Cadillac Plays To Its Strengths and Comes Up With a Much-Improved DeVille
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
Frank. Sammy. Miles. I find it very easy to associate Cadillacs from the '50s and '60s with those smooth cats. They were cool and the cars were cool. I'll take a '57 Brougham, please. When I see Cadillacs from the '70s and '80s, all I can think about are big gold medallions and "Who Shot J.R.?" T-shirts.
Nobody wants the element of coolness back more desperately than General Motors execs. This year, Cadillac is fighting it out with Lincoln just to be the number three luxury-car manufacturer in terms of sales. Mercedes and BMW are in the top spots. For the biggest automaker in the world, this just won't do.
In the attempt to regain past glory, Cadillac has been showing its Evoq and Imaj concept vehicles and building a racecar for the famous 24-Hours of Le Mans endurance race. This is all well and good, but it is the quality of the cars sitting in dealer showrooms that will ultimately improve or hurt sales. For 2000, Cadillac is pinning hopes on the DeVille.
The DeVille is completely redesigned for 2000. It is built on General Motors' updated G-platform, which means it is close in kin to the 2000 Pontiac Bonneville and the 2001 Oldsmobile Aurora.
For 2000, the DeVille comes in three versions: DeVille, DHS and DTS. Opinion is always subjective when it comes to styling, and the new DeVille has our staff divided. Some editorial staff members think it looks presidential in demeanor, with its flared wheel arches and strong accent spines running from the large headlights to the taillights. Others think the front end resembles a particularly ugly version of the Hyundai Sonata.
At least there is no argument that the shape is distinctive. Compared to the previous model, the new DeVille is trimmer and more athletic. Base curb weight is down a bit to 3978 pounds. It's also 3 inches shorter and 2 inches narrower despite the 1.5-inch longer wheelbase.
For the most part, the smaller exterior dimensions don't have a negative impact on interior room. Trunk space is down slightly to 19 cubic feet, but that's about it. This is still a full-size luxury car designed to accommodate a broad range of body sizes.
Would cool-cat Brando be happy in the DeVille's front seats? Sounds plausible enough to us. The front chairs are obviously designed for comfort, as they are relatively soft and lacking in side bolstering. They perform their intended task admirably, however, and Cadillac equips them with eight-way adjustment plus four-way lumbar. Heated front seats, optional on DeVille and standard on DHS and DTS, are equipped with dual-zone controls providing heat either in the backrest only or heat in both the backrest and seat cushion area. The seats also have a lumbar massage feature that could prove useful on long trips.
Two adults is the optimum number for the rear seat, but three can take to the back seat without much difficulty. Outbound rear passengers also get dual-zone heat controls, and DHS cars are equipped with rear four-way power lumbar support. A fold-down armrest is built into the center of the seat, but the DeVille lacks a ski pass-through or folding rear seat back. Front passengers get both front and side air bags, while rear side air bags are optional. NHTSA crash test results for the 2000 DeVille are disappointing, with only three stars for the driver, four for the front passenger, and four for both front- and rear-side impacts.
Perhaps something from the Cadillac's option list will compensate. Like the James Bond movie franchise, no Cadillac would be complete without an array of gee-whiz gadgets. Highlights include (take a deep breath, now) Night Vision (see our separate in-depth review), rain-sensing windshield wipers, ultrasonic parking assist, GPS navigation, OnStar communications, LED taillights, tri-zone climate control (two zones in front and one for the rear), a driver information center, optional memory seating, programmable lighting and door-lock options, an optional hands-free cellular phone, and an optional adaptive seating package.
If you have ever had any seat time in a Lexus LS 400, it will be immediately clear what type of vehicle Cadillac aimed for when designing the DeVille's interior. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? The center console is dominated by a large touch-screen monitor that is surrounded by Lexus-like buttons. Rip-off or not, the button layout works. Controls are easy to find and use. Redundant audio, climate and cruise control buttons are mounted on the steering wheel. Cadillac has also avoided the dreaded "Gee, what does this little black button do?" quandary that arises so frequently while residing inside a BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
Other Lexus cues on our DTS test car included the electroluminescent analog gauge cluster and the use of Zebrano wood trim on the dash, steering wheel and doors. We liked the coloring and grain pattern of the wood trim, but other interior materials (such as the dash and door plastics) are disappointing for this type of car.
Additionally, the various seams and gaps found between interior panels and components are distracting and really squash any aura of superbly-crafted luxury. Like other GM products, it is easy to disassemble elements of the dashboard with your bare hands. Our test car had a twisted door seal, mismatched wood joints on the dash and a loose cargo light dangling by its wiring into the trunk. It is highly unlikely that you would find this kind of build quality on a Lexus, BMW or Mercedes. These faults make it all too easy to recall the parental link between a DeVille and a $20,000 Chevy Monte Carlo.
