Future Curbside Classic: 2014 Cadillac XTS – How To Say Fleetwood In The 21st Century

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Cadillac sure has had a crazy roller-coaster ride in the automotive marketplace since about 1980, no? In 1980, Cadillac was still aspirational, despite the fact that BMW and Mercedes-Benz had been nipping at their hide since about 1970. But here in the heartland, Caddy (and Lincoln) was still king in 1980. But then, oh! Everything went wrong.

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In 1954, Cadillac had everyone beat by a healthy margin. Lincoln, for some strange reason, had decided to go after Oldsmobile, and the Chrysler Imperial, while nice, was just not quite as dynamic and gotta-have-it as the Caddy. Example: The 1954 Sixty Special. Spectacular!

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And the hits just kept on coming. Cadillac really was on a roll between 1938–with the debut of the Sixty Special–and 1980, the last of the non-grenading or engineering-bereft engines. Just look at that ’63 Sixty Special–who wouldn’t want one? Fins, sheer luxury and robust mechanicals. What’s not to like?

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By 1979, with the recently-downsized and fat-trimmed “traditional” Caddys, things were great. While they DID have a bit more in common with the more plebian B-body, that was really no bad thing. Now you could have your “right-sized” luxury car with all the Broughamy accoutrements, and better MPG’s to boot!

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By 1985, things had gotten, uh, complicated. Shrunken Mini-Me Caddys took the place of attractive, but unreliable bigger Caddys–and still had the rotten engines. Oh, come on! GM? What is the problem, man?! But the updated 4.5 and 4.9 liter V8s were much better, and the stretched 1989 De Villes and Fleetwoods were much improved from an aesthetic standpoint.

For those for whom even the “embiggened” 1989-up FWD models were not Broughamy enough, there was still the good ol’ Brougham (née Fleetwood Brougham) with traditional full-size RWD luxury. It lasted until 1992 and I wish you could still get a new one with dual airbags.

Fleetwood Brougham

The last of the yachts was the redesigned 1993 Fleetwood, riding on the same basic chassis as the earlier Brougham. It was still nice looking, but lost a lot of the intricate details and elegance of the 1980-92 version. It never really paid off sales-wise, and bowed out after the 1996 model year, so the Texas factory could pump out yet more Tahoe mommy-mobiles.

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That is not to say there was no worthwhile Cadillac any more; the Sedan de Ville, Eldorado and Seville were still very nice cars, but developing Northstar engine issues, particularly for those who deferred maintenance, meant that many bowed out early. Something that seldom happened with the 1986-96 Broughams and Fleetwoods with 307 Olds and 305, 350 and LT1 Chevrolet power.

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But the Nineties saw a wave of change at Cadillac. HT4100s were gone, Cimarron a distant memory, and cars that were, more and more, getting up to par with foreign competition. Not there just yet, but getting closer. The Northstar and “Caddy that zigs” Catera (how many people got fired over that dumb marketing campaign?!) added some new stumbling blocks, and then the GM mothership went ker-blooey. Not good! Now what?

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Another reboot, more or less. After emerging from bankruptcy, Cadillac became leaner and more focused. They had already made some strides prior to the 2009 meltdown with the gen2 SRX and gen2 CTS (And don’t forget the V Series!), but more new products appeared, including a small sport sedan, the ATS, the final Northstar cars phased out (2011 DTS and STS), and a new large sedan: The XTS, my current favorite new Cadillac, and the sole remaining FWD Caddy.

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The XTS appeared in 2012 as a ’13 model, and replaced both the rear wheel drive STS (ex-Seville) and front wheel drive DTS (formerly Sedan de Ville). While it shares the Epsilon II platform with the Chevrolet Impala, it is quite different, with completely different sheetmetal and interior. It’s also, in your author’s opinion, decidedly classier than even the leather-lined Impala LTZ.

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You may recall the Future CC I did last year on a 2005 Deville. While that car was more traditionally styled, you could see cost-cutting in some of the trim bits and switchgear. While most diehard lovers of Broughamy Caddys regularly pillory the “new gen” Cadillacs as ugly, stupid and unsalable, I can tell you that the XTS is quite impressive. Better yet, it feels like a Cadillac. Driving it, I felt I was driving a modern luxury car with American style–just like a man driving a new Sedan de Ville or Sixty Special did in 1964. No rip-off styling, no tackiness. Just an elegant, capable and comfortable car.

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New car rags love to bitch about the lack of soft-touch plastics, but they will be sadly unable to beat that dead horse upon reviewing this car. Everything you touch has a high quality, well-assembled feel. I am not a huge fan of TV sets touchscreens in new cars, but for what it is, it is not bad to use. This was the first car I have driven in some time with a touchscreen, and despite trying the car out in rush hour traffic, I was still able to change the radio station and adjust the temperature with a minimum of fuss.

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The doors open and shut with that W126-like solidity most folks love. Unlike some domestic luxury cars of the ’70s, the wood is real wood, and the stitching, whether on leather or vinyl, is real stitching. No injection molded fakeness here!

