I learned to drive behind the wheel of a 1973 Cadillac Sedan DeVille, a six thousand-pound behemoth that belted out around 150 horsepower from its 472-cubic-engine. It had the handling and ride characteristics of an overstuffed couch floating down the highway. Steering feedback could accurately be described as uncomfortably numb.
How times have changed.
The sable-black DeVille I drove recently, a DTS model, couldn’t have been more different from my 1973 luxocruiser. Most of the chrome and flash of the past have been replaced with a monochromatic paint scheme, almost completely devoid of chrome except for its $795 optional chrome wheels shod with Goodyear P235/55HR low-profile performance radials. Sorry, whitewalls are not an option here, but a tire-pressure monitoring is available for the first time.
At first glance the DTS looks somewhat diminutive. Riding on a 115.3-inch wheelbase, its bodywork is made up of sharply creased sheetmetal that no longer ends in tail fins, but does feature LED taillights that supposedly offer an extra 17.6 feet of warning distance at 60 mph. That’s if you’re driving aware, a big assumption out there on today’s interstates. Up front, large composite headlights give the DeVille an awkward bug-eyed appearance when viewed from certain angles, but throw out enough light to play a major-league baseball game.
The DeVille DTS is the hot rod of the Cadillac fleet, a point that is emphasized by the inclusion of the Northstar system, which teams a 300-horsepower 4.6-liter V-8 engine and a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic that drives the front wheels of this full-size cruiser.
On the road this Cad straddles the line between performance and luxury with road manners that don't completely alienate either camp. Suspension duties are handled by struts with coil springs in the front and an independent multi-link system with electronic level control in the rear. The Continuously Variable Road-Sensing Suspension is tuned for performance and utilizes wheel-position sensors to read and continuously adjust for road conditions. Steering feel is augmented by the Magnasteer system, which noticeably increases steering effort when taking turns at speed.
2002 Cadillac DeVille
Looking at the DeVille you would never guess we’re taking about a front-wheel-drive car. It doesn’t drive like one, either. While dreaded front-wheel-drive evils like torque steer never raised their head during our test, a car of this class should be rear- or even all-wheel drive, at least for bragging rights.
Since size used to be such a Cadillac fixation, it’s interesting to note that the DTS measures up in most respects to the Caddys of yore. Up front, sporty bucket seats are separated by a floor-mounted shifter and console, features not normally associated with traditional large American luxury cars. In back, a true three-person bench is sculpted to give each his own nook. There’s 43.2 inches of legroom which gets you to just this side of stretch limousine territory; Our DTS also included rear-seat airbags, a $295 option.
2002 Cadillac DeVille DTSEnlarge Photo
The dash itself is cloaked in black leather and coated with zebrano wood. The steering wheel has a power tilt-and-telescope feature that allows fingertip control of the entertainment and heating and cooling systems; it also gets two inserts of zebrano wood to match the dashboard. The eight speaker Bose audio system in our DTS was controlled by the dash-mounted touch screen that also allowed remote operation of the six-CD changer located in the glove box. The tactile feel of the switchgear needs improvement; many of the buttons and switches had a rickety, rough feel that was not in line with the technology they controlled.
2002 Cadillac DeVille
One of the DeVille’s most talked-about features is the Night Vision system, which uses a grille-mounted infrared camera to project an image on the windshield via a head-up display. A flick of a switch makes the outlines of homes and cars visible in complete darkness, but it takes a bit to get used to having this infrared image in front of you. The display is plain distracting while traveling on the highway. Thankfully the system can be easily turned off by dash-mounted controls.
Safety features abound on the DTS. The handling-enhancing Stabilitrak 2.0 uses a number of sensors to maintain control of the vehicle during emergency or evasive maneuvers. The system works automatically by selectively applying the front brakes to prevent a skid.
Our tester also featured the ultrasonic rear parking assist system. Sensors mounted on the rear bumper tell the driver how close they are getting to a parked car or other object that may not be visible. A series of lights and chimes will activate as you get close to an unmovable object, which no doubt will save trips to the body shop or the swapping of insurance information with other drivers. The downside, of course, is the ugly sensor discs mounted on the rear bumper.
A push of a button on the rear view mirror activates the OnStar system, which incorporates new features like voice-activated calling and virtual advisor news and sports headlines. The promised Infotainment system that was to have offered features such as a voice memo recorder and a port that allows you to sync your Palm Pilot to an on-board computer, was a non-starter for the 2001 model year, allegedly due to frequently changing software and hardware. Look for this system to resurface in 2002 especially with the push to keep all in- car electronics "hands-free."
If you’re still entertained by the notion of buying a big Cadillac, consider this: the 1973 Sedan DeVille I learned to drive on was barely capable of getting 10 mpg on the highway. By contrast the DTS DeVille is rated at 17 mpg city and 28 mpg on the open road.
At that level – and on many others – it compares favorably with cars like the Lexus LS 430 and the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. As far as aesthetics, that’ll have to be your call. But if you want to buy American and need something sharp-edged, powerful, and technologically advanced, the DTS is the only game in town.
2002 Cadillac Deville DTS
Price: $46,267 base, $58,702 as tested
Engine: 4.6-liter V-8, 300 hp
Transmission: Four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 115.3 in
Length: 207.0 in
Width: 74.4 in
Height: 56.7 in
Curb Weight: 3978 lb
EPA (city/hwy): 17/28 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, front-seat side airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control
Major standard features:Air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, locks, and heated mirrors, Bose AM/FM/Cassette/CD stereo with eight speakers, keyless and illuminated entry, 12-way power front seats with power massage and lumbar
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles