The traditional Cadillac customer will be very happy with the new DTS. It has all the attributes that made the DeVille the favorite with the baby boomer's parents, then later with the baby boomers themselves. So Cadillac succeeded in keeping their old customers happy, but that will never do if the DTS is to survive in the 21st century. Many of the people who grew up with large land yachts are hanging up their keys and are being chauffeured around by their kids. Cadillac needs new blood if they are going to survive. The temptation is to move over to a European look and feel along with everyone else in this market, and in fact, that's exactly what they did with the CTS, but there are still plenty of people who prefer the comfort and easy driving that only an American car company knows how to do right.
For 2006, Cadillac has done a major updating to the DeVille line, right down to changing the name itself. The big caddy will no longer be called the DeVille. After 57 years, Cadillac is retiring the DeVille nameplate and will call the new car simply the DTS, bringing it into line with the three letter naming convention they are using for most of the rest of the product line. The lone exception now is the Escalade along with its derivatives, the Escalade ESV and Escalade EXT.
The basic body structure for the DTS is carried over from last year's model, but there are major refinements and alterations to give it a fresh look and a more solid feel. The outward changes are most apparent up front with a new grill and headlamp treatment which brings the DTS into the new family look. It is not often that you see a styling facelift carried off as cleanly as this one has. The new look is cleaner, more sculptured and, in my humble opinion, quite an improvement from the previous car. The vertical headlamp treatment and egg create grill with a huge, in-your-face Cadillac wreath & crest bring the DTS into the new family style without resorting to the sharp folded stealth-plane look pioneered by the CTS. The rear sports new vertical LED tail lamps and central brake lamp strip along the top of the trunk lid.
We actually received our first look at the new front and rear styling for the 2006 DTS in January, 2005 during the presidential inauguration when a heavily fortified version of the car rolled down Pennsylvania Avenue with the most powerful person in the world seated in the back seat (No, not Bill Gates). The new presidential limousine was hand built by a team at General Motors to meet the strict security requirements of the 43rd president of the United States.
The DTS is still a front-wheel drive car with a cross-mounted Northstar V8 engine and 4 speed automatic transmission. The transmission choice is somewhat of a surprise since most cars in this price bracket have 5, 6 and even 7 speed transmissions. But you have to pay careful attention to notice a difference when you drive, and if you are a conservative driver with a light throttle foot, the difference is negligible.
The previous DeVille was separated into 3 distinct models; the Base, DHS and DTS. The new Cadillac DTS is to have one model with multiple option packages. These are broken out into Luxury I, Luxury II, Luxury III and Performance versions.
A closer look at the new DTS shows that fit and finish has improved dramatically. Body gaps are significantly narrower giving it a solid "carved from a single block" appearance. Wheels are larger and moved out so they are flush with the fender line. The DTS comes standard with 17" machined alloy wheels and tires with the performance package upping that to 18". Chrome wheels are optional on all trim levels.
Inside, the DTS seems more spacious and has a cleaner, more integrated look. Much of this can be attributed to the all new instrument panel that is lower and pushed forward about 1.5 inches. The new interior has an uncluttered look and is liberally slathered with burled wood trim, simulated medium ash on the Luxury I and Luxury II packages, but genuine dark walnut on the Luxury III and Performance packages.
Throughout the interior, seams are tight and well finished and all surface materials have a richer feel. Even the areas under the seats where the rear passengers place their feet are fully finished with nary a seat track or wire harness in sight.
During the press preview, we had a chance to drive these cars for a good part of the day. Cadillac has succeeded in holding on to all of the attributes that made the DTS a favorite for people who wanted a large, soft riding, comfortable luxury car, while eliminating all the problems that are normally associated with this kind of land yacht. Gone is the floaty ride, vague steering, leisurely throttle response and nosedives on hard braking. All gone.
