2001 Cadillac Seville Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 14, 2001

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When Cadillac first launched the STS for 1998, it was aiming to stretch Seville’s appeal to younger, affluent, internationally-versed buyers—those who normally wouldn’t consider a trip to the Cadillac dealership. Seville STS models are sold throughout the world, in left- and right- hand drive versions, but if the public’s reaction to our sleek STS was any indication of where the demographics really are at home in America, Seville’s appeal remains strongest with traditional Caddy customers. We saw it everywhere: White-haired senior citizens would turn around and gape hungrily at the STS. Most of them were behind the wheel of a LeSabre, Continental, LHS, or other American luxo-boat—definitely not the BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus drivers that Cadillac targets. The STS seems to be the envy of older men everywhere.

And now that the Escalade has stolen center stage at Cadillac, earning fame in hip-hop lyrics and entering the Gen-Y pop-culture vernacular, it seems the flagship Seville’s been sidelined by an SUV. Unthinkable! Although the Seville STS hasn’t been a major threat to German luxury heavyweights Mercedes-Benz and BMW, under its conservative guise the STS is a formidable, American-bred Autobahn stormer.

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The current Seville was heralded as a technology powerhouse on wheels, and that hasn’t changed for 2001, as Cadillac continues to pile on the tech goodies. The STS made its mark as GM’s technology showcase, with gadgets such as adaptive air-cell seats, the Stabilitrak skid-control system, and a performance shift algorithm for its automatic transmission. Since then, considerable refinements and tweaks have been made along the way, including—yes—more gadgets.

More tech goodies for ‘01

For 2001, Cadillac introduces a Web-driven Infotainment system and high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights to the options list. A new-generation rain-sensing wiper system is standard. A new, optional Infotainment audio system is integrated with the available navigation system’s display screen, featuring e-mail capability, an integrated cell phone, a voice-recognition system, and a memo recorder. Standard OnStar services now include hands-free cellphone capabilities and the Virtual Advisor, a feature that offers Internet-based information. Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assist, included with the luxury package on our car, uses a series of three LEDs and visual cues to indicate the distance to an obstacle behind the car while in reverse.

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Our Seville STS came with the optional luxury package, which adds parking assist, a wood trim package, HID headlamps, a tire-pressure monitoring system, larger, 17-inch chrome wheels, and a six-disc center-console-mounted CD changer, all for $2930. We didn’t think the style of the chrome wheels fit the Seville very well (they look a little gaudy or cheap for a Cadillac), although they do complement the chrome-tipped exhaust outlets at the rear. The most notable option group is a Sport Package that includes larger tires and wheels, W-rated tires good for a top speed of 150 mph, and revised suspension tuning, among other accessories.

Cadillac’s 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 remains superb and competitive with the best that the Germans have to offer. In the STS, it makes 300 hp, with 295 lb-ft of torque. The DOHC, “predominantly aluminum” engine received numerous improvements for 2000, including new pistons and revised valve sizing, new roller-follower valve actuation, a redesigned intake manifold with acoustical foam to muffle intake noise, and a new ignition system and control module. Also, engine-driven accessories are now mounted directly, for design simplicity and reduced noise and vibration. For 2001, an air pump has been added to cut startup emissions.

The fruits of all of this work? On paper, the Northstar’s fuel economy has improved, and it now accepts regular, 87-octane gas. From behind the wheel, the Northstar is much quieter than before, especially at idle. The only sound the engine does make is from the exhausts. It’s the pleasant burble of an American V-8, and it sounds great all the way up to its 6700-rpm redline.

Top-notch powertrain

On the road, the engine feels happy in just about any situation, with great throttle response and plenty of torque available just above idle. From there, the power builds evenly all the way to redline. Seville’s 4T80-E four-speed automatic transmission delivers it wisely, with buttery smooth shifts in leisurely acceleration and snappy upshifts under full throttle. The gearbox intuits upshifts well, holding the lower gear for sharp corners or inclines, aided by what Cadillac calls the Performance Algorithm Shifting (PAS) program, although the “smart” transmission doesn’t hold the lower gear for holding speed on sharp downgrades. Torque steer has been almost entirely cured in this powerful front-driver. The even, progressive throttle pedal is a real treat for a GM product, too.

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The STS doesn’t have a manu-matic transmission option, or a manual gearbox, but the automatic can easily be shifted manually. The center-console mounted shifter is gated and firmly spring loaded, such that each gear clicks recognizably in place.

The STS’ so-called Northstar system complements the Stabilitrak stability-control system, a variable, road-sensing suspension system, and the Magnasteer variable-assist steering system. The suspension and steering assist work together with the stability control, firming up a bit more in emergency maneuvers or performance driving. In normal driving, the suspension system continuously assesses and optimizes the adjustable dampers electronically. From our experience, the Stabilitrak system is one of the best in the business, allowing performance driving and a little bit of sliding without shutting down the power abruptly, while at the same time maintaining a margin of safety to keep you out of trouble.

