Curbside Classic: 1992-97 Cadillac Seville – A Forgotten Contender

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Read any Cadillac review from the past decade and you’ll get the impression that Cadillac had simply been peddling crap cars from the 1970s up until the early 2000s. I’m not going to deny for a second that the 1980s were a terrible decade for the luxury brand and its prestige, but the 1990s marked a turnaround for Cadillac, with a sharply styled model range brimming with fresh technology. No Cadillac better exemplifies the changing fortunes of the General’s flagship range than the 1992 Seville.

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Even disregarding what lay underneath, the new Seville was a huge change from its predecessor. Gone was the frumpy, boxy, me-too styling of the 1986-91 Seville, replaced by a rakish look that emphasized its thirteen inches of additional length and two inches of extra width.  With a longer hood and shorter deck, its proportions weren’t as inhibited by the constraints of front-wheel-drive packaging, even though the wheelbase only increased by three inches.  The blocky interior was replaced by a handsome, more flowing design with real African Zebrano wood accents. The warm, relaxed atmosphere stood in contrast to the stark, Teutonic themes employed by much of the competition without going near crushed-velour, loose-pillow Brougham territory.

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The STS continued as a full-fledged model in the Seville line-up, joined by a luxury-oriented standard model, renamed SLS (Seville Luxury Sedan) for 1994. The STS featured a firmer suspension, wider tires on 16-inch wheels, analog gauges and less exterior brightwork. The Seville was also further differentiated from its Eldorado sibling, with the latter riding on a 108-inch wheelbase and the former, a 112-inch. Although the Eldorado was also all-new for 1992, it more closely followed existing Cadillac design cues with its very vertical C-pillar; the Seville, by contrast, was a much more dramatic change. Eldorados listed at $32k, whereas Sevilles were priced in the $35-38k range.

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Initial propulsion for the 1992 Seville was the carry over, transversely-mounted 4.9 V8 with 200hp and 275 lb-ft of torque, hooked to the 4T60-E four-speed automatic which was praised for its characteristic smoothness and quick responsive. This was only used a stopgap powertrain, but still managed a two-second improvement in the dash to sixty and was impressive enough to help the new car win Motor Trend’s Car of the Year and land on Car & Driver’s 10Best for 1992. Sales also rocketed up to 44,000 units, almost double the number of units moved in 1991. People were impressed: Cadillac was all too eager to quote critics in their advertisements, including a particularly impressive declaration from Automobile Magazine that the Seville had “the looks and performance to go with excellent handling and road holding… [and] is every bit as good as it looks.” The suspension architecture still featured front MacPherson struts and an independent rear suspension with a transverse leaf spring, but the structure was fifteen percent stiffer than the 1991 Seville’s, and handling was vastly improved.

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It was 1993, though, that marked a complete turnaround for the Seville. The Northstar V8 introduced in the 1993 Allanté was also standard in the STS, and for 1994, the SLS as well. This double overhead cam, 32-valve powerhouse saw Seville’s power outputs shoot up to 270hp and 300 lb-ft (SLS) and 295hp, 290 lb-ft (STS); in the case of the STS, a 95 horsepower gain, although only 15 lb-ft more torque. Both had competitive power-to-weight ratios, with each of the STS’s ponies, now routed through the new 4T80-E automatic, propelling 12.9lbs. Also new for the STS was an unequal-length control arm rear suspension.

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The STS was good for a 0-60 of around seven seconds – plenty of grunt for the time – and Cadillac engineers did a commendable job of working around the limitations of front-wheel-drive. Torque steer was minimal and Motor Trend’s review noted, “You can flatfoot the megapower Seville off the line with an arrow-straight trajectory.” Traction control was standard on the 1993 STS to help keep things from getting too hairy. A 1995 Car & Driver comparison against European and Japanese rivals praised the Seville’s gutsy performance, spacious and richly-appointed interior and sharp styling. They observed the Caddy had an extremely supple ride and great highway demeanor, but chided it for excessive lean in corners and noticeable understeer. However, they found the STS to be better-rounded than the BMW 540i despite its relative handling deficiencies, pointing out that “Touring” was not just a part of the model name and where the car truly excelled.

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The price of entry to Seville was increased with the arrival of the Northstar; by 1994, the SLS listed at $40,900 and the STS, at $44,890. 1995 saw a few hundred dollars added to the STS list price, but it still undercut the Infiniti Q45t ($52,400), Lexus LS400 ($51,200), BMW 540i ($47,950) and Mercedes E420 ($52,500). The new Lincoln Continental, boasting a 4.6 Intech V8 with less power and torque (260hp, 260 lb-ft) was the only rival to undercut the STS, but did so with a blander interior and inferior dynamics. The Europeans were realizing, thanks to tougher competition, that they could no longer charge substantial premiums.

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Unlike other GM models, the Seville wasn’t left to stagnate. The 1994 STS featured an available fully-independent, continuously variable, speed-sensitive suspension (CVRSS) with dampers that adjusted to the road surface every 15/100th of a second, as well as speed-sensitive power steering; CVRSS would become standard on the SLS, too, in 1997. 1995 saw both the SLS and STS gain 5 horsepower; the SLS now sat at 275hp, the STS at an even 300hp.

Front-wheel-drive has its limits, and Cadillac would never go higher than 300hp in a front-driver; the final 2003 Seville STS still had 300hp, and later DTS Platinum and Performance models only had 292hp (GM would only top these figures with the V8, 303hp, 320 ft-lb W-Bodies of the mid-2000s). Finally, this generation’s penultimate year saw an extensively revised interior with a more integrated console, as well as rain-sensing wipers and steering wheel audio controls. Even the final year saw worthwhile suspension tweaks, plus the addition of Cadillac’s new StabiliTrak system, 0.9 inches wider front brakes, French stitched leather and some NVH refinements. There was no annual cost-cutting with the Seville; the only negative change was the muting of the sonorous Northstar engine note.

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Seville sales hit a high of 46,713 units in 1994, with a low point of 37,239 moved during its sophomore year. Sales consistently hovered in the high 30k, low 40k unit range; a darn sight better than its predecessor, which sat around 20k annual units, and better even than the Bustleback Seville of 1980-85. The Seville even outperformed the similarly-sized Lexus LS in annual sales.

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I spotted this 1994-95 Cadillac Seville SLS right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, and couldn’t stop drooling. Although they were never sold where I grew up, the Sevilles and Eldorados of the 1990s were the first Cadillacs I truly noticed. I’ve grown more fond of the Seville and less so of the Eldorado with time, and I find the Seville (and its familiar-looking 1998-2004 successor) absolutely beautiful to my eyes. These were the first Cadillacs to really cement my Cadillac fascination, and I find it particularly irritating that critics virtually disavow their existence.

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The 1992-97 Seville proved GM could take on the Europeans, and be competitive even without following the traditional rear-wheel-drive formula. Perhaps inferior reliability to its Japanese rivals has made critics amnesiac to the Seville’s virtues. Northstar engines may have eaten headgaskets and the CVRSS may have been flaky and complex, but these issues aside, the 92-97 Seville wasn’t just a pretty face. It was a contender.

Related:     1975-1979 Seville CC        1980-1985 Seville CC    1986-1991 Seville CC