Highway ride is absolutely serene and relaxed. Seats are easy-chair comfortable, without sacrificing good support for hours of fatigue-free driving. We automotive journalists are pretty good at guessing what speed a car is moving at without looking at the speedometer. This is because we are used to quiet, expensive luxury cars and know that these cars are moving much faster than it appears. But in this case, when I and another seasoned journalist took this car out on the Interstate, we were very surprised to see that we were going 90 miles per hour when we thought that we were going 70. There was no wind noise to speak of and road noise was at a bare minimum. The car just seemed to be loafing along. When you are driving a DTS on the highway, cruise control is not just a good idea, it is a necessity if you want to keep your driver's license.
We also had a chance to try out the emergency handling and braking in a closed parking lot that was lined with cones to mark our route. Emergency avoidance maneuvers were surprisingly well controlled. The steering was sharp and body lean was much better than it should have been, givin the soft suspension.
For those of you who are interested in the how's and whys of what makes it tick, here is a rundown of some of the new technology in the 2006 DTS:
While the body is mostly a carryover from last year, the front and rear subframes are new. The front subframe or cradle is a large high-strength steel structure that serve as mounting points for all the mechanical components such as the front suspension, steering gear and the engine and transmission assembly. It is mounted to the body using 6 large rubber-like mounts that isolate the body of the car from vibrations and road noise. The engine is mounted to the cradle through four mounts, three of which are hydraulic. This "double-isolated" engine mounting strategy serves to further reduce transmission of noise and vibration into the cabin.
The Northstar V8 engine comes in two configurations. In the Luxury models, there is a 275 hp engine that was especially tuned to provide low rpm power for effortless acceleration and passing while remaining quiet and dignified. The Performance model sports a 291 hp Northstar V8 that produces more power at a higher rpm and has a sportier exhaust note. This exhaust sound is subtle and only noticeable at more than half throttle. I found the Performance model to be the most satisfying from the driver's perspective with very little compromise with respect to comfort.
An advanced air bag system for the front passenger uses new technology to deploy either a small or large air bag depending on front passenger weight and seat position. It is actually a single bag with a dual-depth function. This "Smart" system will provide optimal protection whether the passenger is small, large or somewhere in between. If no one is sitting in the passenger seat, the air bag is designed not to deploy.
Other standard features on all DTS models include:
Adaptive Remote Start - This allows you to start the car from up to 196 feet away and warm or cool the passenger compartment based on weather conditions and driver preference.
Tri-Zone Automatic Climate Control - allows separate temperature controls for driver, front passenger and the rear passenger compartment.
Tire Pressure Monitor - lets you know when a tire is losing air through a dash indicator.
Xenon High Intensity Headlamps - with automatic control that will turn them on at twilight and off at dusk. Cornering lamps and headlamps that automatically turn on when wipers are activated ares also standard.
Triple Door Sealing System - to virtually eliminate wind noise.
OnStar - Includes 1 year Directions & Connections service. This top level service includes things like: Automatic notification of air bag deployment, stolen vehicle tracking, Remote door unlock, Online Concierge, Direction assistance and much more.
Front-wheel drive has a number of advantages for this type of car including stability and emergency handling. The disadvantages of cars with front-wheel drive do not seem to be an issue here. There is minimal torque steer when we mashed the throttle, but most people who would own this type of car are not going to drive in a way where it would ever become an issue anyway.
The type of person that this car attracts is often not interested in handling or acceleration. What they do want is comfort, room, convenience and stately good looks. They feel more secure with a large, heavy car around them, even if they will never use the roomy back seat or the cavernous trunk.
Many people who buy this car do not care about the mechanicals. They do not car if it has independent suspension as long as it absorbs the bumps well. They do not care if it has 4-wheel antilock disk brakes and Stabiltrac as long as it stops well and steers where it is pointed. They do not care that it has a sophisticated Northstar multivalve V8 engine as long as it goes smartly at the slightest nudge of the accelerator.
What they do care about is that it is an obedient servant that makes its owner feel comfortable, look successful, and get them where they need to be with aplomb. It is a car that can be chauffer driven or owner driven, depending on the owner's mood. This is true dignified luxury for the boardroom set.