Overall, the Seville STS’s suspension feels a little jittery and harsh at times on coarse pavement surfaces, yet it absorbs expansion strips, sudden jolts, and major irregularities like potholes and railroad tracks with cushy softness. The suspension also keeps the STS very flat in all but the most aggressive cornering, keeping tire roll at a minimum. The slight low-speed choppiness of the ride disappears at higher speeds: In fact, the faster the STS goes, the more composed it feels. The Seville STS is a good compromise between a point and shoot, 500-mile-a-day highway cruiser and a sport sedan that’s adept enough to keep up with the best on the twisties.

Cadillac tells us that the new-design, magnetic-fluid-based variable damping suspension system, originally slotted for a mid-year 2001 debut on the STS, has been delayed for a 2002 introduction.

Responses sharp, steering feel dull

The STS’s Magnasteer steering system uses a variable magnetic field to increase or decrease steering effort, according to vehicle speed and lateral acceleration. At parking-lot speeds, the steering is feather-light, but at highway speeds the effort level increases. Unfortunately, the system doesn’t always work as intended: it’s a bit vague and doesn’t transmit much road feel at any speed.

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Although the Seville looks like a large luxury car on the outside, it’s not so space efficient inside. The back seats have real, usable space in the back for two—good enough for cross-country road-tripping, but only squeeze space for three. The center console and contouring in the back seat seems to prevent a third from being comfortable for longer trips. There is a rear seat pass-through, though, that helps with skis and other long items, and the trunk is absolutely cavernous.

The Seville’s standard seats are extremely comfortable, but the seating position is a bit odd. It’s difficult to get a good, upright position, and the headrest seems too far back behind the head. The cushions aren’t firm enough for a luxury sport sedan, although many of Cadillac’s arthritic buyers might disagree. For the STS to be a sport sedan, Cadillac should make available a sport seating option with more lateral support and firmness.

Heated front and rear seats are standard on the STS, along with high-quality cowhide upholstery. A system called adaptive seating is optional for the front seats. It uses a set of ten air cells for each seat, split among the lower cushion and back rest, which automatically adjust to the optimal pressure.

The Seville scores poorly in the all-important cupholder test. The two available to front seat occupants were quite inadequate, too wide to stably hold a small coffee cup or can of soda but too shallow to securely anchor even a novice Big Gulp.

The Bose 4.0 sound system, standard on the STS, is excellent. With 425 watts and eight speakers of various sizes, it’s equally at ease playing anything, with robust midrange for symphonies, crisp treble for pop tunes, and punchy bass for R&B or techno.

Tight interior, good attention to detail

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The build quality of our STS was good, with no creaks or rattles whatsoever. The doors have heavy detents and a solid, muffled slam. Although some of the Seville’s switchgear looks from the company parts bin, most it is up there with all the other luxury cars. Most of the plastics match up in texture, and there are very few of the sharp, injection-molded edges that signify a lack of attention to detail on a car this expensive and exclusive. Only one slight problem, with obstinate fuel and temperature gauges that randomly stopped working for an hour or so, kept us from completely extolling the Caddy’s quality.

Starting at $48,045, the STS is priced on par with the Lexus GS400 and a few thousand less than the BMW 540i and Mercedes-Benz E430. None of the models are particularly fresh—they’re all well into their product cycles (Cadillac says that a Seville redesign is more than two years away). Feature for feature, the STS does offer more than the competition, but suffers from worse resale value in ownership. When it’s this close, you really have to just go with which one you like best.

Tech goodies aside, the STS has an unmistakable American personality. Just as the German BMW 5-Series feels serious and the Japanese Lexus GS430 feels lean, the STS has that difficult-to-describe essence that embodies a real, good-ol’ American V-8 luxury car: That, with most of the floaty, undesirable qualities removed and in its place a marked firmness. While Cadillac wants to think of the Seville as a Euro-busting international sport sedan, truth is, the STS feels very American. To many, that’s a big part of the appeal.

2001 Cadillac Seville STS
Price: $48,045 base, $51,695 as tested
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 300 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 112.2 in
Length: 201.0 in
Width: 75.0 in
Height: 55.4 in
Curb Weight: 4027 lb
EPA (city/hwy): 17/27 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, dual front side airbags, stability-control system, anti-lock brakes
Major standard features: Dual zone climate control, power heated seats, power windows, locks, and mirrors, rain-sensing wiper system, wood and leather trim, cruise control, OnStar telematic system, 425-watt Bose sound system
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles

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