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2000 Cadillac DeVille

What's the most technologically advanced car in the world? Mercedes Benz S Class? BMW 750? Jaguar XJ8? How about the 2000 Cadillac De Ville?

PHOENIX, Ariz. What's the most technologically advanced car in the world? Mercedes Benz S Class? BMW 750? Jaguar XJ8?

How about the 2000 Cadillac De Ville?

Its revamped 4.6 L Northstar multi-valve multi-cam all-aluminum V8 engine pounds out 300 hp (in the range topping DTS version; 275 in base and DHS trim levels), and does it while meeting California's Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards, on regular (not premium) fuel.

The camshafts are driven by chains, so there's no $700 service bill to replace the cam belts after 96,000 km.

Both transmission and cooling system have long life fluids that don't need scheduled maintenance for longer than most people keep a new car. Even in the event of catastrophic rad failure i.e., total coolant loss this engine is so clever that it shuts off various cylinders in sequence, keeping itself cool enough so you can still drive it home without damage.

De Ville's Stabili Trak directional stability control system is probably the most sophisticated of its kind in the world at the moment. Go into a corner too fast, and the car will automatically help you maintain control.

Its integrated GPS based On Star communication system can call for help if your airbags deploy in a crash that severe, you might not be in a condition to place that call yourself.

If someone steals your car, its GPS can help the police find it. And depending on where you live, On Star can even locate a restaurant or hotel for you, and allow you to make a

reservation. It's been joined this year by an optional CD-based navigation system as well.

The big Caddy's brake lights use LEDs, not tungsten bulbs, so they light up faster; at 100 km/h, the car behind you gets almost 6 m over a car length of extra warning (it'll help if its driver is paying attention).

De Ville's ultrasonic parking assist warns you if you're about to back over your grandkid's tricycle, or worse.

The optional up level seats can determine if you're getting fidgety, and can change the shape and firmness of various seating surfaces to accommodate you, all automatically.

But the most remarkable feature of this car is that it can quite literally see in the dark.

Night Vision is an infrared heat-sensing system that lets you know if people, animals anything that emits heat is lurking down the road at night. A sensor in the grille scans the road ahead, and via a head up display, projects an eerie white and black image on a screen in the lower left hand corner of the windshield.

Night Vision has a range about five times greater than low beam headlights, and twice that of high beams. While the projected images aren't crystal clear, and it does take a bit of time to get used to the ghosts dancing across your peripheral vision, Night Vision works, and is probably the biggest safety breakthrough since antilock brakes. "Fine," I can hear you Merc, Bimmer and Jag fans saying. "But all this is bolted into a big, bloated Cadillac. Who wants to drive something like that?"

All I can say is, take an open mind to your Caddy store when these cars start drifting into the showrooms in fall. You may well be surprised.

The 2000 De Ville is about as all-new as a car gets these days. Like its smaller brother the Seville, the De Ville is now based on the latest iteration of GM's G-body, originally

developed for the Olds Aurora, and used also in the Buick Park Avenue.

It's about 21 per cent stiffer than before, and by now, most consumers recognize that a stiffer car not only is safer and more durable, it also can provide superior handling and ride comfort, provided the engineers know what they're doing.

Cadillac designers took the cautious route with the sheet metal. Yes, Caddy is trying to attract younger buyers, and it's easy to joke that the average age of De Ville buyers

approaches deceased.

But as Lee Iacocca proclaimed back in the '80s when all the carmakers were chasing the Yuppies, "All the really rich guys are 55 years old and living in Fort Lauderdale." These customers like their cars to look large, solid, blocky.

That said, the new De Ville is more contemporary, less slab-sided than before, with smoother curves, a hint of upward rake to the belt line, massive multi-reflector headlights and huge fender cutouts to show off the bright 'n shiny wheels.

The eggcrate grille, wreathed crest and vertical tail-lamps remain. Some things are sacred.

If you are familiar with the current Seville, the De Ville's interior styling won't surprise. It's handsome, ergonomic, nicely finished.

The new car is about 5 cm shorter than before, but the wheelbase is longer, so legroom doesn't suffer. If you have a finely calibrated tape measure, you might find marginally less space inside, but this is still a massive car. Subjectively, it feels roomier, especially in the back seat.

This sensation starts when you open the rear doors; they swing wider than before and allow easier access.

Caddy has also adopted the "theatre seating" concept used in other GM vehicles, which involves raising the seat cushion off the floor a few cm. This not only puts the legs of rear seat passengers into a more natural and comfortable position, it also gives them a better view down the road.

Backseat riders can also have the benefit of optional side impact airbags.

For journalists' first drive of the new De Ville, Cadillac turned us loose on Phoenix International Raceway.

A race track? For a Cadillac?

Why not? After all, the company is going back to Le Mans next year. And it is an indication of how confident the engineers in this car's dynamic properties.

They were not disappointed and we were all, frankly, surprised.

Even the current DeVille has handling limits far surpassing what most of its owners would ever dare explore. The revised road sensing suspension features shock absorbers that can change their firmness every millisecond, thereby providing a remarkable

combination of ride and handling.

Yes, the car is biased toward softness and smoothness. But, by firming the outboard shocks in a corner, or the fronts in a hard braking manoeuvre, the car maintains an even keel even when things get a bit hairy.

The latest generation of Stabili Trak determines if the car is turning to a degree commensurate with the amount of steering wheel twirling the driver is doing. If not, it can cut engine power, or independently brake either front wheel, to help bring the car back onto the intended course.

Unlike most such systems, as offered on BMW, Mercedes and Lexus, Caddy's operates only on the front wheels. With a front-wheel drive car, they figure that's all they need.

Also unlike most such systems, Caddy's doesn't entirely dial out all engine power; you can still drive your way through a Stabili Trak Moment. It also automatically firms up the

Magnasteer steering, to give the driver an extra dollop of road feel and control.

To demonstrate, Caddy had us whip the steering wheel hard over on a sand-covered patch of asphalt about the slipperiest substance known to mankind this side of wet terrazzo. The car shuddered a bit, but maintained its poise throughout, heading roughly where we pointed it.

The Lexus LS400 supplied by Caddy for comparison couldn't keep up with the necessary transitions, and spun wildly out of control.

There isn't a lot of broken pavement on the open roads out here in the desert, so the determination of how the 2000 De Ville handles rough edges will have to wait until we get one back home. But on swells, drainage depressions and sweeping bends, the car again displayed and inspired remarkable confidence.

The Northstar V8 is its lovely self, offering gobs of smooth, effortless power. While I've always enjoyed the throaty exhaust note this engine sings, some of Caddy's customers feel more silence is more golden, so the new engine's voce is a little more sotto.

There are precious few cars on the road that can touch the 2000 De Ville for technology, size, power and ride. Even the handling, while perhaps not as involving as a BMW's, is way better than you'd probably believe.

And when you factor in pricing, the numbers haven't been released yet, but they won't be hugely different than they are now, which means mid$50,000 well, you can buy one of these and a nice in ground swimming pool for what you'd pay for a comparable Bimmer, Benz, Jag or Lexus.

"That's my DeVille" still might not get you the fawning adoration of valet parkers at the golf club. But if GM keeps this up, Cadillac may come to mean as much to our children as it did to our fathers.

Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on sessions arranged and paid for by General Motors.

Email: jbkenzie@interhop.net

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