Cadillac's best-selling model last year wasn't the zippy, entry-level CTS. Nor was it the unabashedly gaudy Escalade sport-utility vehicle. And it certainly wasn't the funky-fresh SRX crossover. No, Cadillac's best-seller was a model with all the sex-appeal of an orthopedic shoe—the Old School, full-sized DTS.
If an XXL front-wheel drive sedan that can still remember voting for Eisenhower sounds like a bore, that's because, well, it is. All the excitement in the auto industry over the past 12 months has been in up-powered sport sedans, sexy roadsters, high-tech hybrids, and retro flights of fancy, not grandpa-style cruisers with sciatic comfort at the top of the feature list.
So how did Cadillac manage to sell 58,224 of these last year? It's because the DTS, though not at the forefront of any automotive vogue I can think of, is a sterling example of large American luxury. Indeed, the DTS is the last of the company's models built for comfort and not for speed. And behind the wheel of this well-heeled road yacht one could get used to that sort of comfort.
The DTS starts at $42,210 with the top-of-the-line "performance" edition, which has more power under hood and luxury goodies inside, starting at just over $6,000 more. Cadillac makes the options landscape uncomplicated. My test vehicle came basically fully loaded with only two options packages, upgraded Tehama leather for $1,995 and a $1,945 DVD navigation system. (A sunroof costs an additional $1,200 and adaptive cruise control, $1,695.) With an $820 destination charge, the total racks up to $53,300.
Behind the Wheel
Two variants of General Motors' (GM) 4.6-liter Northstar V8 engine power the trim lines of the DTS. Both implementations mate the powerplant to a four-speed automatic transmission, another sign of the model's age. But, even in the age of 300, 400, and 500 horses strapped to 6- and 8-speed trannies, both the 275-horsepower and the more powerful 292-horsepower versions do a fine job of hustling the DTS along.
You might expect lousy handling from a car weighing 4,000 lb. and stretching 17 feet long. However, the DTS is more rigid than I expected it would be. Part of that is due to the model's unibody under-structure, but the DTS also features Cadillac's StabiliTrak technology. Sensors can detect over-steer or under-steer, deploying strategic braking, and reduce engine power to rectify the situation. Steering feels responsive, if a bit vague at times.
The suspension, meanwhile, is marvelous, bravely sacrificing itself for passenger comfort. Throughout my tests, I couldn't help but think I would be sending grateful thank-you notes to Cadillac engineers, had I any back troubles to speak of. The ride is as smooth—even when confronting the toughest potholes and uneven cobblestone streets—as the big sedans from Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
All in all, in driving the DTS the genius of this type of cruiser becomes obvious. The idea isn't to replicate the sport sedan experience in a much larger vehicle by means of brute force. Instead, the concept is, ultimately, to enjoy getting around in comfort and style. My guess is that's also why there's no superpowered V-Series edition of the DTS.
My garage man has a habit of boiling down in spartan English as a Second Language most cars I test drive. Examining the DTS from the outside, he paused and judged: "strong." I would amend that with "sharp." And that adequately sums up the DTS body styling. The DTS dons Cadillac's aggressive, sharp lines. The front grill and headlamps stretch across the front, projecting a strong, solid stance. The rear quarters are rather large and high for my tastes, but the proportions are basically correct.
Inside, the cabin doesn't disappoint. GM has made huge improvements in interior quality across the board and, in the DTS, it shows. The inside of Cadillac's Escalade struck me as much nicer than recent Lexus vehicles I've driven. The DTS, while not quite as impressive inside as the newer SUV, at least matches the interior of Japanese competitors.
There are nice details throughout. The key-fob remote start is smart enough to tell if it's cold or hot outside and regulate the air-conditioning accordingly. The interior is lit with a sexy cold blue hue at night. The door panels, composed of multiple leathers and surfaces, look elegant and well-crafted. The analog clock is legible and—with one button—easy to set.
There are some rough edges, though. There are gaps between components here and there. And, thanks in part to the car's large size, the front seats, though comfy, seem a bit disjointed for the rest of the cabin. Rear-seat air-conditioning controls, meanwhile, are subpar, even compared to other GM vehicles like the excellent Saturn Outlook (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/30/06, "Saturn's Great New Outlook").
The parking-assist package is a must, given the high trunk and slow-slung front hood. But I found the system of lights on the dash and visible in the rear-view mirror a little crude. The lights progress from yellow to red, depending how close you are to another object. But it seems like overkill compared to systems that do the same with an escalating warning chime. If you're hard of hearing though, this visual system will likely work better for you.
Buy It or Bag It?
Mustangs, Camaros, and Challengers notwithstanding, nostalgia alone is no reason to plunk down 50 grand. Luckily, the DTS runs on merit as much as it does fond memories of Cadillacs long past.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the DTS its highest crash-test rating of "good" overall, and in the government's own test the car performed well, earning 4 and 5 stars on front and side impacts. I averaged about 22 miles per gallon in my tests. In other words, the DTS provides adequate safety for the fuel economy.
All that might really give a prospective DTS buyer pause is Buick's Lucerne, a model closely related. A top-of-the-line Lucerne CXS runs about $10,000 less than the Cadillac equivalent. Admittedly, that model doesn't feature some the luxury features offered by the DTS and certainly has meeker styling. But it's still hard not to compare vehicles that are so similar inside.
Still, the DTS, despite some rough edges here and there, exudes big American luxury with class unlike any other vehicle.
Click here to see more of the 2007 Cadillac DTS.