crisp edges. The aggressive face features a prominent horizontal louver panel in modern interpretation of the Cadillac egg-crate grille, and piercing optics with stacked round high-intensity discharge (HID) xenon lamps that swivel in concert with the vehicle's front wheels
Flanks are sheer below knife-edge shoulders and interrupted only by fenders flaring around some big wheelwells. The wheels stand near front and rear corners, leaving curt overhangs at the prow and tail.
Note the chrome air extractors, those fender slats designed to dissipate hot air below the hood. The roofline remains low, canting in front in line with the windshield and canting in back in opposing lines with blacked-out center pillars to simulate a stretched trapezoidal streak of tinted window glass.
Tail treatment for CTS Sport Wagon shows a slick slab bumper in monochrome flanked by tall vertical taillamps, a Cadillac hallmark, with twin round pipes in chrome protruding below the body-colored bumper. Inside a spacious cabin with room for five, the exterior theme of chiseled forms and angular features is expressed in a monochromatic treatment with hand-cut, hand-sewn and hand-wrapped surfaces.
Vivid analog instruments are housed in three tubular binnacles and the dashboard center stack of controls is trimmed in a high-tech satin metallic finish or genuine Sapele Pommele wood. Front bucket seats, optionally heated and ventilated, are contoured to fit the body with firm side bolsters to hold you in place during quick-cut pavement maneuvers. The soft leather upholstery comes with French stitching, which also shows up on top of the instrument panel, door inserts and the shifter boot.
Extensive safety measures apply, including air bags surrounding front-seat riders and stretching like curtains in concealment above front and rear side windows.
The four-wheel disc brakes score big high-performance aluminum brake calipers and link electronically to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) and traction control system (TCS) plus GM's StabiliTrak skid controls.
Steering, through a rack and pinion device enhanced by a variable-assist power system, feels dead-on precise and entirely quick in response. Powertrain options begin with the base aluminum 3.0-liter V6 rigged with dual overhead cams, direct injection technology and VVT (variable valve timing). With direct injection, the fuel goes directly into the engine's combustion chamber and fosters a thorough burn of the mix of air and fuel.
This plant generates 270 hp at 7000 rpm with the torque pushed to 223 lb-ft at 5700 rpm. The standard transmission is a smooth-to-shift electronically controlled six-speed automatic, GM's Hydra-Matic 6L45, with optional paddles on the steering wheel for driver shift control.
Optional power comes from a direct-injection dual-cam 3.6-liter VVT V6 that generates the power of a V8 but earns better fuel economy numbers. The 3.6-liter V6 for CTS makes 304 hp at 6400 rpm, with torque peaking to 273 lb-ft at 5200 rpm. Traction options include standard rear-wheel-drive (RWD) or optional on-demand all-wheel-drive (AWD).
All versions stock an independent short/long arm front suspension system with lightweight aluminum upper and lower control arms and knuckles. The multi-link arrangement in the rear mounts on a fully isolated subframe. Three levels of suspension tuning include standard FE1, FE2 for the 3.6-liter engine and a RWD-only FE3 sport suspension with summer tires.
Various equipment packages dress the CTS Sport Wagon. The Luxury Level One Package brings a retractable cargo shade, theft-deterrent alarm system, accent lighting and an audio kit with 6X CD changer upgradeable to a hard-disc navigation system and Bose 5.1 Cabin Surround 300-watt premium audio system with ten speakers.
Luxury Level Two Package adds heated/ventilated front seats, a split-folding rear seat, power for the telescopic steering column and a keyless passive entry device. Then the Performance Package installs foglamps and HID headlights, aluminum wheels with multi-coat painted finish and P235/50R18 V-rated all-season blackwall tires.
Pricing for Cadillac's 2010 CTS Sport Wagon commences around $37,500.