1998 Cadillac Seville
ARLINGTON, Va. Cadillac's new Seville should be causing some
sleepless nights in Stuttgart, Munich and Tokyo right about now.
But it wasn't always thus.
Rollie McGinnis, a Cadillac dealer from Houston, Texas, is a
member (with Toronto's Roy Foss) of the dealer group which
advises Cadillac designers and engineers on Seville and
Eldorado. When he saw the first proposal for the 1998 Seville,
he exploded, "It's ugly!"
Feedback from dealers like McGinnis and consumer clinics
literally sent chief designer Dennis Little and his team back to
the drawing board.
Over a weekend, they came up with , the car you see here.
McGinnis loves it.
True, at first glance it doesn't look much different from the
previous model, introduced in 1992. Not that this is a huge
problem. Styling was a strong point of the former Seville, and
in clinics where the new car was lined up against pricey German
and Japanese competitors, it rated very highly.
The Seville never followed the worn soapbar look. The crisp
edges of the 1992 model pre-saged the so-called "new edge" theme
now touted as the wave of the future.
The 1998 model stays with it, with more contouring, more
softly flared wheel arches and larger-spoked wheels. Large
tail lights and a subtle rear deck spoiler add an aggressive
touch at the rear.
Under the skin, Seville is all-new.
It shares GM's outstandingly rigid G-body platform with
Oldsmobile Aurora and Buick Park Avenue. Seville's wheelbase is
shorter than either, but longer than last year's Seville. Track
is increased as well. The larger footprint results in
significantly more interior room.
Overall length is down slightly for North American models,
even more so for export versions because they don't get our
stronger but bulkier bumpers.
The interior has been completely reworked too.
It's refreshing to hear Cadillac's interior designer Liz
Wetzel talking about "eyes on the road" and "hands on the wheel"
for a Cadillac driver, when it's usually been more like "mind on
the R.R.S.P., hands on the cell phone."
Large, clear analogue gauges snuggle under a
smoothly-contoured dash top with Cadillac's world-first seamless
passenger air bag. The ignition switch and four-way flasher are
mounted on the dash, the wiper switch on a rightside steering
column stalk (in a Cadillac! Let me hear you say "Praise the
Lord!"). A Mercedes-style gated shift quadrant and large
push-buttons and knobs for audio and climate controls earn top
That radio will be a new 425-watt Bose 4.0 system if you order
an STS — it's optional on SLS. As with all Bose
original-equipment systems, this one is acoustically tailored to
Seville's interior. Cadillac claims that this is the finest
mobile sound system available.
I'll wait until I do an ear-to-ear test against a Lincoln Town
Car JBL Premium Sound system, but it does sound pretty
Several car radios today automatically adjust volume to
compensate for the noise level inside the vehicle. The Bose 4.0
system takes this one step further the radio adjusts not only
volume but sound equalization as well. Zowie. It works, too.
Wetzel adds that Seville has gone "from almost no (interior)
storage capacity to more than any competitor offers."
No fewer than 19 cubby bins, pockets and trays hold more CDs,
cassettes, sunglasses than anything in the field. There's even a
tissue dispenser and cheque-book holder in the glove box door, an
umbrella tray under the passenger seat, a pair of cup holders
and a two-level bin in the centre console to hold an optional
cellular phone or a six-disc CD changer.
Front seat belts are attached to the seat frame, rather than
to the floor and central roof pillar, to ensure proper belt fit
regardless of how the seat is adjusted. Putting these belts on
takes a bit of practice, as you have to reach closer to your
body to grasp them.
STS models offer an adaptive seat, fitted with 10 air bladders
in the cushion, bolsters and lumbar region of the backrest.
Sensors in the seat measure the amount of pressure your body is
exerting on each bladder and compares the readings to an optimal
pressure pattern stored in the controlling module's memory.
An air compressor automatically pumps the bladders to the
perfect level, re-analysing the pressure pattern every four
minutes. As you squirm in the seat on a long drive, the seat
adapts to you. A manual override allows you to disagree with the
The rear-seat cushion is raised slightly (GM calls it "theatre
seating") to give backseat drivers a better view of the road.
Each of the three gets a threepoint belt.
Leather upholstery is standard on North American cars, with
the STS using a luxurious perforated hide on door trims and
seating surfaces. The lucky Japanese get to choose cloth
upholstery. Geez, what do we have to do to get that here?
In addition to the expected dual front air bags, Seville adds
side air bags for front-seat riders, mounted in the seat bolster
rather than in the doors again to ensure proper positioning
regardless of where the occupant is sitting.
