Its restrained styling, front-drive platform and mild-mannered V8s suggest the DTS is the most traditional of today's Cadillac, but it's also full of modern technology and electronic goodies. Unlike many high-end luxury cars these days, there's no need to study an encyclopedic owner's manual to make the DTS do its job, which is to provide faultless motoring. This is a rational luxury car, aimed at buyers who place affordable and user-friendly alongside large and luxurious on their automotive wish lists.
Formerly wearing the DeVille nameplate, Cadillac's full-size luxury sedan sports a new badge, fresh body lines, a redesigned interior, upgraded running gear and suspension refinements. It is offered in a single model, with a single interior, but with a number of option packages (including a front bench seat), and two levels of Northstar V8 power for a wide range of personalization.
However outfitted, the DTS continues the Cadillac legacy of impeccable road manners and a warm, spacious interior. Yet with its improved chassis, suspension and larger running gear, the new Cadillac DTS also offers crisp handling and improved grip for another layer of driving enjoyment that we welcome.
Cadillac DTS ($41,990)
The Cadillac DTS is a big car. With an overall length of more than 207 inches, it's a foot longer and 2 inches wider than the nearest-sized Cadillac. The DTS is 9 inches longer than a BMW 7 Series and almost 4 inches longer than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan.
Despite its size, the clean forms of the DTS give it a European look, though in a distinctively American idiom. New styling elements include body-side chrome trim accenting body-color door moldings and a narrow LED high-mounted stop light that runs nearly the entire length of the decklid's crisply edged rear contour. Restyled fenders provide a more purposeful stance, which when viewed in profile is slightly wedge-shaped. Larger 17-inch wheels come standard (with optional 18s). The overall look is brought together by Cadillac's spline line, which rises from the top of the front fender, runs along with lower edge of the side windows and then flows over the rear fender.
Cadillac boasts that the DTS has some of the tightest production tolerances in the world, and it certainly looks the part of a well-honed luxury machine. The panels fit well, the paint is glossy and blemish free, and overall the DTS wears its bulk well, like a fine-tailored suit. The quality of GM's cars has been improving and Cadillac tied with Mercedes for fifth in the 2005 Initial Quality Survey conducted by the J.D. Power and Associates research firm.
The DTS is not just a surface treatment of the old DeVille. Numerous refinements to the body structure were utilized to stiffen the structure, increase safety and dampen noise. Typical of the depth of engineering to achieve the archetypal Cadillac ride, but just one of many techniques throughout the body-frame-integral structure, is a laminated steel dash panel to significantly reduce noise from the engine compartment.
Low-gloss surfaces, with a three-dimensional animal grain, were chosen for the upper instrument panel and upper door surfaces in order to reduce glare and absorb sunlight. Three leather upholstery offerings include a base leather called Nuance, a more supple, semi-aniline Tuscany hide, and a specially tanned leather called Tehama, found only in the DTS. The base Nuance interior also benefits from fitment of a material crafted from a vinyl/silk blend for seatbacks and armrests. Claimed to be as durable as vinyl, it has the look and feel of leather.
The wood trim used on Luxury I and II models is a good-looking but faux burl material, while Luxury III and Performance versions get a darker, genuine burled walnut. Found on the shifter head, center console and upper and lower sections of the instrument panel and around the center stack, the wood trim creates a flowing theme throughout the entire interior.
Chrome elements include the door handles, select knobs and switches, shifter column surround, and in rings that wrap the four analog gauges in the instrument panel: white-on-black LEDs readouts for speedometer, tachometer, fuel and temp gauges.
The entire console itself was pushed down and forward to give the forward cabin a more spacious feel as well as enhanced sightlines. Facing the driver is an attractive four-spoke wood and leather steering wheel with a finely etched wreath and crest center badge. Tilt function is standard; on Luxury III and Performance models, the wheel has a power tilt/telescoping function with memory. On Luxury II, III and Performance models, the wheel is heated.