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This car was made available through the courtesy of McLaughlin Cadillac-Volvo-Subaru, where I have purchased both my Volvo V50 and Lincoln Town Car. I simply stopped by one day and asked my salesman, Brian, if I could try one out. “I’d like to review one as a future classic. I don’t care if it’s a brand-new one, but I’d like to see what they are like compared to the more traditional Cadillacs of the past. And, well, I’d just really love to drive one!” Brian said no problem, and shortly after I wheeled out of the dealership in a loaner in Graphite Metallic and all of 300-odd miles on the clock.

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Prior to giving me the key, Brian warned me about the car. “It might not be what you expect. They drive nothing like the older Deville and DTS. Much firmer, less floaty. They’re nice, but very different from the 2005 you drove before.” So, as much as I like the looks of these cars, I got in expecting to not like it as much as I had initially hoped.

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However, once I got on the four lane, I found myself enjoying the car very much. The 305-hp 3.6L V6 motivates the car with authority, and if that isn’t enough for you, a 410-hp twin turbo is also available. On a Cadillac! The seats were cushy yet supportive, the car was smooth and quiet, and the stereo system was excellent. I could see driving myself and a few friends out for a round of golf, followed by dinner and drinks, quite easily. I even tried out the back seat. The verdict: not 1964 Sixty-Special roomy, but very good for a 2014 automobile.

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The wreath and crest was still present, though now being phased out on 2015 models for a revised version sans wreath. At first I didn’t like the new badging at all, but it is growing on me. I still miss the “crown” and merlettes, however.

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Yes, there really is an engine under all that plastic. They even hide the battery under a cover nowadays! The 3.6 has 264 lb-ft of torque and runs through a six-speed automatic. All wheel drive is available as well.

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The car stops as well as it charges forward, with vented Brembo four-wheel discs. Magnetic ride control is another gee-whiz feature that adjusts the ride to changing road surfaces and keeps rubber to the road with a minimum of fuss, even on moon-cratered Midwestern roads. Nope, this is not your grandfather’s Cadillac. And yet, there will still be XTSs seen with fake convertible tops and gold pseudo Rolls-Royce grilles, I am sure.

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And yet, if you look, there are nods to classic Cadillacs present in the lines of this luxury sedan. Fins, for one! They actually stand proud of the rear quarter panel. It is subtle, as you don’t really notice it from twenty feet away, but standing next to it, they read Fin Era loud and clear. I also love the classic Cadillac script on the polished trim piece above the license plate.

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Out back, those vertical taillights and wreath and crest still easily make it identifiable as a Cadillac. Just as the eggcrate grille and vertical headlights (shades of 1965-68) do from up front.

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Note the fins in this shot, easily spotted from this angle. I like how this is a modern-looking car, clearly a Cadillac, clearly a luxury car, but still with multiple classic cues. It is subtle, sure, but I read them loud and clear. I wish Lincoln would try to do something similar. The new MKZ is a very attractive car, but the look really does not say “Lincoln” to me, from any angle. And no, the vaguely 1940-41 Continental-ish grille doesn’t count in my book.

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Now where was I? Oh yes, the drive. Well, Brian was right. This car does not ride like the 2005 Deville I drove, or the 1991 Seville, or the 1989 Eldorado, or the half-dozen 1989-93 Sedan de Villes I test-drove back in the late ’90s. But it is a credible modern luxury sedan. I liked it quite a bit.

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Actually, I liked it too much. Now I kind of want one, though certainly not a brand-new one! But I was impressed. It is a blend of American luxury with a lot of Audi in it. Handling was very good, and despite all the cries of “It’s FWD! It is not a true luxury sedan!” I never really got a sense of being pulled along like I do in my Volvo. It is muted. It is sedate. It is comfortable. But it will also giddy up if you so desire. I don’t even want to think about the twin-turbo variant. I am sure I would wrap it around a tree or get way too many tickets in one of those!

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This is what I mean about fit and finish. Very attractive, but functional too. And none of the fake gun stock plasti-wood you would see on a 1975 Eldorado. Hey, I love the mid-’70s Caddys, but let’s face it, there were some pretty cheesy details on them! And don’t forget the Insta-Split door panels…

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After all the years I’ve been around cars, I have always wanted a CAR. A sedan, a wagon, a coupe. I never really got excited about pickups, or SUVs (FSJ Jeep Grand Wagoneer and 1993-98 Grand Cherokee excepted), or crossovers. In addition, though I love Porsches, Ferraris, MG Bs and other sports cars, I’ve never really wanted one for myself. Other than “getting on it” once in a blue moon, I never really cared for driving fast, either.

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Maybe that’s why I like these kind of cars so much. Maybe that’s why I’ve always loved Lincolns and Cadillacs. To me, they were the best, even though I also loved the Volvos my parents drove when I was a kid. The 240 wagons were cool, and Dad’s red ’88 740 Turbo was wonderful, and I loved the Volvos I have owned myself, but…

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But. I like luxury cars. I like domestics. That’s why I bought my Town Car, why I’m considering trading the V50 for an MKZ or MKS when I’m ready for a newer car, and why I now kind of want an XTS. Why hot-rod around when the ride is so serene, the acceleration and braking so effortless, and the stereo is so fine?

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So, despite my guardedness prior to driving this car, I came away liking it even more than I had originally thought. Call me a GM fan boy if you must, or a domestic apologist. I don’t care.

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I don’t have an agenda here, I just like this car. And I’m mighty glad they still make cars like this. Enjoy the ride, my friends.

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