The Cadillac DeVille is one of America's best-selling full-size luxury cars. As you'd expect of Cadillac's flagship sedan, the DeVille coddles its occupants with a roomy, luxurious interior.
The DeVille's powerful 4.6-liter V8 harmonizes with the smooth, responsive transmission, delivering quick acceleration and responsive passing performance. It feels solid and stable at high speeds, yet this big front-wheel-drive sedan offers surprisingly athletic handling, particularly the sporty DTS model.
DeVille is mostly unchanged for 2004, though new heated and cooled front seats are available.
DeVille ($44,650); DHS ($49,800); DTS ($49,800)
The Cadillac DeVille is a handsome car, a combination of European and American, of contemporary and traditional. It still looks stylish and contemporary, though it was last redesigned for the 2000 model year. Its styling distinguishes it from other cars, including other Cadillacs.
Large front lighting clusters and an eggcrate grille give DeVille a bold appearance. Turn-signal indicators are integrated into the side mirrors, alerting drivers alongside of your intention to turn or change lanes.
In profile the DeVille looks like a Cadillac. Large doors, massive body panels and expansive glass are broken only by trim along the lower body section. Large wheel wells are filled by 16-inch alloy wheels on DeVille and DHS, or 17-inch wheels and performance tires on DTS.
From the rear, the DeVille carries the traditional Cadillac ambiance, but with a far more contemporary flair. The fins of yesteryear may be gone, but those twin vertical slashes still shout Cadillac loud and clear. The tail lamps, redesigned for 2003, rely on Cadillac's industry-leading LED technology to light up significantly faster than normal incandescent units, giving drivers of following cars an extra fraction of a second warning, which is all it takes in some cases, to prevent a collision. The rear turn signals are distinctive and stand out brightly when blinking.
The Cadillac DeVille interior is roomy and luxurious.
DHS and base DeVille models come with a full bench seat in front and a column shifter. DTS comes with bucket seats and a floor shifter. New heated and cooled front seats come standard on the DHS and DTS and are optional on the DeVille that feature three levels of cooling. They also feature full-seat heating or back-only heating. A pair of fans in each seat blow heated or cooled air into the seatback and cushion. The system also includes a heated steering wheel, nice on cold winter mornings.
DHS has elegantly gathered leather upholstery, while the DTS has stretched perforated leather for a sporty look. The DTS is distinguished by a wreath and crest in the grille, while the DHS and DeVille use a traditional hood ornament.
The standard DeVille uses digital instrumentation, while DHS and DTS get analog gauges.
The rear seat is inviting and comfortable. There is plenty of room available as you open the rear doors and climb in. Legroom seems endless. Even with the front seat at its rearmost position, the tallest of our testers could easily fit in back. Independent climate controls for rear passengers offer fan and temperature adjustments. Side-impact air bags for the rear seat are optional ($295).
The optional Rear Park Assist is very well executed. When backing up, it sounds a chime as you approach a garage, a kid on a tricycle, or another parked car, or if they approach you. A small yellow lamp lights above the rear window, where it is visible in the rear-view mirror or when looking over your shoulder. A second yellow light illuminates as you get closer. A third light comes on in red when you're in imminent danger of hitting the object. Aside from its obvious safety benefits, Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assists is useful when parking the car or maneuvering in tight locations. It's a must-have feature for those of us who find parallel parking a challenge, and it speeds up the process for skilled parkers.
One thing we don't like is the placement of the high-beam indicator next to the digital trip odometer. Both are nearly the same blue color, making the high-beam indicator difficult to see, so it's easy to leave the high beams on by mistake, blinding other drivers.
Cadillac's Advanced Vehicle Navigation ($1,995) incorporates voice-recognition technology, so the driver can keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. A 6.5-inch touch-screen is mounted in the dashboard. The screen tilts down to load the navigation DVD. You can also insert and play an entertainment DVD (but only while it's in Park). The system plays music CDs as well. For those who want to play music CDs while the navigation system is engaged, a glove box-mounted six-CD changer is available ($595).
OnStar comes standard and includes Personal Calling, which allows drivers to initiate and receive hands-free, voice-activated phone calls without an additional cellular contract. The system also includes Personal Advisor, which delivers Internet-based news headlines, sports scores, stock quotes, and weather reports.
XM Satellite Radio ($325 plus a monthly subscription fee) is available, providing drivers with CD-quality sound nationwide. You can tune in to the 24-hour TV news or sports broadcasts and there's no need to change stations as you drive across the country.
The DeVille rides as supple as you would expect of a Cadillac. The suspension filters unwanted vibration and bumps, but doesn't let the car float around like a boat. Though not as firm as a BMW, the DeVille provides a well-controlled ride. Bumps are felt, but suppressed to comfortable levels. Go around a fast, sweeping turn and potholes won't upset the car's balance, a benefit of the DeVille's rigid chassis. This makes the DeVille easier to handle in tight quarters, important in big cities when surrounded by big trucks and aggressive cab drivers.
The DeVille is smooth and stable at high speeds. The steering is precise and direct, so the car always goes where the driver intends.
The DTS model is particularly agile and feels rock solid on the open road. DTS gets the latest version of Cadillac's Continuously Variable Road-Sensing Suspension (CVRSS 2.0), which features transient roll control, lateral support and enhanced stability. This electronically controlled suspension adjusts shock-absorber damping every few milliseconds, adapting to the road surface and the driver's demands. Variable shock damping allows the DTS suspension to soak up road irregularities and isolate passengers from the outside elements, while still providing the tight control needed for precise handling.
Braking is sure, stable and effective, with nice firm pedal feel. DeVille's braking system combines large four-wheel-discs with a small, lightweight anti-lock system. ABS works very well on this car: Jam on the brakes and you still have control of the steering. Just remember to steer. Electronic brake distribution (EBD) helps reduce stopping distances by re-proportioning the braking force from rear to front as the vehicle stops and its weight shifts forward. In everyday, around-town applications, the brake pedal feels smooth and progressive, making it easy to slow the car down smoothly.
All DeVilles come with the superb Northstar V8 engine. This engine is tuned to produce 300 horsepower in the DTS, 275 horsepower in the DHS and DeVille. Thanks to this highly refined power plant, the 2003 DeVille is responsive, quiet, and fuel efficient. The DTS has lots of power and growls aggressively under hard acceleration.
The DeVille has a great drivetrain. The automatic transmission uses a viscous converter clutch for maximum smoothness with fuel efficiency. We were particularly impressed with the calibration of the transmission, and with the way it communicates with the engine. Squeeze the throttle to the floor in many new overdrive-automatic cars and they surge briefly in fourth, then downshift abruptly into second, an annoying process. But not the DeVille: It shifts immediately but smoothly down to third, snatching that strategic position in traffic without upsetting your passengers or your piece of mind. Slam down the gas pedal and it downshifts smartly to second, the V8 growls and the car rockets ahead. It all works wonderfully.
Electronics help the driver control the DeVille in emergency maneuvers. Cadillac's StabiliTrak 2.0 skid-control system (standard on DTS, optional on DeVille and DHS) makes it nearly impossible to lose control of the DeVille. We say nearly, because nothing can save you if you break the laws of physics. However, we reached some very high thresholds in the DeVille without breaking any of nature's laws. On a closed circuit, we were able to steer into a turn very abruptly, trying to spin the car out. In situations that would have caused most vehicles to pirouette into the weeds, the StabiliTrak-equipped DeVille held its course wherever we steered. StabiliTrak's computer lightly applies the brakes to individual wheels to keep the DeVille in control. This type of system can be a godsend when you are surprised on strange roads or caught out in emergency traffic situations.
Cadillac's Night Vision infrared system ($2,250) is available on DTS and DHS. Using the same technology as military infrared systems, Night Vision makes i
Cadillac DeVille is big, comfortable, easy to drive, luxurious, and fast. It comes in three distinct models to suit driver preferences.