It’s been going on for so long now–since 2003 at least–that it’s no longer news. Cadillac has reinvented itself; hot new CTS, SRX, XLR and STS models (some with that extra-sexy V-Series designation), with their creased-suit “Art & Science” styling and ‘Nurburgring-tuned’ suspensions, have brought the brand out of sales purgatory and into the new millenium.
The “Standard of the World” is no longer the standard for the Palm Beach set–and that’s good news for a brand that was losing market share as fast as octogenarians were dropping off the actuarial tables.
But can a brand remain healthy by dropping its core customer base entirely (even if those customers themselves are dropping like flies)? Customers themselves weren’t dropping the brand; thus the ‘landau roof & gold-kit-encrusted’ CTS V6s that still sell well in retiree-land. No; of course, Cadillac still has to serve their market, which begs the question of how exactly to do so while still keeping the ‘cool’ that has served it so well in the last couple years. Can you make a car suitable for people who consider golf strenuous exercise, and still retain street cred among the ‘extreme sports’ generation? How?
In the new DTS–the alphanumeric equivalent of the Deville Touring Sedan–Cadillac thinks it’s found the answer. It starts with a subtler, friendlier version of the same “Art & Science” origami-inspired design–and this actually works well. The ’06 DTS could be the best-looking full-size Caddy since the forward-raked 1967 models–it’s sleek without sacrificing size; elegant yet still imposing. We were actually stopped by a few folks who wanted to comment on the car, none over age 50, all of whom had something kind to say about the new front end. And although the dominating grille and swept-back projector headlights are attractive, we’d still argue that the rear end, with its clean, upright design and new take on the signature blade taillights, is even more of an improvement. It’s no XLR, or even CTS, but the full-size DTS makes a good case for itself, in the visual department.
Which is why we expected such great things from the interior. After all, the comfortable confines of a full-size Caddy are why people buy a Deville (sorry, DTS). And while the 2006 DTS’ innards do qualify as a nice place to pass the time, Caddy did miss the boat (or land-yacht, as the case may be) in a couple of important ways here.
Most of our complaints center around the center console. There’s a huge storage cubby under the armrest here, which feels as if it’s attached to the floor with a couple of zip-ties–the shoddy feeling is disconcerting in a Cadillac. Further forward, the console shifter for the smooth-but-outdated 4-speed Hydramatic slushbox is almost ridiculously out of place; it’s so cheap and cheesy it looks and feels like something you’d find in a ’98 Impala. Sure to cause rattles in the years before they break off entirely, we can only hope these were preproduction pieces that will be better secured–if not entirely redesigned–before the assembly lines hit full stride. If not, we can take some small consolation from the fact that the center console itself can be deleted as part of a no-cost six-passenger seating option–we’d recommend doing this if you don’t want your Caddy feeling used before you drive it off the lot.
Otherwise, the confines of the Cadillac’s cockpit are as comfortable as can be. The seats are plush and pillowy, with some of the best leather in anything built stateside–there’s no bolstering to speak of here, but then again, there shouldn’t be. The controls and displays for the stereo and climate systems are the same excellent pieces found in the Solstice and other new GM products, and the wood paneling over it all feels real, solid, and expensive. The dashboard, with it’s jeweled analog clock in the center, is also a gorgeous piece. Switchgear is as good as the other high-end, new-for-06 GM products as well. Rear seating is even more expansive than in front, and although the headliner feels cheap, the 10-button multi-function steering wheel was a better place to invest in anyway. For the most part, in other words, the new DTS ranks among the worlds most comfortable cars–and that’s what’s important in this class.
Driving the DTS is less of a revelation. Of course, the trusty Northstar V8–with 291 horsepower in this “Performance” edition, as opposed to 275 in the base models–is torquey and fluid. Acceleration is thus more than adequate–from launch to tripe-digit cruising speeds, there is no shortage of thrust here. There’s also a healthy exhaust roar under heavy throttle; we like our V8-powered sleds to exhibit some machismo. But even with the Magnetic Ride Control’s variable shocks and supposedly tightened suspension, body lean is so prevalent that, blindfolded, you couldn’t tell the difference between the ’06 and the ’66. This doesn’t inspire much confidence on challenging roads; this car wasn’t meant to be driven fast, and thus doesn’t encourage such adolescent behavior. Instead, it’s a consummate cruiser–fabulous on the freeway, but not fun.
All told, this new DTS is much improved (although we’d still appreciate a RWD chassis someday), as many of GM’s newest products seem to be. Were you so inclined, you could draw some favorable comparisons here to, say, Mercedes’ S-class–much in the same way the Solstice is in some ways comparable to the SLK, or the H3 to the G-class. Of course, the DTS (and its GM ilk) would still lose such a comparison on many fronts–but not on what is perhaps the most important consideration: price. Like other GM offerings, the DTS starts to compete very well when cost is factored in; base price is only $41,900. For buyers on a budget, that bargain price still buys Cadillac prestige and presence. There’s a lot of car here, for not a lot of cash–and that counts for a lot.