FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - I've driven lots of curious vehicles on racetracks, but sliding around the high speed Road Atlanta road course in a Cadillac DeVille Concours was a surprise - and not an unpleasant one. Despite its 2-ton bulk, whenever the behemoth was pushed hard, you could feel StabiliTrak keeping the wheels in line. Plus, in the event I did hit something, I knew the OnStar center would notify the rescue crews before the airbags quit smoking.
When the DeVille went to a new platform two years ago, Cadillac cleaned up the last vestiges of the old engineering. Now it is a fully worthy competitor for any foreign product, but Cadillac has dropped the Coupe DeVille and DeVille Touring. The Touring model’s place is now taken by the Concours models with an uprated 300-horsepower Northstar engine.
While certainly improved, those who were expecting something more in the mold of such cars as the BMW/Mercedes/Lexus/Infiniti group will be disappointed. The current DeVille has been created to continue to attract the traditional gentrified Cadillac buyers.
DeVille devoted to traditional buyers
"Our customers are interested in quality American-made automobiles," observes John Smith, who took over last fall as Cadillac general manager and General Motors vice president. "We have found that they are the most discriminating of the luxury car buyers. Many foreign car owners are showing up in our showroom now - a good indication that our quality is on a par with their expectations. Main objective is safety and security, which fits exactly the desires of our buyers. The six-seat DeVille has an 'air bank' rather than just one or two airbags to protect all front seat passengers, a feature unique to GM products."
The standard 275-horsepower DeVille engine is a refined version of the venerable 4.9-liter Cadillac V-8. The Concours’ 32-valve Northstar V-8 is one of the best engines on the market. Not only does it have power, it is smooth and ultimately reliable. The Northstar can run without water (using a computer monitored get-home mode), and no maintenance is required for the first 100,000 miles.
1998 Cadillac Concours
The electronic four-speed automatic transmission is one of the smoothest shifting models ever created. Traction control is a welcome standard feature.
If any feature is missing from the DeVille Concours list, it is hard to imagine. Standard items include leather seats with memory controls, Zebrano wood trim, automatic climate control, remote entry and locking, and everything power actuated.
Unlike in days past, chrome on the exterior is minimized. Body styling is much the same as it’s been for decades, however, with a subtle hint of the old tail fins. The Concours also has different lower body cladding and grille, which has a Cadillac badge mounted in the center (à la the upscale Mercedes models.) Road-Sensing Suspension and 16-inch alloy wheels with performance tires control handling. Anyone who is expecting a performance sedan is going to be disappointed.
StabiliTrak proves satisfying
The StabiliTrak system is standard on the Concours and goes well beyond traction and anti-lock brake control. It adds yaw and lateral acceleration sensors to help control the slipping and sliding before it gets exciting. They are not going to prevent drivers from having any lack-of-control situations but will take the drama out of the driving experience should the car encounter unexpected patches of leaves or dampness.
While the ride is comfortable and the Concours is immune to extreme wallow, it does lack some grip and has noticeable amounts of body lean. If a performance Cadillac is what you seek, look instead to the Seville Touring Sedan.
All Cadillacs now come with dual airbags and ABS. Actually, the front bags are in the form of an "air bank" that is designed to protect all front-seat passengers. In order to provide an extra measure of assurance, OnStar combines a cellular connection to a service center in Michigan and the location information generated by the car's communication with three or more satellites.
1998 Cadillac Concours
OnStar now, Night Vision next
This can be used to give the driver directions to a specific destination or to automatically notify rescue units in case of an airbag deployment. The center is also alerted should the driver press the panic alarm on the key fob. If the driver reports the car stolen, the center will track the vehicle and coordinate with police to locate it. For those of us who are forgetful, OnStar folks can unlock the car if keys are left inside, or even flash lights and honk the horn if we forget where we parked it at night or are trying to locate it in a dark lot or structure.
Speaking of finding things in the dark, for 1999 the Cadillac DeVille Concours is expected to come with an optional Night Vision system that will allow drivers to detect the presence of cars, people, or animals up ahead, beyond their range of vision. With so much high-tech gear aboard, the Cadillac customer will almost need an advanced degree just to drive the car.
But the brass at Cadillac see it in a different light. On its current and future vehicles, Cadillac is set not only to sell comfort and elegance but to provide its customers with the cocoon of assurance and safety that have become so valuable in today's society.
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