Note: This originally ran on a site run by some dude who bought a Scion xB and painted the wheels red. I drove the car in late autumn 2013, when these were still fairly common as late-model used cars at Caddy dealerships. I’d just bought my 2000 Cartier (which is now living happily in Syracuse, NY with its new enthusiast owner). It was also the first car I drove with a heated steering wheel. 🙂 -TK
Once upon a time, Cadillac sold sedans and coupes, with French names and chrome and bench seats and stand-up hood ornaments. Today, they primarily sell glitzed up combovers and the Escalade-though they do still sell two sedan models. But you’d have been hard pressed to find them on Cadillac dealer lots even before the Chicom Chip Chaos Conundrum-but never mind that.
I like Cadillacs. I like Lincolns too, as well as Chrysler New Yorkers, Electras, Ninety-Eight Regencys and other big, plush, silent cruisers. Always have, always will. My purchase of a 2000 Town Car Cartier in October 2013 was the fulfillment of a long-term desire to have an American luxury car. Back in the late ’90s, I test drove quite a few Caddys and Lincolns, thinking about getting one. I was particularly enamored of the 1989-93 Sedan de Ville. The neighbors had a new one when I was 11 or so–a ’91 SDV in Academy Gray with silver lower section and dove gray leather.
True, they were front-wheel drive and not traditional Cadillac Nimitz-class size, but they still were clearly Cadillacs. From the chrome eggcrate grille, to the vertical taillights and finlets, hood ornament and whitewalls. The 1985-88 de Villes looked quite a bit like Broughamed-out Volvo 740s, but the ’89 stretch and facelift drastically improved the proportions.
Especially inside-especially with yellow interior! The seating was excellent in your author’s opinion (I probably test drove 8-10 of these Sedan de Villes circa 1999), especially in the leather-bound edition. Much ’70s style detailing was evident, from the seat sew style, to the plush carpet, digital dash and power assists–even the chrome window and door lock buttons were well done.
I drove at least two Academy Gray ’93 SDVs, one of which had dark red leather. The gray over red one I drove at Bob Eriksen Chevrolet was the best! I also drove a light beige ’93 SDV with a dark brown fake convertible top that croaked two blocks from the dealership. I locked it, walked back to the showroom, gave the embarrassed salesman the key, told him where it was, and left. Yep!
But I still liked these cars, they were nice cruisers. I also drove a Garnet Red ’89 Eldo and Polo Green ’91 Seville that were also nice–if lacking in the presence the Coupe and Sedan de Villes had. They still drove nice-especially the ’91s with the new 4.9L V8.
Just a few years back an extremely nice ’92 Sedan de Ville appeared at Dahl Ford, which K V let me borrow for a while to test out. It only reaffirmed how much I enjoy these early ’90s FWD Caddys. The glass area was especially impressive, compared to most 2021-22 new cars.
In 1994 the Coupe de Ville was gone, and the Sedan de Ville simply became the Deville. The 1994-96 model looked a bit zaftig with its enclosed rear wheels, but I liked them–they reminded me of the 1993-96 Fleetwoods, which were right up there with a 1995-97 Town Car Cartier in my dream garage. In 1997 the rear wheels were opened up and a nose job was done, improving the looks.
And then, after a long line of chrome-bedecked, true blue (albeit FWD) Caddys, in the fall of 1999 traditional Cadillac buyers were greeted with this. Like the 1994-99 Deville, it was essentially a Seville with more traditionally Cadillac sheetmetal and interior. When they first came out I wasn’t especially impressed-same as when the rounded Town Cars replaced the straight-edged 1995-97 models in 1998. But as time passed (and many cars got uglier!) they looked better and better to me. And today, look pretty nice.
The first one I saw ‘way back when’ was a black DTS with black leather, Zebrano wood and those chrome bladed alloy wheels, and I was greeted with this nose upon pulling my 1991 Volvo 940SE into the dealer lot. Well, it certainly looked like a Cadillac from the front! DTSs (replacing the Deville Concours) and DHSs (replacing the 1997-99 Deville D’Elegance) got a grille-mounted wreath and crest, but standard Devilles got the good old stand-up version. It was the last Cadillac to come with a factory stand-up hood ornament.
Those slick, oh-so-slim taillights of the 1989-99 models were replaced with more amorphous units, reminding me more of the ’98-up Town Cars. The CHMSL built into the trunk lid looked pretty cool, however.
Up until this point the Deville had been the sole holdout for traditional Cadillac looks, with the beautiful Seville “greyhound” model of 1992 being much more international in flavor–but still every inch a Cadillac. The 1992-and-up Eldorado was also quite fresh and modern, though perhaps more formal than the Seville and sportier STS. Catera? Never mind! But the 2000 Deville finally came into the modern era, quite appropriate for the new decade. They still look contemporary today, 22 years after they first appeared in Cadillac showrooms.
I test drove this 2005 Deville with 74K for my sister’s then in-laws. My sister’s husband’s mom saw my Town Car on Thanksgiving Day 2013 and went nuts: “Oh wow what a beautiful car! It’s so nice! If you ever find something this nice in a Cadillac, let me know!” Apparently their bright red 1992-97 vintage Seville was getting on in years, and she was looking to perhaps surprise her husband with a nicer, more recent model.
So I went down to McLaughlin to look at this promising 2005 model, in Cashmere with Neutral Shale leather. And let’s face it, I love test driving cars. It was in great shape, with only a door ding by the driver’s door handle and a couple of chips on the passenger-side rear quarter panel marring its finish. Now keep in mind I had been driving this car’s main competitor, a Town Car, for a month and a half at that time. And I hadn’t driven a Cadillac newer than a 1993, with the exception of a 2003 CTS, which was about as far from a Deville as a Town Car was from a Lincoln LS.
Driving impressions? Well, it was nice. It was comfortable, and I kind of liked the digital dash, though it’s not to everyone’s taste. I REALLY liked that hood ornament out in front. It felt much narrower than the Lincoln (the TC is 78.2″, the Deville 74.5″ but for some reason it felt much more pronounced to me), but at the same time more European in handling and acceleration–almost as if you’d combined my then-Volvo V50 and my Town Car into one vehicle. Of course it is FWD with a unit body and the Lincoln is RWD body-on-frame, which probably accounts for the different feel. The Deville and DHS version of the Northstar had 275 hp, with the DTS getting 300. Even with 74K, this car was no slouch.
My reaction to the interior was mixed. The window controls and many of the dash controls looked like they came off an Impala, but the wood was really pretty, and I loved the chrome door handles; their shape looked kind of like an abstract sculpture or paperweight you’d get out of a Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. And this car had heated and cooled seats, and a heated steering wheel as well. I did not try out the cooled seats (it was 30 degrees out the day of my test drive), but the heated steering wheel was very nice.
So, the car looked good, drove nice, and the price was very reasonable. A shoe-in, right? But I couldn’t recommend it to Amanda’s idiot husband’s parents, as the original owner was a smoker, and despite the car being fully detailed and vacuumed, it still smelled like an ashtray inside. It wasn’t that bad, but was impossible to ignore, and a deal breaker. Too bad.
The Deville lasted in this form through 2005, at which point it was given new front and rear styling and renamed the DTS. Also, the hood ornament disappeared, though of course many had dealer-installed ones tacked on-along with the expected fake convertible tops, fake Rolls Royce grilles, and questionable aftermarket wheel choices. The DTS disappeared in 2011, and while the XTS that appeared in 2013 more or less took its place, it was much more mainstream modern stylewise-though attractive, especially the final facelifted 2018-19 models.
Today only the small CT4 and smallish CT5 represent Cadillac sedans, and while I like them, they just don’t look too compelling to me. But combovers sell, despite my disdain for the rolling bar stools. But I’m only one man! Can’t fault Cadillac for going where the market is, but it doesn’t make me near as excited checking out new cars these days as even five or ten years ago.
I used to drive a DTS from San Diego to LAX once in a while. I’d take a high quality “combover” instead for any purpose I can think of. I’d say the Cadillac was faster than some CUVs in a straight line, but that thing hunted ditches any time I stood on the gas or abruptly lifted my right foot. It had almost 100,000 miles, but it drove like an NYC taxi headed to the crusher with 400,000 miles.
I never liked these. Even in a model aimed at their traditional customers, having offered the import lovers multiple domestic alternatives in the CTS and STS, with the Deville the designers felt the need to delete so many of the little cues that set their cars apart. It was like the designers were just resentful for having to work for Cadillac while waiting for their job application to Acura or Audi to go through. Losers!
That must explain why I liked the way the car looked until I drove it. The eighth generation DeVille exuded money parked next to an E65 745iL near Columbus Circle in 2002. What did you think of the styling of the 1992 Seville? Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but I feel like you’re lamenting the overdue demise of the gauche styling cues added to Cadillacs in the seventies; when they were no longer the engineering, performance, or prestige leaders they’d been during the decades that they changed their design language every two years. The same cues used to polish every brougham or PLC of the era; whether they be Cadillacs, K-cars, or Thunderbirds based on Fairmonts.
Listen to what you are saying. It is not enough that Cadillac offers Bruno Sacco approved models like the 92 Seville. It is also “overdue demise” that “gauche” styling that appeals to traditional Americans fade even on a single model aimed at them. What other object could there be for such a course than to kill the brand? It was not Cadillac’s job to build to German tastes. Cadillacs, neither Seville nor Deville were going to sell in any numbers there. So why kowtow? Germans can do their thing, if not too distracted by foreign interlopers like Sacco and Bangle. Cadillac can do what it does. The USA was already bending over backward to let in every Click, Clack, and Charlie Chan with a car to sell, so those that want to display their resentment toward traditional America can do so. Now you have to take away a choice of tradition and continuity.
What you see as appealing to traditional Americans I recognize as a horrible design fad from a hideously tacky era of disappointing cars. Where were these traditions during the fifties and sixties, when American cars had a legitimate claim to being superior? Nowhere to be seen, because they were just a tacky style from a dark time.
The only new fad this century is make things uglier and thereby more appealing to women. Until one of the few countries that was capable of innovative design gets itself together, all we are left with are rehashes of the old,.
Not dismissing your point in the least, but I’m curious if you have any backup to the notion that cars are made more bland to appeal to women. Is this seen as a “safe” approach designers have taken to expand the acceptance of modern design?
You guys should just have a duel or something, ha.
10 paces and then they fire strawberry douche at each other…..
I always liked fender skirts on my Cadillacs, so for the earlier FWD ones, I’d go Fleetwood. My favourite of the era was the 94-96 Concours. There was a wonderful lunacy to a traditionally shaped Cadillac, with real wood on the dash, a handling suspension, and a very sweet 4 cam V8 under the hood. I’ve looked at those Concours for years, but having done a Northstar once, I’d be terrified to do one again. Plus, I promised myself I’d never do a complex, Pre OBD-2 car again.
I liked those early DeVille Concours too, especially the first year with those really classy finned alloys the 1994’s had, if a nice one popped up for the right price it would be hard not to pull the trigger on one.
Definitely. Those were gorgeous wheels. Almost a throwback to a high end 60s wheel cover. The 1996 revision was a bit more bland.
That was a well optioned Deville you test drove for your sister’s “then” in-laws. The 200-2005 Devilles are really great looking cars compared to the 1994-1999 which tended to loose their plactic chrome body side molding and bumper wrap arounds, rather regularly. However they had one terminal flaw. Those first generation Northstars had a design flaw in that they used smooth threaded head bolts and after about 100K miles the head gaskets would fail. This required an engine pull and so a lot of these ended up in the parts yard. Later Northstars had this issue resolved by using corse threaded head bolts but in 2000-2005 the fix had not been implemented. Another small but managable issue was in order to have the Cadillac ride that the customer base expected. Soft engine mounts were utilized in the base Deville and DHS. They only tended to last 80-100K miles before they needed to be replaced (ususally this will show up on the Carfax on well maintained cars). However, these cars were really the last designed and marketed to the Greatest Generation, the subsequent 2006-2011, was really not marketed to any extent and most traditional buyers did not like the look, and by 2010-2011 most of the DTS’s at the Washington area Cadillac dealers were outfitted with the Livery option and in any color you wanted as long as it was Black Raven :-).
