Heavily criticized from the point of its introduction, through the years and into the present day, the 1986-1991 Cadillac Seville was a car with many shortcomings. From its forgettable, anonymous styling to its overemphasized shrunken proportions to its initially anemic engines, the third generation Seville was largely unremarkable in most respects. Without the wreath-and-crest, it could have been just about any car out there at the time — not typically the image Cadillac buyers sought.
Things weren’t much better inside either, with a clear (and failed) attempt at fusing modern 1980s high technology (no pun intended) with traditional Cadillac interior virtues. Something about button-tufted leather seats and casket-pull door handles with an all-digital instrument cluster, pod-like dash design, and Texas Instruments-style buttons strewn about just didn’t work very effectively together.
With initial sales at only about 50% the volume of its predecessor’s last two years, Cadillac did make a few meaningful updates over the car’s run in attempt to increase its competitiveness, most notably in the powertrain department. Premiering with a 4.1L V8 providing just 130 horsepower and 200 lb-ft torque, a 4.5L V8 arrived in 1988 making 155 horsepower and 240 lb-ft torque, with multiport fuel injection upping output to 180 horsepower/245 lb-ft torque in 1990. By its final year the Seville boasted a much more confident 200 horsepower and 275 lb-ft torque from its new 4.9L V8.
The most notable addition to this generation Seville was the introduction of the STS “Seville Touring Sedan” model in 1988, a model which would come to account for the majority of Seville sales in succeeding generations, and eventually supersede the Seville outright.
Meant to give the Seville a bit more of the European executive sedan vibe which luxury car buyers were increasingly preferring in the 1980s, the STS featured a retuned suspension and steering ratio for better handling, special alloy wheels, and a few other styling features that gave it a more understated, business-like appearance. Unfortunately, a lack of the regular Seville’s gingerbread only increased the car’s anonymity in appearance.
1989 STS models gained antilock brakes, further monochromatic and “Euro” exterior styling elements, and most notably, an exclusive interior featuring upgraded leather seating surfaces, armrests, and door panels, along with high-gloss burl wood trim, increased adjustments to the front sports seats, and rear bucket seats with a full center console.
Minor refinements came each year both to the regular Seville and the STS, but in many ways this was a lost cause vehicle for Cadillac, lacking acceptance and appreciation over its run, and leaving little in the way of a lasting legacy. Faced with far more criticisms than praise during and after its production span, the third generation Seville, if anything, gave Cadillac all the more reason to make its successor significantly better in every respect.
The costlier STS, which did not gain any serious performance upgrades over the standard Seville, was never a very convincing European touring sedan competitor, something only highlighted by this 1990 example’s “Phaeton Roof”. Never breaking more than 3,000 units per year, total STS production of this generation reached just 8,409 units.
While it may not be the most lambasted Cadillac of all time (I’m looking at you Cimarron), the third generation (1986-1991) Seville, specifically the 1988-1991 STS, is a top contender for the spot of least distinguished Cadillac of all time.
Photographed: Downtown Crossing, Boston, Massachusetts – November 2017
1986-1991 Cadillac Seville (GM Deadly Sin)