The cars we loved.
No discussion of big cars would be complete without mentioning Cadillac. It’s big Fleetwood and Sedan de Villes have been the target and envy of almost anyone who’s attempted to sell a luxury car in America (and much of the rest of the world some time ago). So it brings a kind of sadness to ones heart to see the current state of big bodied Cadillacs. The DeVille Touring Sedan, DTS for short, is currently Cadillac’s (and GM’s) largest passenger car. At 207 inches long, it’s even bigger than Lincoln’s extended wheelbase version of the Town Car. Its wheelbase alone (115 in) is almost 16 in longer that a Smart Fourtwo. The DTS is one of the biggest front wheel drive cars you can buy – anywhere.
As large luxury cars go, the DTS is unfortunately bland looking but comfortable. Its overall design reflects less of Cadillac’s ‘Art and Science’ theme than any other vehicle in its lineup. That’s too bad, because any car with 1970’s proportions should be the ideal canvas to express style without the restraints of size. The slender vertical tail lamps are perhaps the only visual link to the storied past of the Fleetwood line. Even the wide grille looks misplaced, if not wide enough, on a car with so little adornment.
The DTS does have one thing going for it: it’s 4.6 L Northstar V8. Although, top Platinum versions have nearly 300 hp, it’s not enough to make the two ton car a hot rod. Not that the DTS is trying to be such (there’s always the STS and CTS for that). Performance models from 06 to 08 and Platinum from 09 received a sophisticated magnetic ride control that enhanced ride quality and control – making the big DTS handle better than most hot rods. In addition to the performance benefits of rear-wheel drive, the DTS is available with optional all-wheel drive. Where many other luxury cars have moved to 5 and 6 speed automatic transmissions, the DTS uses a somewhat old school four speed automatic, not much different than a 70’s era Fleetwood.
The Northstar does offer somewhat efficient and responsive power, something a big 70’s Cadillac could not do. Not surprisingly, all the style and glamour that was once reserved for the biggest Caddy, has been ported over to the smaller Euro friendly Caddys. Cars like the CTS and STS attract a younger clientele, the type that Cadillac wants to keep from buying BMW or Audi’s. That policy has left the DTS to fill the role as the traditional post analog Cadillac. Next to digital age exuberance of Chrysler’s 300C, the DTS looks downright dowdy. It does compare well to the more restrained Lincoln Town Car, its main competitor. Either way, there’s a reason the DTS is more likely to be seen doing funeral duty than any other big car.
In its mission as a traditional luxury car, the DTS does not disappoint. Its lush interior is made up of GM’s softest leather and is finished off with the expected chrome and wood grain trim. The adjustable leather seats designed for maximum comfort but look sporty. The spacious trunk could house a Girl Scout troupe. Inside of the car actually looks more interesting than the block slabbed exterior. Technology abounds to keep the driver alert (or annoyed) and passengers entertained. As if to keep eyes on the elderly customer base who likely would be buying the DTS, Cadillac has equipped each car with a standard ‘Driver Awareness Package’ that monitors the road for obstructions and warns the driver as well as acting as a blind spot alert. The safety suite is available in most Cadillacs, but in the DTS becomes more useful due to the cars county spanning proportions. Other advanced kit includes adaptive cruise control that uses radar to adjust speed based on whats in front of you. In theory, the DTS can accelerate, decelerate and stop without any input from the driver – perhaps the ultimate in pre-Blade Runner/Minority Report automotive technology.
Speaking of the future, it’s not completely clear what the future of the DTS will be and cars like it. The traditional market for these rolling zip codes is literally dying. Chrysler has done a great job of renewing the segment with its exciting 300C, while Ford and GM seem willing to let their big cars die on a vine. Despite dwindling sales for largeness (except for Chrysler’s 300C), there might always be a big Cadillac in the picture – thanks to evolving technology. For now, the DTS may not be the ideal poster child for that role, but by modern standards it’s the best Cadillac can do while trying to conform to EPA rules while holding on to the best of whats left of Cadillac’s old image.
The folks in Warren Michigan have been teasing the public with exciting big cars like the Ciel recently. The Ciel might suggest Cadillac’s return to its preeminence as a design and engineering powerhouse from the last century. A car like the Ciel is expected to cost many time more than the $47,000 DTS, but hopefully some of its DNA will influence the next ‘mainstream’ big car from Cadillac, be it a DTS or whatever name it might take.