Brougham on in 2022.
I am German and I don’t like the modern style Cadillacs. They should have kept the styling from the late 80’s and never copied style elements of Mercedes. Actually I don’t like the modern Mercedes stylig either. By the way I drive an Olds Delta 88 from 1978.
There are reasons you are not so in love with modern Mercedes style. Mercedes no longer believes there is a future for selling their cars to successful Germans, and those elsewhere who thought yall were where it is at. Instead Mercedes tries to guess what China wants and just do that. The only thing still missing is Chinese heads of design. My guess they realize that Asians are not creative enough to know what they want.
This is true – but most people don’t realize Germans don’t buy BMWs, Audis or Mercedes for themselves. They are nearly ALWAYS company cars, provided as a perk for a mid management job and higher. They are swapped every 3 years and shipped off to Eastern Europe and the Middle East, where the poor suckers have to deal with their maintenance nightmares (it’s also why they are not built to last). I lived in Germany and put 100k on my Audi company car in the early 90s, it was an experience I will never forget. They have gone all woke there and now look down on fast driving as wasteful and anti-social, it’s a shame.
In China the company owners actually buy these things to be driven around in so they look good. TOTALLY different market. You can argue that America was the only place for a long time that people with extra money could actually buy a better car for themselves, until the Chinese got rich and started spending much more money on cars than anyone else. Chinese do know what they want – they want to flaunt their wealth as it is their culture. I was in China in 2019 for 2 weeks right before the flu started. A sight to behold for car lovers. Luxury EVERYWHERE.
The reality is that the Cadillac US luxury car of old has been effectively replaced by the high end US SUVs and Pickups, and that is the true luxury of today, bought by pretty much the same people who bought Cadillacs back then. Who can argue with a top spec Jeep Grand Cherokee? That’s the real luxury seller – 265k examples last year, close to the old luxury car volumes. Even more – the top spec Pick ups with their luxury interiors – the form factor just changed.
You nailed it. Great article and comments!
My 2005 STS with Northstar V8 was somewhat compelling, but not a true Cadillac by the standards I observed in my youth. or even the later models discussed here.
The people and the Cadillacs then had so much more swagger than the models offered today. Will the Lyriq or whatever finally smash through the egg shaped station wagonesque design language of the boring and overly competent vehicles we all drive?
I’m intrigued by and trying to get my wife into a full size highly optioned SUV from any of the big 3 to get the “Cadillac” experience for my family before the teenagers move on. She isn’t confident daily driving a full sized truck and also doesn’t want the attention.
I’ll likely pay for the fancy explorer again = aviator at near or above fully optioned expedition prices to my great frustration. Hard to argue though as she continues to push a 2004 Aviator and is underwhelmed by most everything in parking lots today. It still runs strong at 150k+ and therefore has amortized the ludicrous cost of these vehicles despite needing a steering rack, and more recently having the heads off to replace one very worn and one broken valve chain guide. I considered letting it grenade itself but the DOHC 4.6 and AWD drivetrain has been bulletproof and deserved better despite it’s 3.73 gear and therefore diabetic 13 mpg city thirst.
