Cadillac deVille DTS(2000)

deVilleWhen we last tested a Caddy, back in the Pleistocene era, it was just the sort of road-hogging, gas-swilling, wallowing, "better-make-that-two- Dramamines" dinosaur GM's luxury division had become notorious for. Why has it been so long since we drove a Caddy? Well, in our last review, we might have used the words "white shoes," "plaid pants," and "land yachts" a little more freely than General Motors would have liked. Anyway, they seem to be willing to let bygones be bygones.

And the even better news is that the new deVille DTS is a vastly improved car. The ride and comfort are spectacular. The engine is smooth and powerful. The handling is pretty darned good -- more than acceptable. And the styling...well..."slabby" comes to mind. But at least it's different. The only backward step Cadillac took is right at the center of the dashboard.

In order to seem technologically up to date, Cadillac slapped a really distracting, confusing touch screen smack in the middle of the dashboard. How much do we NOT love this touch-screen technology? Picture this: You're cruising along the interstate, merging with semi rigs and distracted parents in minivans loaded with screaming kids, and you decide to play a CD. Simple, right? Well, you have to use the screen to do that, and to use the screen, you have to, what? Take your eyes off the road, because you can't feel a pixel. Safety experts pretty much agree that taking your eyes off the road while driving is a bad thing to do.

This unfortunate "improvement" seems to be a trend in high-end cars. Apparently manufacturers think that customers who spend a lot of money also want a lot of complicated toys. To be fair to them, the folks at Cadillac are not the only boneheads to have done this -- Mercedes is right there with them. But it's unfortunate because it mars an otherwise very nice car.

Driving Experience

deVilleThe deVille actually rides and handles very well for such a large car. It still has a soft, smooth ride, but it no longer pitches like the Queen Mary when you ask it to do anything that doesn't involve a straight line. In fact, this is probably the best-handling Cadillac we've ever driven.

The engine, Cadillac's fine Northstar V8, is so powerful that little old ladies may want to drive with the emergency brake on. Step on the gas pedal, and there's no waiting around -- you're gone. Front-wheel drive and standard traction control should keep you moving in any kind of weather, and standard ABS will bring things to a halt.

Interior

Aaaahhhh. Now these are comfortable seats. They may be just about the best car seats that have ever coddled our worthless butts. Supportive, luxurious -- they're just about ideal. And the back seats are just as good. Three of our Car Talk lackeys sat in the back seat on the way over to the studio one day, and they were all cooing with pleasure over the comfort. And not one of them is over 40 years old.

Unlike previous Caddies, with their liberal splashes of chromed baubles, the new deVille exudes a kind of Harvard-club elegance. The leather is tasteful, as is the genuine wood strip that runs around the interior. The only chrome to be found is the door handles, and even they're understated.

This is a big car, and there's loads of room inside. Despite its size, the car has a kind of cozy, private-club quality. The cozy leather seats only reinforce that feeling. Part of that "exclusive" feeling is a result of smaller windows and bigger roof pillars. They limit the view more than a full-glass greenhouse would but not so much as to create hazards.

The high trunk lid limits the view out the back, but there is a little "beep-beep-beep" device to tell you when something's behind you. Inside the trunk itself you'll still find enough room to stuff three bodies, so Tom, Ray, and Dougie kept a close eye on the Cadillac representative when he dropped off the car.

Our car had every accouterment GM could whip up, including the optional Night Vision technology first seen during the Gulf war. Switch it on, and in a little, floating rectangle at the bottom of the windshield you'll be able to spot members of the elite Republican Guard and errant Scud missiles heading your way. Actually, Night Vision detects heat, and you're supposed to be able to see people, animals, and other objects that might be in the road beyond the headlights' reach. While this sounds like a good idea, in practice the view is too narrow for urban drivers, and not wide enough to reveal people about to step off sidewalks (and other things you might want to know about) in town.

The Night Vision option does work for objects beyond the reach of headlights and directly in front of you, however. If you live in the boondocks and worry about slamming into large, errant wildlife, you might consider shelling out the $5,000 for this feature. Cadillac should have named this system Moosevision, in our opinion.

In the meantime, we'll wait for the technology that reveals empty parking spaces.

Ergonomics

deVilleAside from the touch screen (have we mentioned that we hated the touch screen?), the ergonomics are a mixed bag. The instruments are nicely visible. The controls for the windows, wipers, and headlights are all in the right place. But the seat controls are buried between the seat and the door, where they're hard to reach, and the Night Vision switch is somewhat out of reach below the dashboard to the left.

We have to gripe about the clock too. The only clock is a digital clock on that touch screen, and the numbers are rather petite, with no way of making them bigger. (Note to Cadillac engineers: Worsening vision may, ahem, be an issue for your clientele.)

Styling

No longer such a glitzy boat, the new deVille has taken some lessons from the Europeans. It has a slightly slabby, though muscular, look; I guess that, to be charitable, we'd call it distinctive. If you like it, you like it. If not, spend your $45,000 elsewhere.

Reliability

The deVille uses GM's Northstar V8, which has a good track record in terms of reliability. We see no reason why the deVille shouldn't be fairly reliable.

Maintenance

Ordinary maintenance, such as belts and hoses, shouldn't be much of a hassle. For more-extensive repair or service, however, we'd recommend taking the deVille to the dealer: The deVille is a luxury car. Do you want to trust Earl at your local gas station with your $45,000 investment?

Overall comments

If you are looking for a large American luxury car in the $40,000-$50,000 range, your choices are the deVille DTS and the rear-wheel-drive Lincoln Town Car. And the deVille is now miles ahead.

But if buying American is not that important to you, and you simply want a nice luxury car, you should also consider the Mercedes E Class, Jaguar S Type, Infiniti Q45, and Lexus LS 400.

The deVille has kept many of the things people have liked about Cadillacs -- a soft ride, lots of space, creature comforts in spades, and a certain air of exclusivity--while ditching many of the things we've disliked in the past, such as the floaty handling and excessive glitz. Shaken by how many of its former customers are turning up in obituary columns, Cadillac has tried to reach out to younger buyers without alienating its bread-and-butter clientele.

As we see it, the deVille's overwhelming key attribute is its extraordinary comfort. If you crave a car with seats that will literally cradle you in unmitigated, luxurious comfort while providing a decent ride at the same time, the deVille is your ticket. And it's still the only car that appeals to people who've always aspired to owning a Cadillac. Unfortunately for Cadillac, though, there aren't as many of those people as there used to be.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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