On five-passenger models, the center console flows between the front seats and contains the shift selector and storage bins. On six-passenger models, the shifter moves to the steering column, and the front bench seat has an integrated center armrest, which transforms from an integrated back cushion into an armrest with two levels of storage.
The new center stack design is attractive, and easy to see and use. A low-gloss ebony mica finish nicely sets off the radio and HVAC control heads, the controls set flush into the console for a well integrated look. Nestled between air outlets high up in the center stack is a sharp analog clock, in keeping with other high-end automobiles whose clocks also measure out time in the old, traditional way. It's a good way.
The rear seat is large enough for a couple of six-foot-plus males with a few extra pounds of girth, and fitting a smaller fifth passenger in between is no problem. The seatbacks are nicely raked for long-range comfort, and even kids will appreciate the optional heated rear seats.
Comfort is, of course, a primary component of luxury, and we drove both Luxury III and Performance editions of the DTS to get the full dose. We especially like the tri-zone climate control, and the optional cooling for the front seats. However, the heat and cooling controls are set high up and forward in the door panels, making it hard to see if they've been turned on. It's one of the few ergonomic miscues in the DTS; otherwise, there are no difficult or hidden controls or complicated electronic interfaces to mar the luxury experience. Worthy of praise is the ease of using the complex audio system.
Frigid days and scorchers are handled well by the DTS. We like the cooled front seats and Adaptive Remote Start, a new factory-installed convenience for cold, wintry mornings, when the ability to get the engine and interior defrosted and heated (including the front seats) before starting out is most appreciated. Residents of Phoenix and other boiling points will find the system useful to crank up the A/C before climbing in on those 115-degree afternoons. Owners in the frigid north will also appreciate the heated wi
Refinements to the smooth-running Northstar V8, both internally and in the way it is cradled within the car's structure, and to the robust Hydra-Matic four-speed transmission, give the DTS a powertrain worthy of the luxury side of the Cadillac character. In terms of driving excitement, this model's reason for being isn't high performance, and unless you are after quickest elapsed time at the dragstrip, there seems little to differentiate between the two engines. Only 16 horsepower and 6 pound-feet of torque separate the 4.6s, and though there are more revs in the 291-horsepower Performance engine, the 292 pound-feet of torque in the 275-horsepower Luxury engine gives it better off-the-line acceleration. Under a full throttle, the 4.6 emits a mellow bellow that says V8, but not in a flashy way. That's not what the DTS is all about. The throttle is responsive, improved this year by the addition of electronic control, but it attacks traffic by delivering a smooth, measured rise of power rather than a soul-stirring burst.
Among the many upgrades to the chassis are hollow stabilizer bars and retuned spring rates for more control over body roll; an auto-leveling element to the rear suspension that adjusts for larger loads; monotube rear shocks for more wheel control and comfort, electronic stability control (Stabilitrak) that controls understeer and oversteer by automatic application of selective brakes; larger disc brakes; Magnetic Ride Control, a continuously variable real-time damping system; a new rear suspension crossmember for greater stiffness and reduced noise transfer; Magnasteer, a magnetic variable assist rack and pinion steering system that reduces noise and column shake; and larger wheel and tires.
These features make the DTS a very able handler as well as a suave open-road cruiser. The variable-rate steering helps the big car turn into the corners with little understeer, and carving a line through the apex is accomplished with little body. The steering feels a little light while cruising down a straight road, but it stiffens up nicely when feedback is needed during a turn. A bit of chassis hop over freeway expansion joints is virtually unavoidable, but the Magnetic Ride Control does a good job of muting the effect. Otherwise, on smooth pavement, at speed, only a bit of wind noise around the A-pillar and occasional tire thunk suggests the car is covering a lot of ground quickly.
The combination of front-wheel drive, V8 power, spacious interior and luxurious trappings in a four-door sedan is hard to find, but easy to appreciate. As full-size luxury cars from foreign manufacturers have gotten more expensive, the new Cadillac DTS, in full performance mode, soldiers on by delivering a lot of car for just over 50 grand.
New Car Test Drive correspondent Greg Brown filed this report from Southern California.