After WW2, Cadillac and Lincoln emerged as the big two players in American luxury automobiles. And while they came to define “American luxury” with their living-room-on-wheels, land-yacht isolation chambers, more recent decades have seen both brands make greater efforts to compete with luxury brands from around the globe with smaller luxury sedans placing a high emphasis on performance and driver involvement.
Circa 2000, the two most poised sedans in this category were the Cadillac Seville and the Lincoln LS. While both targeted much of the same competition, and on some levels each other — at least until the Cadillac CTS, a more direct LS competitor, arrived in 2003 — they each offered their respective brand’s distinctive take on the midsize luxury sports sedan, leading to two cars that were radically different from one another despite their similar motives.
Starting with the Cadillac, the fifth-generation Seville, released as a 1998, was a cautious update of its groundbreaking predecessor, a car that put Cadillac back on the map as a viable world-class competitor to brands such as Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. Retaining the fourth generation’s front-wheel drive layout, SLS and STS trims each with their own versions of Cadillac’s transverse Northstar V8, and sole 4-speed automatic, among other improvements, the somewhat less special feeling 1998-2004 Seville failed to gain the same level of praise and success that the 1992-1997 model did.
The Lincoln LS, meanwhile, was a completely new model with no direct predecessor in Lincoln’s lineup, unless one considers the recently departed Mark VIII personal luxury coupe as one. Sharing its all-new platform with the Jaguar S-Type, the Lincoln LS was rear-wheel drive, available in the choice of V6 or V8, both longitudinally-mounted and paired to a 5-speed automatic, with a 5-speed manual available with the V6 only.
One might be quick to call the LS the clear driver’s choice, given its rear-wheel drive, near 50/50 weight distribution, and more modern underpinnings. While true in most respects, especially looking back through contemporary reviews of each, the Seville, particularly the STS, was by no means a car lacking performance credentials.
For starters, both versions of the Seville’s 4.6-liter DOHC Northstar V8 put out more power than any of the LS’s engines available over the course of its life. Rated at 275 horsepower/300 lb-ft torque in the SLS and 300 horsepower/295 lb-ft torque in the STS, at the time of introduction, the Seville was the most powerful front-wheel drive sedan on the market at the time.
Featuring a MacPherson strut front and semi-trailing arm rear suspension, the Seville added standard StabiliTrak, an intelligent system that applied one or more of the antilock brakes in maneuvers when individual wheel slippage was detected. Initial STS/SLS models featured a continuously variable road sensing suspension, with the more advanced MagneRide active suspension replacing it midway through the 2002 model year.
Handling for both Sevilles, even the SLS with its smaller wheels, non-performance tires, and softer suspension was generally found favorable, with even Jeremy Clarkson having a few kind words to say about it. Common points of criticism were largely directed at the Seville’s considerable torque steer and less-refined 4-speed automatic when most competitors were sporting 5-speeds.
Unlike the Caddy, which sought to appease both seasoned Cadillac buyers and conquest buyers of European and Japanese luxury sports sedans, the Lincoln LS was designed from the ground up as a sports sedan that challenged traditional Lincoln values and was capable of going head-to-head with the best from Germany, with the E39 BMW 5 Series serving as the benchmark.
On paper, the Lincoln LS had all the appropriate qualifications of a true sports sedan: rear-wheel drive, double wishbone front and rear suspensions, Jaguar-sourced V6 and V8 engines, 5-speed automatic and 5-speed manual transmissions, and near 50/50 weight distribution. Adding to that, the lengthiest wheelbase in its class and an extremely rigid chassis, the LS was decidedly more performance-oriented than the Seville STS and SLS. No matter the model, the Lincoln LS received overwhelming praise for its steering feel and feedback, its overall agility, and impressive cornering ability.
The V6 model, its DOHC 3.0-liter initially making 210 horsepower/205 lb-ft torque (later 220/215 and then 232/220) was generally deemed too weak for the 3,600-lb LS, though it received praise for offering a 5-speed manual transmission. The 3.9-liter DOHC V8, on the other hand, was a much better-suited match for the LS, making 252 horsepower/267 lb-ft torque through 2002 and then 280 horsepower/286 lb-ft torque thereafter, but added a substantial price hike and was not available with a manual transmission.
The general consensus among reviewers was that the LS, in any flavor, while not as engaging to drive or as polished as European rivals, chiefly the BMW 5 Series, was the most dynamic American sports sedan on the market, at least in its first several years. Unlike the Seville, the LS received a greater amount of improvements and refinements over the course of its run, most notably a significant refresh 2003 model year which tweaked exterior and interior styling, brought along mechanical upgrades, and added comfort and convenience enhancements.
