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Auto Test Drives

DTS Offers Surprising Driving Dynamics, Value as Cadillac' s Powerful Flagship
By Andrew Gardner; photos by the author
Apr 19, 2006, 01:15 PST
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The first question one might ask oneself upon taking a seat in the driver's position of the new Cadillac DTS is: why. The DTS is about the same size as an STS. It has the same motor. It still features injection molded plastic parts to cover large surface areas of the interior. Why make the DTS and the STS this way, at the same time?

Well, the DTS is a front-drive car, the STS is rear-drive. The DTS is old-school Cadillac, the STS is new-school. Both share the same design philosophy, but the DTS is decidedly more upscale, having been drawn for older or more astute people. The DTS is made of conservative lines, from front, rear and side views. From this observation stems another qeustion: Why is Cadillac making such a big push for a younger buyer crowd with most of their products, and simultaneously still making more of an old person's car?

Or is that even what they are doing? Well, if so, that's good, because that is their traditional market, and there's no sense in throwing away loyal buyers. Give them what they want. Some people prefer front drive vehicles - or at least don't need rear drive and see no good use for it. Front drive is more stable in slippery conditions, thus making this platform feature a form of safety. That is appealing to a large chunk of buyers.

Do more than plop down in the DTS for 5 seconds and you will begin to appreciate the many distinctions between this and the STS, as well as between this and previous flagship Cadillacs.



The front of the exterior has the most unique grille in the Caddy bunch - it has a crowned look, sort of British, sort of royal. More proper. The headlights feature HID headlamps, which make the front end of any car look valuable and intriguing. The cut lines, the grooves in the hood, the front profile, all look like variations of the current Cadillac cookie-cutter style, but the DTS is the most unuique application and proportioning of the strong fender ridges and center ridge. The front fender ridges are much less prominent, much more subtle (though still not outright subtle), than on the STS and CTS. The long lines, the use of chrome, and the good paint quality all come together to give this a high class and beautiful appearance. The DTS's edgy design even helps it appear trim, while certainly not small or shy. The DTS looks big without excess; it is more elephant than hippopotamus, grand and kingly but made to charge around on land instead of float around in a pond. From some angles it may seem a bit odd, but overall this is the prettiest Cadillac flagship in some time.



This is a nicer car than the STS. Those headrests are pillowy soft. When have you ever (ok this is a young person writing this comment, so let's say when in cars of the last 2 decades) felt pillowy soft headrests? You can think of one car that had headrests that actually gave way a bit when you tilted your head back? That's great. You'll have something to relate to already. These are some very, very nice headrests.

The DTS offers a great space inside its body for both cargo and bodies (we are referring to living occupants of the cabin, not making a comment relevant to an episode of the Sopranos). There is about 42.5 inches of legroom up front and 41.5 inches in the rear - this is a big step up from the STS, which rides in a wheelbase just about an inch longer. The head, hip and shoulder room front and rear in the DTS is great, and is better than some of the (much more) expensive competition. All dimensions, the total volume of the DTS' interior are all world class, better than the standard-length European and Japanese flagship competition. And goodness there's no comparison pricewise.



The interior is not, however, the high point of this car. The primary contact points are lovely - the front of the seats (the sides are cloth; tisk, tisk), the steering wheel, the armrests are all soft and smooth. There is too much plastic for the image of the ideal Cadillac, but full leather dash and door-windowsill trim is an option even on the competition. And this is a relative improvement: there are better materials and more consitent materials usage here than in the STS, and with better fitment to match. You feel like you are definitely driving a more luxurious vehicle than the STS, but it is not a huge step up. It is with the DTS that we note most finally that a particular transition at Cadillac is 100% complete - even the DTS has strayed from some of its old ways, notably in interior materials selection - this is not all bad, however. Much of the recent change at Cadillac is very good.

The 275HP, dual overhead cam Northstar V8 in the DTS is much the same as that in the STS, but the result is different. The sound is so clean, and so healthy. Compared to the sound of the 4.6L Northstar V8 in the STS, it is more luxurious, yet certainly maintains some aggressiveness in the tone. The STS sounded poor at low engine speed. The DTS sounds sexy, so thick and rich and smooth and creamy and clean. It sounds lovely, and voluptuous. The motor behaves as such, with very strong power pulling the heavy, soft-riding car furtively forward. This V8 has ample low end torque, but it reaches its full potential at 4000 rpm, and stays strong until very near the shift point. There is also a second engine option which offers more horsepower with a higher torque peak; the 275HP variant offers a torque peak that arrives abut 1000 rpm sooner, and the throttle is tuned to be more responsive below full wide-open-throttle operation. In either tune, this Northstar V8 is a marvelous powerplant.



