1997 Cadillac DeVille
At a glance, the Cadillac DeVille looks like an anachronism. One look at its vast dimensions, two-ton curb weight and formal roofline suggests the bad old days–numb steering, football field stopping distances, and the agility of a gimpy water buffalo.
But that's not the case, particularly with the DeVille Concours.
Yes, the DeVilles–standard, Concours and the new d'Elegance edition–are designed to cater to folks who prioritize well-padded comfort and luxurious amenities over everything else. But these are far more capable Caddies than their bloated ancestors.
Our DeVille Concours tester was equipped with Cadillac's new stability-enhancing electronic magic, as well as the myriad creature comforts that lend pleasure to long trips. We were pleasantly astonished by its capabilities, seduced by its amenities and impressed by its price.
This is Cadillac's last refuge for American luxury traditionalists. It's the second-largest production car sold in this country, trailing only Lincoln's Town Car in the dimensional derby.
The front-drive platform has a 113.8-inch wheelbase, overall length is 209.7 inches–almost 17.5 feet–and the curb weight is north of the two-ton frontier.
That's pretty significant bulk, but it moves along smartly, thanks to the sophisticated power of its 4.6-liter V8 engine and excellent four-speed automatic transmission, two elements in the integrated powertrain that Cadillac calls the Northstar system.
It also includes traction control on the standard DeVille and d'Elegance models. But the real wizardry lies in Cadillac's Integrated Chassis Control System (ICCS). The latest ICCS element is called StabiliTrak and it provides an exceptional level of control when driving conditions become something other than ideal–rain, slush, ice, loose sand, you name it.
Before StabiliTrak, ICCS correlated traction control, shock absorber damping rates, antilock brake functions and road surface sensors, to enhance ABS performance. StabiliTrak adds yaw control to the equation, and it's a first in a front-drive car. Yaw is engineerese for any deviation from straight ahead, and the StabiliTrak system incoporates a sensor that detects such deviations, communicating the information, including the magnitude of the deviation, to the computer that governs the ABS system.
A second sensor measures steering wheel angles, down to one degree from dead center, as well as the rate of change, and sends the info to the ABS computer. A third sensor measures lateral acceleration–the amount of centrifugal force generated by the turn.
The ABS computer then performs a remarkable function. It interprets the driver's intentions and intervenes to produce the desired effect.
For example, if the driver turns the wheel and the car doesn't make a corresponding response–yaw angle doesn't equal the interpretation of driver intent–the computer applies the inside front brake to bring the car onto the desired line.
If the driver turns the wheel and the rear of the car shows signs of coming around–yaw angle exceeds intent–the computer applies the outside front brake to restore stability.
We've had opportunities to drive several Cadillacs equipped with this system (it's also offered on the Seville Touring Sedan and Eldorado Touring Coupe) in conditions ranging from sand-covered pavement to solid ice. It's much harder to make a critical mistake in a car equipped with this system, and much easier to restore stability when you do.
Back to basics. As noted, the DeVille comes in three editions–standard, starting at $37,660, including a $665 destination charge; the new d'Elegance version, distinguished by gold exterior trim and chromed wheels, from $40,660; and the Concours, from $42,660.
For '97, the Concours sports a new hood, a revised front end and open rear wheel wells, updates that lend a slightly more sporty appearance.
Cadillac has made a number of small interior detail changes to the '97 DeVilles, but the only one of real significance is the addition of side airbags up front, the first domestic cars so equipped. Offering enhanced side impact protection for the upper torso, the bags deploy from the door panel.
Another addition–Cadillac's optional OnStar system–is also significant.
Similar in concept to Lincoln's RESCU system, the satellite-based OnStar system keeps track of the car's whereabouts and can handle the old keys-locked-in-the-car dilemma in a flash–no waiting around for the locksmith or AAA.
It can also track the vehicle if it's stolen, and handle personal services like hotel and airline reservations, or tell you the location of the nearest ATM. What'll they think of next?
Like its formal exterior, the interior of the DeVille is a tastefully traditional blend of leather and wood that strikes a warm contrast with all the car's electronic wizardry.
There's plenty of room for five in this big cabin–even six, if you like–and if the leather-clad front seats are devoid of lateral support, they're living-room comfortable, regardless of how long you sit there.
Orchestral audio, automatic climate control, power everything and multiple presets for seats, mirrors, climate, and audio settings head a long list of hedonistic creature comforts. Check the data panel for details.
Although sound system upgrades are offered, the only significant item that's not part of the standard equipment is a power moonroof, which added $1550 to our test car's price. Seat heaters added an additional $225, and chromed aluminum alloy wheels–an option we could do without–cost $1195.
Thanks to its variable shock damping, the Concours suspension automatically firms up in hard cornering, which helps to reduce body roll and sharpen the car's responses.
The priority is still strongly weighted toward cushiony ride quality, but it's a far cry from the flabby wallow that was a common trait of old-time Caddies. Improvements to the variable assist power steering help out in this respect, as do structural tweaks to the chassis, which enhance handling and sound isolation.
As advanced as they are, Cadillac's stability enhancement systems wouldn't be nearly as attractive if they weren't hustled along by lots of V8 engine power. But they are, and hustle is the right word. The superb Northstar V8, with 300 horsepower on tap in the Concours (275 in the other DeVilles) can haul this big mama to 60 mph in just over seven seconds. And in normal driving the Concours will deliver surprisingly good fuel economy for a car that weighs more than a good many sport-utility vehicles.
We recorded 24 mpg during one mostly-rural run, and the EPA highway rating is 26 mpg. But that presumes you'll be able to keep your right foot from tapping into all that power, something that's hard to resist.
There's only one small asterisk to the Northstar's blazing performance–a slight hint of torque steer when the driver applies full throttle at low speed. A once common trait in all front-drive cars, it's a sin that's been largely conquered, but the Northstar Cadillacs are sending more power to their front wheels than any cars on the planet, and the drive system can't quite manage it seamlessly.
Although this car operates in the luxury realm, its electronic sophistication and standard equipment make it one of the better values in autodom, and its new stability enhancement systems are right on the cutting edge.
Whether it will actually attract folks who are shopping for cars like the Lexus LS 400, BMW 7-Series or S-Class Mercedes remains to be seen.
But one thing seems clear. Thanks to the DeVille, in all its flavors, the full-size American luxury car tradition has a sophisticated new lease on life.