While we're at it, allow us to find fault with the audio control layout. The glove box-mounted six-disc CD changer is nice, but any DeVille equipped with the navigation system has audio functions routed through the touch-screen monitor. Cadillac must have forgotten to put this design through a focus group as it fails miserably in real-world application. Shuffling through the various audio sub-menus is annoying, and there is no quick way to adjust volume level. The volume button on the steering wheel helps, but it's useless to the front passenger. And just like the LS 400's monitor-based audio controls, the DeVille's audio system requires the driver to take his or her eyes off the road in order to fiddle with it. At least with a normal head unit, a driver can learn audio control layout by feel.
The touch-screen monitor did prove useful for the GPS system. Though it's nearly impossible to test the true scope and usefulness of any GPS system, the DeVille's CD-based system seemed to work well enough. The CD unit is mounted in the trunk and comes with nine map disks for the United States.
To get anywhere using the GPS, you'll need to fire up the DeVille's 4.6-liter V8. This engine has been standard equipment on the DeVille since 1996, and it is certainly one of our more favorite engines. For 2000, minor updates have been made, such as a new combustion chamber configuration, a coil-on-plug ignition system, a new powertrain control module and a new intake manifold. All DeVilles sold in California and some Northeastern states will be certified as low-emission vehicles. These cars have special catalytic converters and two electrically driven two-stage air pumps to meet the more stringent emission laws.
Power output for all DTS vehicles is 300 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 295 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm. Base DeVilles and DHS cars have slightly less horsepower but 5 more foot-pounds of torque. Due to a lower compression ratio, the DeVille's V8 no longer requires premium fuel. According to the EPA fuel mileage cycle, the DeVille gets 17 mpg in the city and 28 mpg (an increase from last year's 26) on the highway.
Apparently, our lead-footed editorial staff was constantly dipping from the V8's big well of torque, as the overall gas mileage during our evaluation was 15 mpg. But how can you resist the DeVille's sublime power delivery? The four-speed automatic transmission works perfectly with the V8's power curve. Stomp on the throttle, and the Cadillac barks out a pleasant V8 growl while being all too happy to pass whatever plebian vehicle is in your way.
Like the previous DeVille, the 2000 car is still front-wheel drive. In most situations, the front-drive configuration is transparent. In acceleration tests, our DTS ran from zero to 60 in 7.3 seconds, with a quarter-mile time of 15.5 seconds at 91.8 mph. Braking hardware has been improved over the '99 car; our DTS stopped from 60 mph in 127 feet.
Also impressive is the DeVille's composure over a variety of road surfaces. The G-platform is a major improvement over the previous car's chassis. The body structure is considerably stiffer than before, with a 21-percent increase in bending stiffness. This allows the suspension to work more effectively in terms of isolating noise and road harshness. The suspension itself (fully independent, with MacPherson struts in front and semi-trailing arms with a toe-control link and load leveling in back) is marked by increased wheel travel and better components and bushings.
The latest version of Cadillac's StabiliTrak system makes an appearance, as does the updated Continuously Variable Road-Sensing Suspension (CVRSS). CVRSS constantly adjusts the damping rates of the shock absorbers according to vehicle speed, steering angle, suspension travel and lateral acceleration sensors. We have never been impressed with the CVRSS system on our long-term '98 Seville STS, as it is often befuddled by complex road surfaces. The DeVille's new "2.0" version seems brighter, and indeed, it kept the damping soft during urban trawling and firmer while driving at higher speeds.
Don't assume that CVRSS and StabiliTrak grant vast new powers of handling expertise, however. The DeVille is still not a sport sedan, and a BMW 540i is clearly superior in terms of the driving experience. Push the DeVille into tight corners, and its bulk and front-drive layout quickly convert speed into lazy understeer. Push harder, and the StabiliTrak system steps in to counter whatever further craziness you had planned.
For its more mundane mission of urban commuting and freeway cruising, the DeVille works quite well. The ultrasonic rear parking assist is very useful for parking, as is the tilt-down passenger-side mirror. Just sit back in the comfortable seat, let the V8 and automatic transmission do their work, and listen to a mix of your favorite CDs (just don't aggravate yourself over the audio interface).
The 2000 DeVille has too many character flaws to earn a decisive recommendation. Compared to other domestic cars, the DeVille packs a considerable amount of feature content. (Rather interestingly, the move to the G-platform now places the DeVille as a rather direct competitor to the Seville.) As far as luxury and feature content is concerned, the DeVille DTS is the best domestic vehicle available. Its mid-forties base price isn't too hard to swallow, either. But refinement, driver involvement and prestige aren't as good as the European marks. And until that changes, Cadillac is still looking at the bronze medal.