My fairly highly optioned yet Fleet provided 2020 Ford Edge is so technologically advanced, competent, efficient, safe and at the same time so amazingly narcoleptic compared to those big old beauties or their contemporary counterparts. I mean the cars and the people the drove them
These last DeVilles are a key reason that buyers shifted to SUV/CUVs. As with so many modern era designs, it is just an ugly blob that has less space, is less easy to enter/exit, and does not offer any design statement that distinguishes the brand in a positive way other than being more aerodynamic that the older versions that looked like 1970s “formal” era Cadillacs, but without the futuristic flair of the 1948-64 Cadillacs with their fighter jet/rocket inspired styling elements. Most SUVs/CUVs also offer nothing special in the styling department, but at least they are more spacious, easier to see out of, and easier to enter/exit, plus offer AWD. This last element was another GM mistake, because from the 4.9 and subsequent Northstar these FWD V-8 Caddies had horrible torque steer that made using their full power very scary to the elderly clientele and negated the advantage of having a V-8. Yet even though Mercedes, BMW, and Audi were offering AWD versions of their sedans going back to the early 1980s and 90s, Cadillac forced its buyers to get an Escalade or CUV to get AWD.
Pretty sure the traditional Cadillac sedan buyers simply died off. The necessity of marketing light duty trucks has driven subsequent generation to associate ‘sedan’ with ‘poor’.
It was starting even in the mid 90’s, I remember taking middle aged folks out of Buicks, Lincolns and Cadillacs and putting them into Yukon and Jimmy SLT’s.
I’m sure that you are danio are correct and sales figures prove the traditional car has been dying for a long time, but the Germans at least put up a strong fight to keep their sedans relevant with daring (if not always successful) styling and by making AWD and strong engines available. I suspect that Cadillac and GM made less effort in large part because they made a lot more money on a pickup based Yukon or Escalade than they did on any DeVille, Seville, 98, or LeSabre.
I was referring more to the statement about the “traditional buyer dying off”, which did happen as well, but even in the 90’s, middle aged folks, that would have been buying traditional sedans were starting to make the switch to SUV’s, my friends dad who was a dyed in the wool Cadillac car buyer for years Sedan deVilles, Eldorados, etc, his last 2 leased cars were VW Tiguans, granted he was already in his late 80’s when he got the first one and put about 2,000 miles on his 2nd one before he passed a few months ago….
The guy with the xB with red painted wheels is a trip, I’ll say that much lol
Nice writeup Tom. I associate these bloated early-mid 2000s Devilles as total hood fodder, seen limping along in most ghettos in the US. My understanding is that the worst of the headgasket issues were solved midway into this generation, but not completely, at least not on cars that see abject neglect. I’d consider one of those early 90s FWD Caddys, because as you note you still got a flavor of the 70s in them. My 91 Park Avenue was the same way. Practical space efficient FWD layout, adequate driving experience with palatable fuel economy, but you get the joy of a VERY American interior with multitudes of ashtrays, cushy bench seats, lots of fake wood, angular dash design, etc. I absolutely loved my Buick for this. All of the GMs inevitably adopted that flowing/plasticky interior design by the mid-late 90s, and I find them much less appealing because of that. Still very comfy no doubt, but the aesthetics are all wrong.
I’ve seen the head bolts pull out of the block on N* engines as new as ’04. There used to be an enormously profitable service market for fixing these when the cars were still worth anything. I knew an ex-GM tech who opened his own shop and some weeks worked on these exclusively, pounding each one out easily in a day.
They did a couple of redesigns. The first was for 2000, the second for 2004. It really was symptomatic of the horrible position that GM was in that it took them, what, 7 years after the release of the N* to make an effort at getting it right. The half assed, get them through the warranty period approach of using Time Certs to band aid the problem, was not a Standard of the World solution to the problem. Even granting them the head bolt issue being a mistake, why the heck were they releasing an engine in 1993 that couldn’t keep the oil inside?
The sad part about this is that the folks who have taken the time to pull the engine, use one of the quality aftermarket stud kits to fix the head gasket issue forever, and do a complete and proper resealing, report that the N* is near enough indestructible. With proper maintenance, there is a bunch of them out there with an easy 300,000-400,000 miles on them.
