Still classy: The Evolution of a Cadillac sedan


Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 2:23 p.m.
Sitting in the midday sun, the Cadillac DTS, with its small, almost svelte grille and understated lines, resembled a languid cat that has poised to pounce but has not tensed its muscles to leap.
That sense of languid torpor changes as the V-8 engine purrs to life, vibrating the twin exhausts and announcing the luxury sedan is ready for takeoff. But what happens then? Just what do you expect these days from a Cadillac sedan?
The DTS, the descendant of the 50-year-old Cadillac Deville, is the last front-wheel drive car in the Cadillac fleet and the one still aimed at an older set, which prizes comfort, power and security more than an edgy, racing vehicle.
Growing up in Harlem, we called Cadillacs ''hogs,'' and they were characterized by their huge, outsized rear tail fins, a curved roof line providing seemingly limitless interior space, all the comforts and modern gadgets available in the '50s and outer-space oriented '60s, and a power plant big enough to get the well heeled off the block in a hurry.
So what are they now?
Their image has changed, largely due to Ed Welburn's view of Cadillac styling as an evolutionary process pegged to modern aircraft design. As a kid growing up in Philadelphia in the '50s and '60s, Welburn used to sketch the lines of the Caddys in his father's auto repair shop, adding improvements as he went along. That young black kid with crayons and a sketch pad is now GM's design chief and continues what he sees as Cadillac's design tradition.
It is still pegged to the lines of modern aircraft. But instead of the boxy, giant-winged, propeller-driven craft of the '50s, Welburn has embraced the small, angular lines of stealth aircraft to characterize its sporty, mid-sized CTS sedan and $100,000 XLR roadster.
But the DTS has to blend two worlds: the high performance of the stealth era of jet craft, with the sedate, classic look and feel its elderly owners are looking for.
So the DTS starts with a small, less rakish version of the distinct Cadillac grill, which gently slopes backwards, and the angular lines in this stealth vehicle are not quite as sharp as those on the rakish, faster, sporty CTS. The DTS retains a more classic, understated appeal without looking as if it is the same car your parents drove to church.
Under its sloping hood, there is a V-8 engine cranking out 292 horsepower and capable of cruising in triple digits all day long. But it takes 7.6 seconds to go from a standing start to 60 miles an hour, an acceleration that is respectable in a two-ton sedan in which comfort is the main goal.
On the road, however, the DTS is not an ungainly boat. At 120 mph, this front-wheel drive Cadillac rounds highway curves as smoothly as a Jaguar or a BMW, minimizing the gravitational forces that would otherwise push you out of your seat.
Inside, there is the plush interior you would expect in a Cadillac sedan. The interior is two-toned leather, with hand-stitched seats that include a back massage for both front seats, and three levels of heat for both the front and back seats.
For those driving the DTS in the sunny South, the seats also may be air cooled so you don't burn your backside coming off the beach.
The trim is real walnut wood, rather than an attractive plastic imitation. The side pockets in the door are felt lined and wide enough for your hands to easily fit into - though they are shallow and items can fall out when you close the door. The center console is wide with split-level storage: a shallow top section for small, handy items, and a large bin for storing CDs and other items.
Among its many gadgets, the DTS features General Motors' OnStar communications system, as well as AM/FM and XM satellite radio, an in-dash CD and MP3 player with the sounds pouring out from an eight-speaker, top-of-the-line Bose system. The navigation system is GPS driven, large enough to see clearly and easy to use.
The rear seats in this sedan do not fold down, but there is a pass-through in the center so long thin items like skis can extend from a trunk that is already big enough for a coffin. And when you are driving at night, built-in reflectors send beams of light to the right or left whenever you turn the steering wheel.
Cruising on the open road in the '07 DTS, it is clear that this understated, powerful, plush machine is not my grandfather's Cadillac. But I can see why the ride made him smile.

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