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|Behind the Wheel: 2010 Cadillac CTS Wagon|
|Written by Jane Devin|
|Wednesday, 02 June 2010 17:25|
Sure, it was a Camaro that stole her heart... but it was the notion that luxury is more about performance than status that captured our guest writer's mind during three months driving a Caddy named Cosima
I have this recurring dream: I'm driving down an Arizona highway in a bright-yellow Chevy Camaro. The sunroof and windows are open, XM's Soultown station is playing Marvin Gaye, and there's a fresh latte in the drink holder. At 75 m.p.h., it feels like I'm gliding.
I pass exit after exit. I don't want to stop. I just want to keep driving--into the warm, into the summer, under the bright sun or the evening stars.
Of course, it's not a dream as much as it is a recent memory. I drove two Camaros during the course of this journey, and I really haven't been the same since. There was a sense of freedom and fun in driving this comeback retro Chevy that I just haven't been able to shake. Even the handsome and well-appointed Buick LaCrosse (see my first Automotive Traveler post) could not totally relieve me of my Camaro crush.
Let's face it. I fell in love. Hard. And love doesn't just go away no matter how many handsome-beautiful-fully loaded-high performance cars come after a tragic break-up. The Camaros (I named them Sunny and Lola) needed their space, Chevy told me. It wasn't me, it was them. They were part of a media fleet--they were meant to flirt with many writing drivers, not just be coveted by one.
So, okay, I moved on. I tried to move on. I had a brief fling with William, a red Chevy Equinox. He gave me lots of room and became my all-wheel drive hero when we were faced with a terrible ice storm in Utah. Then there was Sean Connery, my silver Buick LaCrosse. We were good together--he made me feel special and safe, and showed me that bells and whistles aren't just engineering marvels, but can really add to the feeling of driving a high-performance vehicle. Sean and I navigated the wintry Midwest together as if it were summer.
And then my sponsor GM did something unthinkable. They lent me a Cadillac--the crème de le crème of American luxury automobiles--to a poor writer. Really? A Cadillac? As if the Chevrolets and Buick I had driven weren't luxurious enough? Like most literary writers, I unwittingly sold my soul to poverty. It's not unusual for me to get paid in free copies of obscure literary journals and occasional two-digit checks. Lending a Cadillac to someone like me is like Leona Helmsley willing a large portion of her estate to a dog. Not that dogs and writers don't appreciate the finer things in life--we do. Our idea of finer just isn't usually that grand or expansive.
It's also true that I've always been a little leery of anything too luxurious. Alan Ginsburg saw the best minds of his generation lost to drugs. In my lifetime, I've seen whole people swallowed up by the chase for more/better/bigger. Materialism can really ruin a person, especially when they decide that the size of a home or wardrobe is a true reflection of a person's sense of self-worth.
The iconic nature of the Cadillac brand brings so much more to my mind than the solitary act of driving--and I love to drive. I love long stretches of highway and roadside stops in towns I'd never otherwise visit. To me, there are few things in life as freeing as flying down a road with all the windows open, singing with abandon, or just indulging thoughts I wouldn't otherwise have time to dissect. I've written stories, made future plans, wrestled doubts, and celebrated joy while traveling across America. Maybe it's strange to others, but I have often felt more "at home" in a car than I have anywhere else, especially if home is to be considered a place where a person feels the freest and most whole.
I didn't know three months ago, when I took possession of a Cadillac CTS Wagon, if I could feel at home in a high-end luxury automobile. I didn't know if I'd feel conspicuous or somehow less like myself. I'm pleased, however, to report that I survived three months of automobile opulence with all of my dog-eared, writer's class pride intact.
