With the introduction of the 1998 Seville, Cadillac isn't just launching a new car, it's attempting to regain its once-lofty standing among the world's top performance luxury cars.
Promises, promises, you might say. Cadillac has been billing Seville as an import-fighter ever since the nameplate was introduced back in 1975. But until now, its traditionally domestic design has done little to crack the market segment dominated by European and Japanese brands like Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
While it may be difficult to see much new in the Seville, this car was completely redesigned and re-engineered for 1998. Cadillac engineers used Mercedes and BMW as their ride and handling role models and Chief Designer Dennis Little calls the result "a muscle car in an Armani suit."
Of course, some domest-o-phobes will dismiss the newest Seville without even looking at it. It's a front-wheel drive car competing against a field of superb rear-wheel-drive performance luxury sedans.
But there are plenty of things that play in Seville's favor. If any American luxury car has a chance at winning over jaded, import-oriented Baby Boomers, this is the one.
Despite the occasional styling breakthrough, like the sleek front-end on the Mercedes E-Class, this is a rarefied niche of cars where buyers overwhelmingly prefer evolution in styling, not revolution. The Seville is no exception.
Though barely a body panel is held over from the last-generation Seville, the new one bears an unmistakable family resemblance to the previous model. A close inspection reveals the differences. The nose is more refined, with jewel-like, wrap-around projector headlamps and a slightly less audacious egg-crate grille. Bumpers are more subtly integrated into the overall body. Many of the old car's hard edges have been softened, yielding a much more slippery drag coefficient.
The new styling speaks of performance, from its aggressive stance to its wide-mouthed dual exhausts.
Though the Seville's look is unabashedly American, there are clear concessions to the international market. The car is three inches shorter than last year's model in U.S. trim, eight inches shorter in the version earmarked for Europe and Japan. That should enhance its appeal in overseas markets, where crowded city streets and costly fuel mean bigger is not necessarily better.
Though a bit shorter overall, the 1998 Seville has a one-inch longer wheelbase. It also has a 2-inch wider track. The longer wheelbase and broader stance, along with a more sopisticated suspension, help improve ride and handling.
Under Seville's skin is a platform where much attention has been paid to torsional rigidity, which is up an amazing 53 percent. This translates into a whole lot less shaking and hopping on rough roads. It also allowed Seville's engineers to design a suspension that more precisely controls the movement of the wheels, which results in much better handling. The new structure also means the Seville handily meets all present and planned crash standards anywhere in the world.
The new interior, wrapped in leather and wood, is warm and inviting. Tasteful use of richly-grained zebrano wood is very attractive. Designers like to use the term "organic" to describe the way one design element flows into another.
The center console, sweeping up into the instrument panel, houses a handsome radio and climate control center. The look is elegant and expensive-Lexus-like, if you will. The instrument panel also illustrates how Cadillac engineers have been influenced by their Asian competitors. The gauges use a three-dimensional vacuum fluorescent, or VF, display that is as easy-to-read as it is sophisticated.
The Bose 4.0 sound system is an example of how Seville makes extensive use of computer technology to enhance both driving attributes and creature comforts. It's something audiophiles would be wise to consider. It punches out up to 425 watts of music power through its eight speakers, including a 12-inch subwoofer. Bose 4.0 is smart enough to automatically adjust volume and tone levels to compensate for changing cabin sound conditions.
Optional on the SLS and standard on the top-of-the-line STS is Cadillac's RainSense windshield wipers that automatically adjust themselves depending on driving conditions.
The front buckets are among the most comfortable we've found on an American luxury car, plush but not overstuffed, with enough lateral support to keep you firmly planted as you maneuver the Seville through tight curves. Front seatbelts are anchored to the seat so they fit more precisely and feel much more comfortable to wear.
An optional adaptive seating system is designed to measure a body's pressure points and then automatically adjust 10 strategically-placed air cells in the seat cushion. It's both comfortable and less fatiguing on long drives.
There's an extra 1.7 inches of headroom in the new model, and slightly more shoulder room. But the shorter body means a slight loss of rear leg room.
