The second leg of this April 2007 work trip to America was based out of the Chicago suburbs. The Hertz facility at O’Hare airport is generally well-stocked, meaning plenty of choice of rental car. In the interests of trying something I had not driven before, I asked the counter rep what he could offer me for a small upgrade fee over the mid-sized saloon that I had booked, in accordance with company travel policy. His offer was of a Cadillac DTS, which comes in Group I, the Luxury Car category, and effectively three classes above what I had booked. As I’d not driven one of these before, I accepted the suggestion and headed into the garage area to find my allotted car, which turned out to be a relatively new 2007 model year car on Indiana plates. The DTS nameplate is new to the Cadillac range, and now brings the marque’s largest saloon in line with the new naming strategy that started with the launch of the CTS in 2003. Whereas the CTS and subsequent STS represented a conscious shift away from traditional “land yacht” Cadillacs of yore, the DTS remains pretty faithful to a formula which has been Cadillac’s approach for a long time. It is a big car. A very big car, with a wheelbase of 115″ and an overall length of 207″ it is 5″ longer even than Cadillac’s own Escalade and 8″ longer than a BMW 7 Series. The DTS name may be completely new, but the car attached to it is not quite so all-new, as this is really a heavily updated version of the De Ville it replaced. It bears the styling cues of the smaller models, including stacked headlights, an egg-crate grille and crisp edging to the styling, and some technology advances have appeared on the kit list either as standard features or an option, but underneath the revamp lies a car first seen in 1999 as the last of a long line of De Ville sedan models. The DTS is based on the same G platform and has a transversely mounted engine and front wheel drive. Slightly surprisingly, the DTS reached the market, for the 2006 model year, on average 10% cheaper than the car it replaced and also cheaper than the slightly smaller STS model. As well as being the first DTS I have sampled, this was also the first Cadillac I have had the opportunity to drive. I had a few days to find out what I thought of it, on the sort commutes between the hotel and office and a day at the weekend to explore a bit more widely.
Cadillac cars have traditionally never been focused on ultimate performance. A bit like Rolls Royce, with whom they have often liked to compare themselves, they were happy to provide “sufficient” power, and this car, more than the smaller CTS and STS models, continues that tradition, oriented more towards luxury and comfort rather than any form of sporting feel. The engine is a 4.6 litre version of Cadillac’s Northstar V8 unit which in all but the top spec DTS models puts out 272 bhp, and is coupled to a traditional 4 speed HydraMatic automatic gearbox. The engine is barely audible when you twist the key and even when you increase the revs by pressing on the accelerator pedal and moving off, it remains very well muted, so you will only just about be aware that this is a V8 powered car . Refinement is the overriding impression here, with noise from wind and tyre sources also well suppressed. Whilst the DTS is not fast in absolute terms, nor is it, by any means, slow. There is plenty of acceleration available and the transmission will almost imperceptibly find the right gear to make the power available. This may be a large and heavy car, but it does not feel that way from behind the wheel. All DTS models come with StabiliTrak electronic stability control, which limits understeer and oversteer by automatic and selective application of individual wheel brakes, and all versions also come with Magnasteer, a magnetic variable assist rack and pinion steering gear that reduces noise and column shake. The steering is light, both when manoeuvering and when underway. Perhaps too light, as there is not a lot of feel to it, but that doubtless suits the target buyers just fine. They won’t be interested in a sporty feel to the handling, either, and they won’t get it. This is car for genteel progress rather than to try corner on the proverbial door handles. It understeers and if you tackle a corner with gusto, it rolls, but there is ample grip for the speeds you are likely to adopt, and it is the ride comfort that is more likely to be a priority. The soft suspension and relatively high profile tyres means that the DTS will not disappoint here, with an ability to absorb the ridges that are so evident on the concrete sectioned roads in the Chicago suburbs where I mainly drove the car. The brakes were well up to par, pulling the car up strongly with only moderate pedal pressure. There is a foot operated parking brake. Thanks to a generous glass area, visibility is good, though you do have to remember that there is quite a lot of car both in front of and behind you. Truly you will need a long space to park it in.
There is lots of leather in the cabin. There’s also rather a lot of wood-effect plastic which extends from in front of the passenger to surrounding the central of the dash and swooping down to cover the centre console. I assume that some Americans will like this, and perhaps even think that this endows the Cadillac with a high-end luxury feel, and that is certainly what you will find many US reviewers saying. That’s not the effect it had on me, as I thought it just looked slightly tacky. It’s a shame as the rest of the interior was neat and all the parts seemed to fit together quite well, not something that has always applied to GM cars. The leather wrapped steering wheel is large, but was pleasant to hold with a finely etched Cadillac badge in its centre. The instrument cluster is presented under a raised binnacle, with the largest dial, the speedo slightly to the right of centre, with an overlapping part circle for the rev counter to the left and then smaller dials at either side of the centre for water temperature and fuel level. The dials are well marked and easy to read. A single column stalk is on the left of the column, for indicators and wipers, with lights operated from the dash. Buttons are inset on either side of the central steering wheel boss for cruise control and audio repeater functions. Nestled between air outlets, high up in the centre of the dash, is a sharp analog clock, in keeping with other high-end automobiles whose clocks also measure out time in the old, traditional way. It’s a good way. Beneath this is an integrated audio unit which includes a CD player and XM Satellite radio. Sound quality was reasonable but this certainly was not the most sophisticated sort of unit that you might expect in a top of the range car. Simple controls for the dual zone automated climate control are beneath this and that’s more or less it. Simple and easy to use, for sure, but nothing like as comprehensive as you would find in a European car like a Mercedes or BMW and many of the buttons still do not have the quality feel that you would find in an Audi or a Mercedes.