And the whole powertrain matches nicely. The transmission is silky smooth at light throttle. When you get aggressive with the gas, the transmission responds with fairly crisp, quick shifts that are not jerky or jolting. Shift mapping has one very interesting characteristic - under normal driving conditions, probably for fuel economy, the computer shifts from 2nd to 3rd at a higher rpm than it shifts from 1st to 2nd. Overall, the transmission transmits power well and smoothly. The only odd bit is that Caddy's top end sedan operates with just 4 speeds, and this at a time when Mercedes offers 7 and Lexus just announced 8 for its next-gen LS. Well, we're not sure how much better 8 is than 6, and we certainly felt that 4 speeds was adequate for the DTS. There is no need for everyday driving to have a plethora of available gear ratios, but even under performance driving the torque of the V8 seemed adequate to handle the slightly wide ratios. For a true performance sedan, however, this would not fly.

The traction control and stability control work pretty well. When on, traction control allows much more leeway than the STS's system - probably because this front wheel drive platform is naturally more stable than the STS's rear-drive setup. You can adjust your driving line in a corner by lifting/applying throttle, and even get a bit of wheelspin. The traction control kicks in to eliminate excessive wheelspin and stability control erradicates significant drift. WIth the traction control off, you still do not get complete control, but you get more. You can spin the wheels a bit from a standing start before the fuel cuts out. You can play with your line a little bit more but you still don't get full reign to drift and try to crank the rear end around. This programming makes sense given the car's intended buyer profile, and within electronic driver aid interfernce there is still definitely much of a driver element to the DTS. There is encouragement for the operator to move quickly. This stems mostly from that strong V8, but great steering and a slightly lenient traction control system may bring out the adrenaline in even some "typical" Caddy drivers.



The ride is soft and cushy, but less so than a study of Cadillac tradition would predict. There is a fair amount of suspension travel and you will use it all easily. This is a fantastic touring car. Yet it offers a slightly bumpier ride than one would initially expect - this stems from the fact that the new DTS is also a very good driving car. The DTS employs a strut with an aluminum "L" lower control arm at each front corner, with a hollow 28mm outer diameter anti-roll bar doing some work to keep this 4000 pound sedan level. At the rear, the DTS features a multilink setup with coil springs, a semi trailing arm at each side, and an 18mm hollow stabilizer bar. The front springs are rated at 24Newtons per millimeter of deflection, and the rear springs are 4 N/mm stiffer. Roll is aplenty, but still the DTS is fun to drive enthusiastically. It offers commendable grip, and is surprisingly responsive to driver inputs, notably throttle adjsutments (and of course steering).

The steering is relatively phenomenal. It feels (and is) direct, with a 14.2:1 steering gear ratio. The DTS responds with quick direction changes. This, the evolution of the flagship Cadillac, a car once marked for its insulation of every aspect of the drive, now features steering performance that puts the large share of top luxury vehicles to shame. Fantastic. GM engineers do it well. This provides a great halo effect. When the softest car in the fleet drives like this yet maintains a great standard for luxurious feel, you may have great confidence in the deliverance of a good driving experience available to a variety of tastes in the products on levels below.



The brakes are not confidence inspiring. This is reminiscent of recent big Cadillacs. The brakes are fine for normal driving. They don't bite firmly upon initial pedal tip-in, because they are designed to operate smoothly. You can ease into the brakes without having to tip-toe your way to the pedal. Normal application brings about smooth, linear grip. A strong application of the brakes accentuates their lack of performance feel and lack of high grip, especially amplified by the car's hefty mass. The front discs are 323mm in diameter, and are grabbd by a pair of pads inside a two-piston cast-iron caliper; the rear brakes feature single-piston aluminunm calipers.

There are questions, there are drawbacks. The interior questions don't stop. This top-end Cadillac is not spared the sparing of expense on interior quality and feel Cadillac is engaged in. More plastic needs to go from this car. There is much to like, much to make it distinguishable, much to love. There are many straight and curvy, smooth and bumpy paved roads to drive, and this would be a vehicle many will choose to tackle the lot. Perhaps just for the elegant engine sound and the great steering, which can more than make up for too soft suspension (too soft for hard driving, not too soft for the car) make this a preferable, a prefered luxury sedan. From a more focused perspective of a traditional Cadillac buyer, this is a flagship sedan with enhanced driving capabilities but no comfort drawbacks that could drive away Cadillac's buyer base. The new Cadillac interior materials strategy works least well in this flagship, but you may forget that as you lean your head back into that wonderfully soft headrest. This is a sort of ultimate expression of the modern American automobile, and it offers a good number of luxuries for a lot less cash than anybody else in this category. $49,695 is a very low starting point for this sedan. DVD navigation, an "express open" sunroof, premium leather seats and special paint brought our test ride up to $55,930. This is a huge amount of car - not to mention a fun and comfortable one - for that price. The DTS is well-evolved traditional Cadillac, a grand sedan, a fine automobile, and a great everyday driver.




















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