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Road Tests

Cadillac BLS 1.9D 150

Cadillac's first station wagon is not bad, but it lacks soul and authenticity, says John Simister

Model: Cadillac BLS 1.9D 150

Price: from 22,473

Engine: 1,910cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, turbodiesel, 150bhp at 4,000rpm, 236lb ft at 2,000-2,750rpm

Transmission: six-speed manual or six-speed auto, front-wheel drive

Performance: (manual) 124mph, 0-62 in 10.4sec, 47.9mpg official average,

CO2: 159g/km

The US, you might think, is the land of the station wagon. At least it was until the SUV came along. So you would have imagined that at some time in its long history, Cadillac would have made such a car, maybe with giant fins flanking the tailgate. Close your eyes and you could even visualise it.

But it would be all in your mind, because there has never until now been a Cadillac station wagon, or estate car as we British call the genre. You're looking here at a first for Cadillac. This innovation comes, however, from an unexpected source, for the Cadillac BLS Wagon is a Swedish-made Cadillac with a Fiat-designed engine, and a car that will not be sold in the land of its brand's birth.

It's the Cadillac BLS Wagon, and underneath you can see that it's really a Saab 9-3 Sport Wagon car from Trollhattan. As with the BLS saloon, a car of which I have seen no examples on UK roads apart from those on the press launch a couple of years ago, the Wagon, which costs 1,000 more than a same-specification saloon, exists purely to broaden Cadillac's European footprint with a bit of faux Americana.

There is no soul, no authenticity to the car. Its identity is entirely superficial. That said, it's not a bad car at all, which is not surprising because the Saab 9-3 Sport Wagon is really quite a likeable machine. The Cadillac makeover involves a new nose and tail, emphasising the angles and edges that are today's Cadillac look, plus the coarse-grid front grille and the vertical look to the front and rear lights. The Saab's tall, clear "iceberg" tail-lights are absent here, of course, because they're too Swedish. Instead, the rear pillars are blank with red lights beneath them.

Inside, Saab parts (stalks, switches, handbrake, window frames) mix with more Cadillac-styled angles and edges, plus an ornate clock and, in the intermediate Elegance and top Sport Luxury versions, some shiny fake walnut. This is not a genuine luxury car, it's a plastic imitation in the way that the new, larger CTS (tested here recently) is not. The BLS badly needs the CTS's proper wood and "cut and sew" leather coverings to give itself some uniqueness and credibility. The man in charge of the BLS project at Trollhattan, Jan Tammpere, agrees.

He is Swedish. He says that the Trollhattan workforce has adapted well to making Cadillacs as well as Saabs, and all is sweetness and light. Then the conversation moves to old Saabs and what fine, individual things they were, and we reminisced and talked of the Saab museum and Cadillac wasn't mentioned again. Funny, that.

The BLS might get the posh leather in a future incarnation, if General Motors decides there will be one. Judging by the way the head of GM Europe, Carl-Peter Forster, winced when I asked him how the BLS was doing, there may not. There are those in GM who think that the whole adventure was a mistake and counter-productive to Cadillac's credibility. It's hard not to agree.

So, what is the BLS Wagon actually like to drive? A Saab 9-3, oddly enough. The engine line-up mirrors the 9-3's: three petrol engines (four-cylinder turbocharged 2.0s with either 175 or 210bhp and a V6, 255bhp 2.8), two 1.9-litre turbodiesels (150 or, with a two-stage turbo, 180bhp) and a bioethanol-compatible option for the 2.0-litre petrol engine giving up to 200bhp. A four-wheel drive version of the V6 will join the range later.

I drove the 150bhp diesel and found it effortlessly rapid, in the way that good modern turbodiesels are. But an inconsistent accelerator response, which gave either too little or too much action for fine movements at the beginning of the pedal's movement, made it hard to flow with this BLS. There was also a nasty vibration through the clutch pedal, too.

I'm still confused as to whether Cadillac is meant to be a "sporty" brand, but the BLS's suspension settings suggest that it might be. It's firm over bumps but feels keen in corners, helped by a sophisticated, Saab-designed rear suspension created to help point the nose into a bend. That much applies to any BLS, but only the estate car can combine the Cadillac look with considerable load-carrying ability.

The BLS shares the Saab's double-hinged load bay floor, reconfigurable into a vertical bulkhead and a deep well to make separate compartments. In the Saab, you lift it up with a T-handle designed in the form of an aeroplane. That precious piece of Saab uniqueness obviously wouldn't do for a Cadillac, so instead the BLS's handle resembles a mushroom cloud. I'm searching for a message there, but I haven't found one yet.