Seat upholstery in all versions of the DTS is leather, and the quality used is reasonable, but this is not the same as you find say with the Nappa Leather in an Audi like the one I drive on a daily basis back home. A bit of research elicited the fact that Cadillac use three different types of leather upholstery, depending on the trim level of the DTS. The test car was the base model, and this uses what they call Nuance. More costly DTS trims feature either a more supple, semi-aniline Tuscany hide or a specially tanned leather called Tehama, found only in the DTS. The Nuance interior benefits from fitment of a material crafted from a vinyl/silk blend for seatbacks and armrests. Claimed to be as durable as vinyl, it has the look and feel of leather, or so they say. Unlike its predecessor, the DTS has 2 separate bucket seats as standard, though a 6 seater version is still available for fleet orders. There is power adjustment, with buttons on the side of the seat allowing you to move in 8 different ways, which combined with the tilt adjustable column meant that getting a comfortable driving position was easy. This is a large car, so a feeling of space abides, with ample headroom and a wide centre console separating the driver from the passenger. The seats themselves are large, but they were well shaped and proved quite comfortable to sit on for the time I was behind the wheel.
Those in the back will have little to complain about. Even when the front seats are set well back, there is plenty of leg room. There is not much of a central tunnel, and as the DTS is quite a wide car, there is ample space for a middle seat occupant. Headroom is not in short supply, either and the seats themselves are rake somewhat so you feel slightly reclined sitting in them. There is a large drop down armrest, with cup holders in the upper surface and occupants here get their own air vents in the rear face of the centre console. Odds and ends can go in the map pockets on the back of the front seats or the pockets on the doors. There is a very generously sized boot, deep from front to back, wide and with plenty of depth that you could easily swallow a lot of luggage for all five occupants of the car in here. Inside the cabin there is a modestly sized glovebox, pockets on the doors and a cubby under the central armrest.
GM have been working hard to improve the build quality of all their cars and nowhere is that as important as at the top of the range. The DTS manifests evidence of their progress. The DTS has some of the tightest production tolerances in the world, and the panels fit well, the paint is glossy and blemish free, as you would expect from a luxury car, but which was not always a given with American built cars until recently. The 2007 Cadillac DTS is available in four trim levels: base, Luxury I, Luxury II and Performance. The base DTS ($41,170) comes with Nuance leather upholstery, eight-way power front bucket seats with adjustable lumbar support; dual zone automated climate control, OnStar with one-year Directions & Connections Service; Adaptive Remote Starting; Magnasteer magnetic variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering; 17-inch chromed wheels, xenon HID headlamps; laminated side glass; and an MP3-capable stereo. XM Satellite Radio is also standard, including three months free service. The DTS with the Luxury I package ($44,170) adds StabilTrak; Brake Assist; memory for seats and outside mirrors; ultrasonic parking assist; heated outboard seats front and rear; seat cooling for driver and front-seat passenger; heated leather-wrapped steering wheel; heated windscreen washer fluid; heated outside mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators; and a universal home remote. The Luxury II package ($46,490) includes all the Luxury I features plus a six-disc in-dash CD changer; eight-speaker Bose audio system; tri-zone climate control; four-way adjustable lumbar with massage for the front bucket seats; power tilt and telescoping steering column; wood accents on steering wheel; adjustable rear-seat headrests; rear-seat sun visors with vanity mirrors; power folding outside mirrors; IntelliBeam automatic headlamps; Rainsense wipers; and a cargo net for the boot. Road wheels are still 17-inch chrome but feature a design unique to this package, and real dark burl walnut replaces the standard interior woodgrain trim. The Performance package ($48,540) includes all but a few of the Luxury items plus the higher-tuned (L37) Northstar 4.6-litre V8 with 292 bhp, performance algorithm shifting, firmer suspension with Magnetic Ride Control, 18-inch wheels and H-rated tyres. Options include adaptive cruise control ($1695), a DVD-based navigation system ($1945), a front bench seat (no charge), DTS-exclusive Tehama leather upholstery ($1995), body colour grille ($100), and a power tilt/slide sunroof ($1200).
Although there have been some attempts to modernise the DTS, fundamentally this is an old-style traditional American luxury car. It’s perhaps not a surprise to learn that the average of the buyer of this car is very high, far higher than that of the smaller and more contemporary feeling STS and CTS models. Judged against the needs and requirements of such a clientele, the DTS has to be judged a success. It is relatively cheap for a luxury car – certainly in comparison to what you would pay for a similarly sized Mercedes or BMW – it is refined, comfortable and spacious all offered at a relatively affordable price. It’s the sort of car that you can imagine would traverse two or three states and the driver and passengers would not feel fatigued for having done so. Assess it in these terms and this is a good car. In Europe we don’t typically have requirements for cars that are so focused on these attributes to the exclusion of providing more driver engagement and buyers here would also expect a luxury car to look like one inside in terms of the quality of fittings and finish. So it is no surprise to learn that this car remains confined to North American shores, as it really would struggle to find buyers in Europe. How much longer it can continue like this in America is no doubt a question that is troubling GM’s execs. They will be painfully aware of the inroads that Lexus has made in this sector, promising far tougher competition than the only real domestic alternative, namely the Lincoln Town Car. And where the Japanese have trodden, the Koreans are not far behind, so we can expect to see tougher competition for the DTS in the future, Meanwhile, it sits in the rental car companies’ Luxury Car category alongside the Town Car, and for a relatively small upgrade premium over slightly smaller cars is an interesting option for those who want a comfortable saloon to drive around.