Cadillac's evolutionary throwback
The 2007 Cadillac DTS is 17 feet long. Yet somehow it is so easy to overlook.
When was the last time you noticed one? The full-size 2007 DTS is also the Cadillac that's habitually marginalized by the automotive press as a holdover, old-school Caddy driven only by very old men who smell strongly of medicinal salves or livery-service drivers who smell strongly of Drakkar Noir.
Certainly there is some truth to these stereotypes.
Assuming it wasn't a taxi, the last car that picked you up at the airport probably was either a Lincoln Town Car or a Cadillac DTS. It was black. And it smelled. And the only privately owned DTS that you've seen that wasn't being driven by an old man with lumbago was painted Mary-Kay pink.
(Incidentally, for the 2007 model year, Cadillac has modified the pink paint it uses on the Mary Kay DTS. "Mary Kay V is making everyone forget Mary Kay IV," says one Cadillac official. "Mary Kay IV is so 2006.")
Even Cadillac doesn't seem hip on promoting the DTS. Last year the company gave the venerable big boy a face-lift to bring it more in line with the edgy look of current Cadillacs. Yet the DTS's front-drive platform (shared with the Buick Lucerne) is a holdover from the previous generation of Cadillac sedans. Its length, featherweight steering and generally relaxed attitude date back much further — to a time well before Cadillac had aspirations to be the maker of German-style sport sedans.
Let's do the time warp again
All this leaves the DTS a bit lost in time. It possesses neither the glittering ostentation of the Escalade nor the sternness of the German-inspired CTS. New styles have made the DTS a quaint reminder of a time in the luxury-car world long since passed. The Lincoln Town Car — the only direct competitor to the DTS — is equally out of step with its maker's brave new world.
So why did we bother borrowing, testing and writing about this throwback?
Because Cadillac sold 59,031 DTSs in 2006. The DTS is Cadillac's second-best-selling vehicle, behind the three-model Escalade range (62,000 yearly sales), but ahead of the CTS (54,000 yearly sales). Compared to the DTS, the modern-as-tomorrow STS sells less than half as many examples each year.
One thumb up
All of this might not totally explain why we attempted to steer our loaded DTS with only one thumb and a forefinger on its large-diameter steering wheel.
It seemed somehow appropriate to roll easy down city streets with our upper body listing slightly to the right, our right elbow resting on the cushy center pad and our left thumb locked around the bottom-left steering wheel spoke.
We glided around town in this fashion for a week.
Not once did we feel the desire to turn the car quickly. Other than at the test track, we never applied the brakes in anything but a leisurely manner. And naturally we never bothered changing gears because the DTS has only a conventional automatic with no sequential-shift capability. Anyway, the transmission contains only four forward gears, half as many as the automatic in the new Lexus LS 460. So what would really be the point?
And, God help us, we liked it. How much of our enjoyment is based on the novelty of driving such a throwback is not immediately clear.
The dirty bits
Just because car writers and car company marketing types don't see the big, soft American luxury sedan as a growth market, this does not mean that Cadillac has let the DTS lie fallow.
Cadillac gave the DTS a significant update for 2006. It changed the name of the car from "DeVille" to "DTS," (DeVille touring sedan), which, at least superficially, ties the big sedan with the high-profile STS (Seville touring sedan). The old boy also got a cosmetic nip and tuck, with a pointy front grille inspired by the Cadillac Sixteen concept car of 2003, plus some super-slim LED taillamps.
We didn't do a full test last year when Cadillac made these changes. After all, who ever thinks about the DTS?
Assuming a buyer opts for the "DTS Performance Sedan" package (we're going to let that oxymoronic description stand with no further emphasis), the DTS comes with a boatload of performance upgrades and electronic whizbang gizmos.
They include the 292-horsepower Northstar V8 (up 17 hp from the standard version), front and rear heated seats, front and rear ultrasonic parking-assist system, rain-sensing wipers with a heated washer system, automatically adjusting Magnetic-Ride dampers, remote starting system and a variety of other systems and doodads.
Bah, who needs numbers?!
The powertrain and suspension upgrades of the Performance Sedan-equipped model result in decent numbers at the test track. The DTS rides, well, it rides like a Cadillac. And we mean that in the way people used to use the term.
