Driving Impressions

By March 5, 2009

Smooth and powerful, the Cadillac DTS glides over miles and miles of open road in supreme comfort. Maybe that's expected, but the DTS also handles surprisingly well for such a big car, making it a satisfying drive when it's time to turn the steering wheel.

The DTS has a worthy powertrain in the form of its smooth-running Northstar V8 and robust Hydra-Matic four-speed automatic transmission. Under full throttle, both versions of the 4.6-liter engine emit a mellow bellow that says V8 but not in a flashy way. The electronically-controlled throttle is responsive, yet delivers a smooth, measured rise of power rather than a soul-stirring burst.

Two states of tune are available, though we don't see dramatic differences between them. The 275-horsepower version boasts 295 pound-feet of torque, while the 292-horsepower Performance engine offers 288 pound-feet of torque; the Performance-tuned engine gives up some torque for increased horsepower and the base engine actually supplies better off-the-line acceleration. Likewise, the Performance chassis comes with bigger wheels and tires and Magnetic Ride Control, a continuously variable real-time damping system; but spring and stabilizer rates are identical to those on the other versions. In short, both engines deliver excellent performance, but the Performance version is slightly sportier.

All DTS models come with GM's superb StabiliTrak electronic stability control, which limits understeer and oversteer by automatically applying the brakes to individual wheels. All models come with Magnasteer, a magnetic variable-assist rack and pinion steering gear that reduces noise and column shake.

These features, along with its rigid chassis, give the DTS able handling and a smooth ride. The variable-rate steering helps the big car turn into the corners with good response, and carving a line through curves is accomplished with little body roll. 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, at speed on smooth pavement, only a bit of wind noise around the A-pillar and occasional tire thunk suggests the car is covering a lot of ground quickly.

Frigid days and scorchers are handled well by the DTS. We like the standard Adaptive Remote Start, a 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 appreciated. Those who live where it gets hot 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 windshield wiper fluid.

The Lane Departure Warning (LDW) system engages above 35 mph. A green light indicates that the system is turned on and working. Should the driver cross a detected lane marking without signaling, the light flashes amber while an alarm beeps three times. The system is designed to alert the driver in order to take appropriate action to move the vehicle back into the correct lane. To avoid nuisance alerts, the system is designed to not provide an alert if the turn signal is on or if the driver makes a sharp maneuver. Thankfully, the driver can also switch it off, in which case the light goes out entirely. The system uses a camera located between the inside rearview mirror and the windshield to detect lane markings on the road and alert the driver when the vehicle inadvertently strays from the correct lane.

The Side Blind Zone Alert system uses radar to sweep an 11-foot zone on either side of the vehicle; in other words, about one lane over. The zone starts at each side mirror and reaches back about 16 feet. With the system engaged, an amber symbol lights up in the outside mirror whenever another vehicle enters this blind zone. The system uses radar sensors behind the rear fascia that signal an audible and visual alert if objects are detected where it might be difficult for the driver to see them. Cadillac cautions that the system is not designed to detect vehicles outside of the side blind zone that may be rapidly approaching, or pedestrians, bicyclists or animals. It's designed to ignore infrastructure such as fire hydrants or parked cars. In addition, the system displays do not come on while the vehicle is approaching or passing other vehicles.

Adaptive cruise control is a radar-based system that automatically slows the car when it's catching up to a slower-moving vehicle in the same lane, then speeds up again when the offending vehicle moves over or speeds up.

The high-intensity discharge projector-beam headlamps are augmented by IntelliBeam, which automatically switches from high beam to low beam and back again depending on oncoming traffic. In the past, it hasn't always been easy to discern when the high beams are on in a Cadillac, so this is a welcome features. Good nighttime vision is vital to safety.