The designs of both were decidedly “international”, a term the automotive press back in the day liked to use to refer to any American car that didn’t look traditionally American. In typical American approach, both the LS and Seville were larger than their targeted European and Japanese rivals — several inches longer and wider, and several hundred pounds heavier — making it hard to fit either neatly into one segment.
Straddling the luxury segments, both vehicles were aimed against cars such as the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6, Lexus GS, Acura RL, and the LS’s own platform mate, the Jaguar S-Type. On the lower end, the LS also competed against entry-level/compact luxury sedans such as the BMW 3 Series, Lexus ES, Acura TL, and Jaguar X-Type, and on the high end, the Seville was often compared to flagships such as the Lexus LS, Mercedes S-Class, Infiniti Q45, and Audi A8.
The Seville’s styling was an evolution of the preceding generation, with its predecessor’s sharper “origami” angles and lines giving way to a softer, more melted down look that while still distinctive, didn’t exude the same striking grandness of the original.
Despite a longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs than its predecessor, the 1998-2004 Seville looked less athletic and more bloated with its softer contours. While difficult to pinpoint just why, it didn’t come off as quite so exclusive either, seeming more parts bin GM than the Seville that preceded it.
The Lincoln LS sported a decidedly more European appearance, its styling heavily influenced by both the E39 BMW 5 Series and C5 Audi A6. While successfully blending luxury and sporting styling cues, the LS unfortunately suffered from ill proportions and too many of these design elements clashing with one another.
This most notably included its tall roofline, battering ram-like bumpers, large wheel housings with small wheels, and otherwise aggressive front end marred with a Town Car-like grille. It was as if Lincoln designers listened to the input of Dieter from Düsseldorf and Dean from Detroit, and tried to combine all of their suggestions into one discordant design.
Interior-wise the Seville and LS boasted the expected leather, wood trim, and a numerous power conveniences, with both cars featuring attractive dash layouts. Although it was largely carryover from the 1992-1997, the slightly more costly Seville’s interior still came off as more upscale and exclusive, with marginally better quality materials.
A nod to its higher price point, STS models gained a few extra features over the SLS, including perforated leather seating surfaces, extended wood trim and most notably, Adaptive Seating Control. When engaged, each front seat’s ten air cells would automatically adjust every four minutes, responding to the body’s position to minimize fatigue. Massaging lumbar and adaptive massage were further enhancements available on the STS.
The LS’s interior, while clean and ergonomically correct, somehow didn’t convey the same level of premium ambiance as the Seville, and neither were quite on par with most European/Japanese rivals. Apart from slabs of wood ornamentation, door panels were uninspired and unadorned with any leather inserts or other soft-touch surfaces.
Plastics, leathers, and trim — both the wood and later models’ “satin-nickel” accents — just didn’t come across as fitting of the LS’s positioning and price point, which easily approached $50,000. Lacking the refinement of competitors, the LS’s interior spoke more Mercury Sable than BMW 5 Series.
Regarding the success of each model, both sold the greatest amount of units in their first two full years on the market, then consistently subsided. For comparison, the BMW 5 Series, despite its aging design, saw U.S. sales steadily rise over its lifetime, then jump considerably following its 2004 redesign. Sales, however, can never be used as a sole measure of a car’s success nor its overall merits.
While never regarded as perfect, both cars should be praised for their strides made to target younger buyers, compete more globally, and shake their respective brand’s stuffy and elderly images with two very world-class sports sedans. Unfortunately neither were improved quite enough to retain interest among buyers and the overall market.
As different as the cars themselves, so are their respective lasting legacies. The front-wheel drive Seville SLS and STS was replaced with a more appropriately-proportioned rear- and all-wheel drive STS for 2005. It joined the smaller rear-wheel drive CTS, which was truly the Cadillac sports sedan that broke through. The current third generation CTS is ultimately, the spiritual successor to the front-wheel drive Seville, now having filled the STS’s size and price class.
Lincoln on the other hand, seemed to have second thoughts following the discontinuation of the LS in 2006, abandoning any further efforts to create an “international” sports sedan and reverting to what it was known for, building comfortable, easy-to-drive cars. The rear-wheel drive LS’s front- and all-wheel drive Zephyr/MKZ successor was truthfully a more direct successor to the 2002 Continental, something that has become even more evident with the latest MKZ.
Photographed: January 2017 – Whitman, Massachusetts