"Rides like a Cadillac" was once widely used to mean "soft and cushy," just as "Who do you think you are? Mario Andretti?" was employed to say that you drive too fast.
The difference, at least for the DTS with its Magnetic-Ride automatically adjusting dampers, is a car that doesn't pitch and wallow like a dinghy in choppy water. On the skid pad, where it posted a credible 0.78 g, the DTS stayed on a relatively even keel.
That the nose of the DTS doesn't dive for the pavement under panic braking and that its brake pedal delivers good feedback are even more surprising. Unfortunately, control feedback and measurable performance are a bit at odds here. From 60 mph, the 4,127-pound DTS takes 137 feet to come to a halt. This is 14 feet longer than a Toyota Avalon and 9 more than a Lexus LS 460.
There's a similar disconnect between feel and performance through the slalom, where the Caddy posts a 59.5-mph speed. The car is easy to control and feels more neutral than we expect from a car with 61 percent of its weight over the front axle. But its performance is a few mph slower than most full-size cars, from the Hyundai Azera to the Lexus LS 460.
At 7 seconds flat, the DTS's sprint from zero to 60 mph is, well, it's fine. It's more than adequate, if not much quicker than V6-powered quasi-competitors such as the Azera, Avalon and Chrysler 300. But the DTS sounds like a muscle car, which makes it at least feel fast. So, there's that.
We acknowledge that there are probably very few DTS buyers who know or care what a skid pad is. And that's fine. Part of what we find refreshing about the DTS is its dismissal of the wimpy, quiche-eating, Eurocentric obsession with ultimate handling prowess at the expense of comfort.
The easy-access interior is where it's at with the DTS. It is conservative by design and by simple design inertia — no surprises good or bad. There are the expected chunks of high-gloss wood trim, an upright dashboard and naturally roomy footwells.
A new-for-2007 cocoa-color seat leather is the only disconcerting aspect of the hushed interior. The brown color stands in stark contrast to the pale khaki hue of the rest of the interior. And the finish on the cocoa leather is so flat that it seems unfinished.
Not unexpectedly, the DTS offers generous rear-seat room. Although it rides on a wheelbase that's about an inch shorter than that of the rear-drive STS, the DTS offers more than 3 inches of additional rear-seat legroom.
Overall, the DTS contains about 15 more cubic feet of interior space and 5 more cubic feet of cargo capacity than the STS. The DTS also has a bit more rear-seat legroom than the bigger Town Car. Chalk one up for front-drive packaging there.
The same old question
Sure, we enjoyed cruising around in the DTS.
And if a spacious, soft and somnolent sedan is what one wants, there aren't many choices that offer seating for six. If you regularly wear a fedora, then you owe it to yourself to check out a DTS. If you wear a chauffeur's cap, then you'll want to have a look at the DTS-L long-wheelbase model that Cadillac has just begun building for the livery-car market.
But we've come to the conclusion that much of our enjoyment in driving the DTS was based on the novelty of the experience.
It has been a sort of palate cleanser between servings of sportier sedans. The DTS, at an as-tested price of $53,300, is not cheap. And, frankly, there is comfort to be found in more modern conveyances — cars that don't carry the same whiff of obsolescence.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Road Test Editor Brian Moody Says:
There's something about luxury and soft that go together like short men and big trucks. On the other hand there's a point where soft becomes imprecise.
Thankfully, the DTS doesn't cross that line.
GM's Magnetic Ride control works well, but there's a spooky, artificial feel to it. Hit a big dip in the road and the suspension suddenly firms up. What I'd really like to see is a version of Magnetic Ride Control that has driver-adjustable settings like Sport and Comfort.
The sound of this Caddy's V8 is surprisingly prominent. I like it. It's not harsh or intrusive, and the subtle rumble reminds me of Cadillac's glorious past when power and luxury were always synonymous.
I also like the way the DTS looks. The sharp edges and flat surfaces really show well on a big car and they give the DTS a classy, established look without resorting to retro.
I know most people would consider a car like the Lexus LS long before the DTS, but I think the Cadillac has more character, something aging hot-rodders like American Graffiti's John Milner would drive just to keep that flavor of American power. Only now the seats are much softer and there's a Bose stereo.