I named my Cadillac CTS Wagon Cosima, because it sounded as foreign and unattainable to me as any car in the Cadillac lineup. Yet during three months and several thousand miles of driving, the CTS and I bonded, and I came to appreciate that luxury isn't always about a label, but about performance. I mentioned this on a previous blog, but Cadillac saved my life in Georgia. In a construction zone, I was driving with a cement median on one side of me, and a big rig on the other. The truck driver apparently didn't see me and decided to change lanes. I had nowhere to go but ahead, and I needed to move fast. I gunned the gas pedal, and the Cadillac responded with amazing acceleration. I escaped being crushed with feet to spare. After that, I no longer had that apologetic feeling I sometimes get when I receive something few people are privileged enough to receive. I just felt extraordinarily grateful.
I doubt many buyers of a CTS Wagon will go on a year-long road trip, but if they do, I can assure them that everything fits--with room to spare. I packed my year's worth of supplies and luggage both ways: with and without the rear seats folded down. In both cases, I didn't have to struggle to make space.
I was very impressed with the full-screen navigation system and rear-view camera, which were luxuries I'd like to have in all of my future cars. There are two things I absolutely dread while on the road: getting lost at night and having an accident. Features like this make either possibility far less likely.
It didn't take me long to get used to the keyless entry, either. I thought this was a great feature. As long as my keys were somewhere near me, like in my bag, I didn't need them to start the car. I also didn't need them to open the doors, which automatically lock when the driver exits the vehicles with the keys. With this invention, Cadillac made it impossible to lock your keys in your car, and added an additional measure of theft protection.
As it turns out, the only disappointing thing about the Cadillac CTS Wagon had nothing to do with the automobile, but with people. People who are probably more like me than I have ever cared to admit.
I was treated differently when I was driving a Cadillac. There was an unexpected deference in many places, and an undercurrent of hostility in a few others. It often seemed that the car was speaking for me before I even uttered a sentence. To some people, the Cadillac seemed to say I was wealthy and would expect special treatment, or be able to spend more money or leave a bigger tip. Others seemed to view me and the Cadillac with a certain kind of ire--as if a luxury-car driver represented someone potentially difficult, like a snob or a self-absorbed person.
Conversely, the Camaros I drove drew friendly, admiring crowds and seemed to make me extra approachable. The Equinox didn't gather crowds, but was an absolute pleasure to drive. The Buick LaCrosse was beautiful inside and out, and received quite a few compliments, but no one seemed to feel it was a symbol of anything other than itself.
Driving a Cadillac, though, taught me something. Not only about the culture we live in, but also about myself. I have been--and many people like me have been--reverse snobs. We have a tendency to believe that brands and icons really are representative of a person's value, or symbols of something we'll never have, could never get, or don't aspire to earn.
Sometimes a car is just a car, and sometimes it's a Cadillac. Or a Chevy Camaro. Or a Buick LaCrosse. While some people probably do choose a brand solely for its connotation of status, I think most of us choose based on a number of other factors, including our budget, what makes us feel best while driving, and even our personal belief system--which, for me, has always included a preference for buying American. I wish everybody could afford the car they most want. I have a feeling there'd be a lot more Cadillac drivers and far fewer Hyundai ones.
While Cadillac didn't make me a convert to high-end luxury automobiles, it did open my eyes. Driving the CTS Wagon, with its state-of-the-art design and incredible performance abilities was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm grateful for that, but so far my heart remains with my first GM love, Sunny, my happy yellow Camaro.
My new ride is an award-winning 2010 Chevy Malibu LTZ. I've named this one Lucy, and I just picked her up in Detroit. Lucy's XM radio is set to Soultown, her trunk is full, and her console is filled with toll change and healthy snacks. We'll be hitting the road tomorrow, and will be traveling mostly throughout the East. I'll tell you more about her as we move on, but so far I really like her trunk space, sliding sunroof, and great gas mileage.
Being a writer may never bring me fame, fortune, or even a Camaro to call my own, but being able to drive across the country while writing the stories I want to write is a thrill, even after seven months on the road. I wake up grateful and excited everyday, and that's a luxury I could have never imagined--until I began living my dreams out loud.
FTC Disclosure: General Motors sponsors the automobile portion of my trip, but the opinions expressed here are my own and not otherwise compensated.
For more on Jane Devin's year-long travels, visit her website Finding My America--A storied journey across the country.