A unique American personality.
by Ted West
Base Price (MSRP) $40,036
As Tested (MSRP) $46,078
It used to be that all Cadillacs were big, flashy, fast and sybaritically plush, perched at the undisputed pinnacle of boat-size, dinosaur-powered American luxury. And yet, even then, an Eldorado was something more. More expensive, certainly, and sometimes more powerful, but also more youthful, more individual. An Eldorado was the Cadillac of Cadillacs.
The world has changed since then, and so have Cadillacs, but somehow the Eldorado has hung on as the most Cadillac of them all. Defying the current trend toward anonymous four-door utility, it is the last remaining big luxury coupe manufactured in America, and one of the last in the world.
Cadillac's Eldorado remains brilliantly fast, lavishly comfortable, and individually stylish. And it is the only Cadillac whose projected demographic includes the number "40."
Two models are available. The more conservatively styled and tuned base model acquired the designation Eldorado Sport Coupe, or ESC, last year; it lists for $40,036. The more performance-oriented Eldorado Touring Coupe, or ETC, goes for $43,611.
Both models share Cadillac's 4.6-liter, twin-cam Northstar V8, which was significantly re-engineered in 2000 for lower emissions, quieter operation, and the ability to run on regular fuel. It now produces 275 horsepower and 300 pounds-feet of torque in the Eldorado Sport Coupe. In the Touring Coupe, it is tuned for a more aggressive character, with 300 horsepower and 295 pounds-feet, both peaking at higher engine speeds. Either way, a smooth-shifting four-speed automatic is the only transmission choice.
The Eldorado looks heavy. Its lines are clean and spare, but the high beltline, huge C-pillar, bulky trunk box and small, bunker-like windows convey an impression of enormous mass. The closer you get, the bigger it seems. And with a generous 108-inch wheelbase, and an overall length of 200.6 inches, Eldorado's size is no illusion.
ETC looks even more solid due to its monochrome exterior, adapted last year to put more visual distance between it and the base model. But the ETC's body-colored grille and bumpers blend handsomely with the rest of its form.
Eldorado's interior is large, elegant, and generous in appointments. For safety, dual front second-generation airbags are standard. A beautifully sleek band of fine Zebrano wood trim encircles the driver and front-seat passenger. The dash is admirably simple and straightforward, with excellent analog instruments. The automatic twilight-sensing headlight system can be adjusted for sensitivity or switched off altogether.
The steering wheel has two paddles, one that controls audio volume and station selection, the other controlling the climate control's temperature and fan level. The wheel adjusts up and down, but does not telescope fore and aft.
A full multi-task trip computer is mounted on the dash above the console. It computes current cruising range, fuel efficiency, fuel used, average speed, elapsed time, battery voltage, percent of oil-life left -- in either English or metric figures. Next to this computer are remote controls for opening the trunk and fuel door. A fine Bose AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo is standard on the ETC (and optional in the ESC); an additional $595 adds a 12-disc remote changer in the trunk. The radio also features a data system that will display the station, search for particular kinds of stations or look for traffic bulletins. It can even interrupt tapes and CDs with emergency information.
The heating and air conditioning system delivers readouts for both interior and exterior ambient temperature. A toggle on the lower right allows the front passenger to select separate temperature settings. Rear-seat passengers get their own climate controls as well. Heated seats come on the ETC and they warm quickly, but we found even the lower of the two settings too hot for extended periods of time. They are at their best while waiting for the engine and heating system to warm up.
Fog lights are standard, as are two front cupholders. Power outside mirrors have a handy provision that adjusts them downward to the curb when Reverse is selected, helpful when parking this large car. There is a compass in the rearview mirror, and our test car was furnished with an optional overhead garage-door opener ($107).
Our Eldorado Touring Coupe's upholstery was gorgeous, glove-quality light-cream leather, and the power front seats adjust twelve ways. Lateral support is average, but the four-way power lumbar adjustment is excellent.
If the Eldorado Touring Coupe seems loaded with creature comforts, it's absolutely jam-packed with technology designed to enhance safety and improve the driving experience.
It all begins with the Eldorado's well-publicized and deservedly praised 4.6-liter Northstar V8. On the ETC, this engine produces 300 horsepower at 6000 rpm. This is matched by a brawny 295 foot-pounds of torque, though at a fairly high 4400 rpm, rather than down low, where it would produce an even heartier takeoff.
Conversely, the Eldorado Sport Coupe develops its 275 horsepower at 5600 rpm, and 300 foot-pounds of torque at 4000 rpm.
Either way, Eldorado has lots of power. Stand on it and it goes, whether from a standstill or cruising along slowly. The Touring Coupe's 0-to-60 mph acceleration times are spirited, coming in right at 7 seconds flat. Passing maneuvers from 30 to 70 mph take only about 6.5 seconds, which is very uplifting.
The automatic transmission is excellent. It shifts so smoothly that it's almost undetectable when accelerating in everyday driving situations.
Like any powerful front-wheel-drive car, the ETC exhibits low-speed torque-steer under full acceleration. Slam down the accelerator pedal from a standstill and you'll feel a slight tug on the steering wheel. You'll also get some front wheel spin if you've switched off the standard traction control system. However, the traction control is automatically re-activated each time you start the car. Whenever traction control senses wheel spin, it reduces engine torque and lightly applies the brakes to the front wheels. In moderate driving, none of this will be noticed.
Three other sophisticated systems aid the Eldorado's road behavior. Variable-assist Magnasteer is standard; it adjusts steering effort not only to road speed but to cornering force as well. CVRSS, or Continuously Variable Road-Sensing Suspension is standard on ETC; it adjusts shock damping according to road conditions.
StabiliTrak uses yaw and lateral-acceleration sensors in conjunction with the suspension, steering and ABS to detect oversteer (fishtailing) or understeer (front-end washout). Immediately upon sensing either of these conditions, StabiliTrak applies braking to the one wheel that can help to regain stability. Several top-line automakers are using these systems now and, presuming the laws of physics haven't been too grievously violated by the driver, they really work. Drivers can make minor driving mistakes, and the Eldorado will correct for them, helping you maintain control and stay on the road. StabiliTrak is standard on ETC, optional ($495) on ESC.
This Eldorado rides smoothly, yet it doesn't completely isolate the driver from what's going on. The CVRSS suspension is an advanced system that reads the road surface's roughness and automatically adjusts the shock-damping rate at each individual wheel. The result is reduced impact harshness, a smoother ride and more sustained contact with the road during extreme emergency maneuvers.
Besides traction control, the Eldorado comes standard with anti-lock brakes (ABS), which allow the driver to maintain steering control of the car in an emergency braking situation.
Also on ETC is a system that automatically adjusts the ABS according to the texture of the road. Slam on the brakes and the Eldorado delivers optimum braking force to each wheel without letting any of them lock up and skid. This lets the driver maintain control of the steering. So in an emergency stopping situation, just put the brake pedal down hard and keep it there, and remember to steer around any obstacles.
In a time when tailfins are amusing and triple carburetors antique, Cadillac has clung to the notion of a high-style, high-luxury, high-performance personal coupe.
Now it is technology that distinguishes the Eldorado, and Cadillac has pulled out all the stops. The Northstar engine, the silky smooth transmission and the suspension tuning are first rate. And with ABS, CVRSS, and Stabilitrak on the ETC, there's enough electronic alphabet soup to justify the price.
© New Car Test Drive, Inc.