CARMEL VALLEY, Calif. -- Carmel Valley Road runs inland from the California coastal highway south of Monterey and meanders through a broad valley etched between golden hills which eventually close to form deep canyons crinkled on the edges and dark with shadows. The blacktop strip traces these canyon curves while climbing in a series of switchbacks through tightly wound corners to reach lofty headlands, along the way forging a driving route that shocks the suspension and tempers the spirit of any vehicle steered up the path.
During recent wheel trials on Carmel Valley Road, a new high-performance sport touring wagon from Cadillac packing a 6.2-liter V8 with intercooled Eaton Twin Vortices Series supercharger applies the strength of 556 horses to turn the rear two 19-inch aluminum wheels shod with Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires.
And, to be candid, strips of Michelin rubber end up bonding to the asphalt roadbed because our go-pedal foot is heavy and this new vehicle rips down any straightaway and romps around so many Carmel mountain curves.
What a fierce yet exhilarating ride we score in the awesome 2011 CTS-V Sport Wagon.
This new high-performance machine comes from the High Performance Vehicle Operations at General Motors, sort of a tuner shop charged with pumping up racy versions of GM production models.
And it begins with the rear-wheel-drive (RWD) platform of the mid-size CTS sport touring wagon, the first-ever car-based wagon out of Cadillac and General Motors.
With its wide track and squatty stance for knife-edge sharp skin that ripples over wheelwells and amplifies a blunt in-your-face prow, the CTSv Sport Wagon shares front-end styling with the CTSv high-performance sedan, but where the sedan version has a notchback rear-end treatment the wagon substitutes a boxy rear wrap.
The aggressive face features a prominent horizontal grille with wire mesh insert, 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 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 but also canting in back in opposing lines with blacked-out center pillars to simulate a stretched trapezoidal streak of tinted window glass.
Tail treatment for the CTSv Sport Wagon shows a slick slab bumper in monochrome flanked by tall vertical taillamps, a Cadillac hallmark, plus a pair of three-inch chrome exhaust caps on a performance dual-exhaust system.
Key component of the CTSv Sport Wagon is a 6.2-liter V8, which is based on GM's legendary small-block V8 and hitched to an intercooled Eaton R1900 supercharger system.
GM's estimates of this plant's output reaches to 556 hp at 6100 rpm with massive torque of 551 lb-ft at 3800 rpm.
It operates with a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission or GM's Hydra-Matic 6L90 six-speed automatic, which was designed to handle a huge torque load, with paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.
All of the muscle for CTSv the wagon is countered by its serious stopping power.
The four-wheel disc brake system by the Brembo brand from Italy uses slotted and vented rotors -- 15-inch up front and 14.7-inch in back -- with six-piston aluminum calipers in the front and four-piston aluminum calipers in the rear.
Also, there are electronic connections to anti-lock (ABS) and traction control (TCS) devices, plus dynamic rear brake proportioning (DBP) and StabiliTrak, GM's superior vehicle stability controller.
Steering, through a rack and pinion device with variable-assist power, feels dead-on precise and quick.
Suspension elements consist of lightweight aluminum for upper and lower control arms to reduce the vehicle's unsprung mass, which makes it stick better on the road and glide more uniformly over bumps.
Further, Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) suspension magic applies.
The MRC amounts to variable shock damping to control wheel and body motion via magnetized fluid in shocks.
By governing the current to an electromagnetic coil inside the damper, shock fluid's consistency can be changed instantly for continuously variable shock damping.
Wheels and tires are special.
The forged alloy 5-lug wheels measure 19 x 9 inches in front and 19 x 9.5 inches in back, with Michelin PS2 summer tires of 255/40ZR19 forward and 285/35ZR19 trailing.
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.
Recaro performance driving seats are optional for the CTSv model with 14-way adjustments including pneumatic bolster controls in seat cushions and backrests.
Vivid analog instruments are housed in tubular binnacles and include a boost gauge and a lateral acceleration display.
Accents in Obsidian Black appear on the center stack, console, steering wheel and door panels.
The V-badged version stocks deluxe navigation and entertainment gear including an advanced navigation system with deployable screen, Bose 5.1 Cabin Surround 300-watt premium audio system with ten speakers and in-dash DVD/CD drive plus a 40-gb hard drive to store music files.
Cadillac's CTS Sport Wagon line for 2011 includes the CTS, plus Luxury, Performance and Premium trims, and the high-performance CTSv.
Base engine is a dual-cam 3.0-liter V6 worth 270 hp, with an upgrade option to a 3.6-liter V6 rated to 304 hp.
MSRP figures for Cadillac's 2011 CTS Sport Wagon line begin at $38,265. The CTS Luxury upgrade lists for $41,320, CTS Performance is $41,565, with CTS Premium at $49,065 and the CTSv going for $62,165.