GM's optional OnStar system includes a cellular telephone and a Global Positioning Satellite receiver that constantly tracks the vehicle's position. Lost in unfamiliar territory? Press a button and you're connected to a special service center that will provide precise directions. Mechanical problems? The center's advisors can call for a tow truck. Lock the keys in the car? They can transmit a signal to unlock the doors. Need to make airline reservations or send flowers? They can help with that, too.
Seville now offers dual front and side-impact airbags.
All those features are nice, but on the road is where the new Seville really shines.
Its 4.5-liter Northstar V8 produces 300 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It provides admirable thrust, whether accelerating from a standstill or passing another vehicle on the interstate. Cadillac says it accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds and turns the standing quarter-mile in 15.9 seconds-impressive figures, especially considering the Seville weighs 4,300 pounds-several hundred pounds heftier than the previous model.
The '98 Seville has notably less torque steer-the tendency to pull to one side or the other during a hard take-off-than the old car, but it's still noticeable enough to provide a foothold from the detractors who believe performance luxury sedans should only come in rear-drive form.
Some may also point to the absence of a 5-speed automatic, the latest rage on the upper crust imports. But Cadillac makes up for that lapse with the Performance Shift Algorithm, which comes on the STS model. Hammer the accelerator and it will mimic the aggressive shifts associated with driving a stick. It will downshift ahead of time when you break for a corner, and then delay upshifting until you're running straight and true to avoid throwing the car out of balance.
As we mentioned, the '98 Seville is a high-tech showcase, and one of its best attributes is its Continuously Variable Road Sensing Suspension, a standard feature on all models. To optimize ride-and-handling, it's constantly responding to changing road conditions by altering the damping rate of each individual shock absorber.
The front suspension is lighter than before, yet it provides increased wheel travel. A new multi-link rear suspension is a modified semi-trailing arm setup designed to control wheel angles for predictable response in emergency or hard cornering maneuvers.
Now add in the StabiliTrak system. It uses a special accelerometer to sense even a minor skid. Then, by deftly controlling brakes and throttle, it brings the car back under the control-often before you even noticed anything was wrong. Seville's steering system is linked to the those same sensors. As a result, steering effort is altered according to how aggressively a driver takes a corner.
Calling the new Seville "credible" might come across as a backhanded compliment, but it's not meant that way. The redesigned '98 is a credible alternative for those who've always wanted a domestic luxury car but weren't willing to give up the luxury, refinement, performance and handling of the better imports.
It's a car that truly loves to be driven, whether you're maneuvering some challenging roads or using the Bose 4.0 sound system to readjust your stress levels on the long commute home.
The Seville goes a long way toward meeting the dictionary definition of what a Cadillac should stand for.
|Model Line Overview|
|Base Price (MSRP)|| $47,660|
|As Tested (MSRP)|| $57,512|
|Safety equipment (Standard):||Dual front and side airbags|
|Safety equipment (Optional):||N/A|
|Basic warranty:||4 years/50,000 miles|
|Assembled in:||Detroit, Michigan|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSRP):||STS|
|Standard equipment:||ABS; all-speed traction control; air conditioning; power windows and locks; theft-deterrent system; memory package; rainsense windshield wiper system; reclining eight-way power seats; remote keyless entry; power-operated tilt and telescoping steering column; AM/FM/cassette/CD/weather band 8-speaker Bose premium sound system|
|Options as tested:||Sunroof; chrome wheels; heated front and rear seats; electronic compass mirror; garage door opener; wood trim package; high-end Bose entertainment system with MiniDisc player|
|Gas Guzzler Tax:||N/A|
|Price as tested (MSRP):|| $57,512|
|Engine:||4.6-liter dohc 32v V8|
|Horsepower (hp @ rpm):||300 @ 6000|
|Torque(lb.-ft. @ rpm):||295 @ 4400|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:||17/26 mpg|
|Track, f/r:||62.7/62.9 in.|
|Turning circle:||40.5 ft.|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:||37.2/55.6/42.5 in.|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:||N/A|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:||37.2/57.5/38.2 in.|
|Cargo volume:||15.7 cu. ft.|
|Towing capacity:||3000 Lbs.|
|Curb weight:||4001 Lbs.|
|Tires:||P235/60ZR16 Goodyear Eagle LS|
|Fuel capacity:||18.5 gal.|
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.|
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of 21/Nov/1997.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges.
N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
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