Rather than offering supplementary head protection, along the
lines of BMW's inflatable tube or Mercedes Benz's safety
curtain, Cadillac has put its safety dollars into StabiliTrak, a
system which measures steering wheel angle and, through a yaw
sensor, how much the car is actually turning in response to that
If the car's path strays from what the driver has commanded
through the steering wheel, the front brakes are momentarily
applied to nudge the car back on course. A new semi-trailing arm
independent rear suspension that allows more wheel travel
addresses one of the most serious flaws in the old Seville: poor
ride over large displacement bumps.
Computer-controlled dampers adjust control instantly in
response to road irregularities, providing firm handling with a
The Northstar powertrain continues, pumping 300 horsepower
(275 on the SLS) to the front wheels through a
computer-controlled four-speed automatic transaxle.
Fans of BMW, MercedesBenz, Lexus and Infiniti never believe
that this is the best powertrain in the world until they try
it for themselves.
The 32-valve 4.6-litre double-overhead-cam V8 has grunt
everywhere you want it, seamless shifts, even a neat exhaust
note when you tromp on it (although it is, sadly, more subdued
One impressive new feature on STS models is something called
"performance algorithm shifting." Once engineers installed
the StabiliTrak yaw sensor, it was no big whoop to have the
transaxle's electronic module interrogate it when shifting
If the gearbox controller senses that the Seville is in a hard
corner, when a sudden upshift might upset the car's balance, the
shift is delayed until the car straightens out. Again, this
clever system is not unique, being similar in function to
The narrow twisting roads in the horse county west of
Arlington are so well suited to testing performance sedans that
Jaguar nearly used the same roads to show off its new XJ8 sedan.
There wasn't a Jag in Seville's comparison fleet, but Cadillac
did bring along a BMW 540i, a Mercedes Benz E-Class, a Lexus
LS400, an Infiniti Q45 and a Lincoln Continental, for
This can be risky. If the competitors come off better than
your car, you haven't done your homework. Some of the more
cynical scribes (hey, my blood type is B-negative, I can't help
it) may suspect the competitive cars have been sabotaged in some
way. It happens.
But I actually like the concept. Nothing replaces back-to-back
testing, same day, same weather, same driver, same roads. The
results are often surprising.
Take the old Seville, the control vehicle in this experiment,
which reminded one and all that it was a fine vehicle to begin
The first thing one notices about the new one is the brighter,
more ergonomic interior, the massively larger (thank you)
sideview mirrors. The Apillar is much fatter too, which can be
disconcerting on tight left-hand bends.
Hit the first bump and the '98 Seville's rock-solid structure
is immediately evident. There's no shake, no boom, no rattle.
The suspension soaks it up and away you fly.
The car is a delight to drive, and feels smaller than it is.
The third-generation Magnasteer steering has a fixed ratio,
but it's quick, light and direct. The continuously variable
shock valving keeps the car flat and stable in corners.
The driver's seatback seemed slightly skewed rearwards to me,
and didn't offer lateral support commensurate with the car's
handling prowess. BMW and Mercedes seats hug better, but the
Caddy's interior is wider.
Dynamically, the BMW was better on bumps than I remember
quite soft on impact, but with firmer vertical control.
Passengers did notice a fair degree of what suspension engineers
call "head toss" side-to-side motion on ripply pavement. BMW's
recirculating ball steering is also not as precise as the
rack-and-pinion system used in their own six-cylinder 528, or in
The Benz was the softest of this three-car comparo, and
handling feel suffered accordingly. But it is a deliberate
Mercedes strategy to discourage their customers from driving too
close to the edge.
I know from previous experience that the E-Class responds very
predictably and capably in extremely hard driving, even if its
steering is number still than the BMW's.
An even more cynical journalist than I suggests that Seville's
new internationalism is just window dressing. He thinks the
world premiere at the Frankfurt auto show, a big splash at next
month's Tokyo show, right-hand drive models for Japan and
Britain, predictions of a quadrupling of foreign sales from less
than five per cent to 20 per cent of total sales within five
years, is designed to impress American consumers who won't
accept a luxury sports sedan unless it has earned respect in
But whether it's London, Ontario or London, England, Tokyo or
Toronto,the 1998 Cadillac Seville deserves consideration by the
most demanding of car shoppers, especially when its price
(expected to be only marginally higher than before, and
probably less on an equipment-adjusted basis) is factored in.
Whether or not Seville is causing auto execs in Stuttgart,
Munich and Tokyo to lose sleep, I can assure you that Rollie
McGinnis, down in Houston, is sleeping like a baby.
Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie, among a group of auto writers
invited to Virginia, prepared this report based on sessions
arranged and paid for by General Motors. You can catch Kenzie each Saturday on Talk 640 Radio at 4 p.m.