Btw, my 2004 Bonneville GXP dropped a valve in its N* at 110,000 km (66,000 miles). What a dreadful car btw. Big on the outside, small on the inside, it was geared for a high revving engine, but got the torquier LD8 instead. So the combo of gears and power band never got along. It was wonderful at converting gas into a high end noise, however.
My grandfather had an ’01 DHS as his final ride. The car rode and handled well for what it was, but certainly not like the Town Car it replaced. I remember the seats being very nice and probably the first car I remember to have rear heated seats.
It’s too bad that the Northstar engine had so many issues, otherwise these could have been good old cruisers to boot around in, like a Town Car or Park Avenue. Most of them now are crushed or on Craigslist hoping a prospective buyer won’t notice the billowing white smoke from the exhaust.
I remember the introductory articles on the Northstar. Much was made about how they were designed with a BMW-V12-like limp-home capability. The engines were set up to run on four cylinders at a time during a catastrophic cooling system failure, swapping from bank to bank as temperatures spiked. I don’t think anyone thought to ask why catastrophic cooling system failures were expected in the mid ’90s, but maybe they should have.
It isn’t surprising that an technologically advanced clean-sheet design such as the Northstar would have some teething problems. For example, BMW replaced a lot of V-8 motors with fuel based sulphur damaged cylinder bores during the 1990s. The problem with the Northstar and GM was that it took them more than 10 years to fix the Northstar problems and that they didn’t stand behind their product with an extended warranty on the motor like BMW did.
See also: Tacoma frames that disintegrated, and the famous Honda/Acura “glass transmission” V6 automatic. In both cases the automakers went out to 100k or ten years or something else outrageous to make it right. General Motors has an unpleasant and long-standing history of refusing to goodwill ANYTHING past a warranty period. The only other automaker I can think of that foisted that many flawed engine designs on the customers and refused to pay anything would be… Por-sha.
So they’re in good company at least…..
I’ve seen a few of them running at ghetto gas stations in limp, probably for quite a while.
Gee, I thought it was just because the people who could afford to buy new cars were just getting too fat, old and lazy to shoehorn their lard into a sedan…
Fat and old certainly explains part of the exodus from sedans, but if you look at how the aerodynamic windshield of the CT5 slants back to reduce the front door window area compared to the more upright 1990s models, it demonstrates that sedan design also made it extra difficult to enter/exit without hitting your head. I like sleek looking cars, but when your average customer is 70+ and carrying 50+lbs of extra lard, it probably isn’t a good idea to reduce the size or lower the height of door openings and seats.
Excellent point. I think the 97 Park Ave was the last car that really took ingress and egress seriously. Sad that they died on the market. Between a well thought out interior, and the bulletproof 3800s, but NA and supercharged, it really was quite a wonderful traditional American luxury car. Now, if they only would have spent an extra $500 on interior plastics…
The fattest person I ever knew worked for Ford and drove a Buick sedan with a bench seat. Unless there are CUVs with bench front seats, they aren’t as well suited for the morbidly obese as sedans with “styling that appeals to traditional Americans” were. In her case, the Buick’s front bench was practically a bucket seat with the sort of offset controls one might expect in a new GM pickup truck.
There is no better car for a sweaty fat fuck than a bench seat Buick, Mercury or Lincoln.
I can confirm, there used to be this like 500lb guy we nicknamed “Thinner” after the Stephen King story, he used to drive a dark red “whale” Caprice with the bench seat, when that finally gave up, he had one of the later 97 and up Grand Prix SE’s with the bench seat too, he filled the entire front section of the car.
Honest to God.
No disrespect intendet to TK; but…honestly…these illustrate why the market of that time was/is just, blah.
These reek of Value Time, the Topko generic line. “Car. This car is made with environmentally-correct materials to the highest quality and value. It is comparable to the best German and Japanese makes.”
I’m not a great lover of the tailfin era, but at least…those models made a STATEMENT.
Even the 1970s barges made a statement.
These make a different statement…”Buyer is of LEVEL FOUR; above lower levels, but not into exclusive branding…”