Powering its way up the prestige ladder.
There isn't much doubt that Cadillac is, slowly but surely, disentangling itself from its overstuffed, undersprung past.
Yes, there are still traditional dreadnoughts in the lineup, cars such as the Fleetwood and the ponderous Fleetwood Brougham, the biggest car sold in America. But their days are numbered, and Cadillac's newer cars -- the Seville in particular -- are much more in step with the times. They're leaner, meaner, technologically advanced and much more responsive.
It can certainly be argued that the Seville doesn't pack the kind of prestige associated with Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus. But it packs a potent punch -- and in the luxury market, that's certainly a key ingredient.
Both versions of this car -- the Seville Luxury Sedan (SLS) and Seville Touring Sedan (STS) -- have power to spare. The STS, our test car, is the sportier of the two, as well as the more potent, as a price of $46,750 might just indicate.
Thanks to a new intake manifold, the STS Northstar V-8 engine is now capable of 300 hp. Sure, drag racing isn't exactly part of the prestige picture, but it's still satisfying to know your luxomobile will blow the doors off most of the others.
Even in its milder SLS version, with 275 hp, the Seville's got more muscle than most. And in the STS, it'll produce outstanding passing performance and 0 to 60 mph times in the very low seven-second range. That's nearly as fast as popular muscle cars such as the Chevrolet Camaro Z-28 or Ford Mustang GT.
As we noted, power has always been a key element in great luxury performance stories, and the STS has more of it than most -- more muscle, in fact, than just about anything in its class. The STS and its luxury coupe cousin, the Eldorado, are the only cars to channel this much grunt through a front-wheel-drive system.
Automotive muscle is a function of a vehicle's power-to-weight ratio, or how many pounds each horsepower has to propel. The STS comes in at 12.9 pounds per horsepower -- a very low number for a large luxury sedan. For comparison, the new Lexus LS400 has 14 lb to carry for each of its 260 hp.
The computer management system orchestrating the interaction of the Northstar V-8 and General Motors' excellent 4T80-E four-speed overdrive automatic transmission does an exceptional job of getting all that power onto the pavement, even in hard cornering. Cadillac's Northstar System was a superb piece of engineering when it was introduced on the ill-starred Allante. And with the various tweaks that have come along since, including 1995 refinements, it's better yet.
The Seville's improvements for '95 are all pretty much invisible. But these engineering refinements are tangible nonetheless. Tops is a retuned exhaust system. The STS and Eldorado Touring Coupe both came to market with an impudent, raspy exhaust snarl, conceived to let owners know they had one of the hottest V-8s in luxoland. Although some owners approved, too many didn't, and for '95 the Northstar's music has been considerably muted.
A final note: We think the car's aggressive lines, enhanced by the monochrome exterior treatment used on the STS, are still appealing and distinctive.
The Inside Story
The Seville's interior continues to be an attractive blend of simplicity, elegant materials and solid functionality. The unique Zebrano wood trim and STS standard leather upholstery create a very warm environment, with a contemporary Scandinavian feel to it.
Instrumentation in SLS models is digital. We prefer the classic white-on-black analog dials used in the STS, which enhance the car's European character.
About the only interior change is the addition of cupholders to the rear-center fold-down armrest. Beyond that, the Seville continues as before: roomy, front and rear, with power seats that should fit just about anyone thanks to the combination of available adjustments, including the tilt steering wheel and adjustable upper seat-belt anchors.
We do think the Seville could use a little more work on rear-seat comfort, however. And trunk space continues to be relatively modest for a car of this size.
Safety features are up to current standards, with dual air-bags, standard anti-lock brakes (ABS), traction control and side-impact protection.
Ride & Drive
Like the exhaust noise, STS ride quality also withstood a fair amount of criticism from owners. Although most liked the car's aggressive handling, many disliked the harshness of the ride that went with it.
For '95, the Seville and Eldorado engineering team went to work on this, and the result is a subtle softening of the car's response to sharp bumps and choppy pavement. It's still firm, still impressively athletic, still distinctly sporty. But it's a bit more civilized.
One of the keys to the improvement in the balance of the Seville's ride vs. handling is the ongoing development of Cadillac's Road-Sensing Suspension system. This system automatically adjusts individual shock absorber damping to compensate for cornering loads on each wheel.
Like other self-adjusting suspension systems, the upgrades in the Cadillac setup are largely attributable to increased computer sophistication, along with corollary advances in shock-absorber technology. The Cadillac system processes inputs from the suspension sensors 1000 times per second, or about once per inch at 60 mph.
Still another addition to this car's inventory of electronic wizardry is Cadillac's Integrated Chassis Control System, which optimizes performance of the ABS and traction control system, particularly in cornering.
Cadillac isn't unique in offering all this gee-whiz hardware -- and software. Other luxury manufacturers offer computerized suspension/anti-lock/traction-control systems, and the pace of progress in this area of development is relentless. But certainly the sophisticated equipment wrapped up in the '95 Seville is at least as good as anything out there, and better than a lot of it.
Our only reservation about the Seville's driver-assist functions has to do with the traction control. Unlike the systems on most competing cars, this one can't be switched off.
All things considered, the net result is a big sedan that we found to be fun to drive. We also found our STS to be quick on its feet, completely predictable and smoother than the previous model.
It won't quite match some of its rear-drive competitors -- the BMW 740i, for example -- in absolute handling. But it's more agile than front-drive rivals such as the new Lincoln Continental.
And if it still falls short of the Lexus LS400 on the interior noise index, that's by design. Many drivers -- our own test crew included -- like the muted rumble of that superb V-8.
So are we saying the Cadillac Seville has rolled up onto the same plateau as a car like the Lexus LS400? Not yet.
We can say that the price of all that heady horsepower is a pretty hefty thirst for fuel. Part of this is due to a little-old-lady-from-Pasadena syndrome that tends to seize STS drivers -- you can't keep your foot off the accelerator. But part is due to the car's sheer mass. GM just can't seem to keep weight out of its luxury cars, and though the STS is about 100 lb less than the Oldsmobile Aurora, it's no wraith.
However, the biggest gap that Cadillac has to close between itself and Lexus has to do with quality. The Lexus LS400 has established quality standards Cadillac and everyone else in the industry are still chasing.
But judging by the fit and finish of our test car, we think it's fair to say that Cadillac is steadily gaining ground.
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© 1995 New Car Test Drive, Inc.