System Score: 8.5
Components. The system consists of a 12" Bose subwoofer on the back deck, 6" full-range in the rear doors, and 6" mid-bass in the front doors. Nicely positioned tweeters decorate the A pillar, and a fabulous mid-tweet combo festoons the center of the dash. Electronics consist of an AM/FM cassette radio with a indash six-disc CD changer.
Performance. Soundwise, this is probably as close to a 10 as I've found in a sedan. As soon as I see a mid-tweet on the top center of the dash, I know I'm in for a treat. This system was no exception.
But first, a few negatives. The touch-screen LCD display sucks. I found it funky to use and maybe even unsafe. The rocker switches GM has provided for tuning and volume also lack refinement. Give me good ol' round volume controls any day over this jazz. Not only hard to find, they're difficult to use. I also found the seek/scan control lacking in flexibility and hard to use. Even with practice, I found the controls on the radio difficult to negotiate and annoyingly complex. I marked off heavily for ergonomics in this area. Think of it: I'm into this stuff and computer savvy. Imagine your typical demographic Cadillac buyer trying to use this stereo. Not a pretty picture. Also, FM reception is less than stunning.
The sound, though. Wow! This is a lush and powerful sound system. Silky-smooth highs coupled with a thumpin' bass -- yowee! The highs are velvety and transparent, while bass response is thunderous, but also punchy and accurate. Yummy. One of the few systems I could listen to all day. The power amp, even at full gain, clips nary an ounce, gets just the tiniest bit grainy at maximum output. Lovely.
Conclusion. I'm normally not a fan of Bose stereos. They really nailed this one, though. This is among the best-sounding OEM stereos I've heard. I really think they should rethink the whole touchscreen concept. I hated it. Also, there's a rattle emitting from the rear deck on bass thumps -- I took points off for that. I tracked it down to the metal grille on the subwoofer. Hey guys, if you're gonna give us a kick-ass subwoofer, make sure you couple it with a grille that doesn't rattle! Extremely annoying. Other than that, on pure sound, I'd give this one a 9.5. Scott Memmer
Night Vision Evaluation
I really wanted to like this. I mean, I really really wanted to like it. Sadly, I was disappointed in the DeVille's Night Vision system.
The concept sounds great: an infrared sensing system that can detect objects -- especially living "objects" -- on the roadway far ahead of the headlights. Cadillac says Night Vision enables a driver to see what is ahead three to five times further than low beams and two times further than high beams. By increasing the driver's sight range, DeVille drivers should have more time to react to potential road hazards or problems.
Night Vision is based on technology developed by Raytheon Systems Co. A camera mounted in the grille views the path ahead through an infrared-transparent window approximately three inches in diameter. Just behind the window, refractive optics are used to focus the infrared energy on a 1-inch-square detector. Information from the detector is passed to sensor electronics that translate the data into a monochromatic image that is projected onto the windshield via a heads-up display. Objects in the image are the same size as they appear in the road scene, helping the driver to relate images to the actual distances of the objects.
Does it work? Yes. But that's not the right question to ask. The real question is, "How well does it work?"
I spent over two hours driving this car at night to get a feel for the system. Here is what I found out.
First off, Night Vision is best suited for operation outside of the urban environment. With streetlights and the light from other cars, Night Vision's capabilities are rendered inert. In fact, leaving it on in such conditions can be overtly distracting.
Out in the sticks, Night Vision displays an image that looks similar to a black-and-white photographic negative. Hotter objects appear white, and cooler objects appear black. Just after sunset, I turned the system on (it can be turned off and on at the driver's discretion). Sure enough, warm objects, such as rocks on hillsides and metal guardrails, appeared white.
But the displayed objects are hard to see. I found them fuzzy, grainy, indistinct and, because it's a monochrome display, it was hard to tell a boulder from a Bronco. My eyes actually hurt after one hour's use of the display, and I found it distracting and annoying. Since the camera is fixed to the car, its extended view of the road is useless for seeing objects while driving around corners or through hilly terrain. Overall, I felt that the display should be larger and have a better resolution in order to be truly effective.
Another potential problem: while driving the DeVille during the day, the sun came through the front window and reflected directly off the HUD projector and onto the inside of the windshield. I was temporarily blinded! This really angered me, since GM is pitching this thing as the next best thing to a seeing-eye dog. A huge, shiny blue-green image literally flooded the inside of the windshield, creating a very dangerous driving situation. Why not have a simple, black plastic door that slides across the display when not in use?
Night Vision could be useful for people who live in densely populated areas with lots of wildlife running around. But for the remaining majority of U.S. citizens who live in cities, it would seem more practical for GM to give the DeVille standard Xenon HID headlights instead of this little toy. That's a technology that benefits every driver. I'd much prefer to see that on this Cadillac than Night Vision. -- With additional reporting by Brent Romans
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