Future Curbside Classic And Driving Impression: 2005 Cadillac Deville – Nice Car, But Is It A Cadillac?

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I am glad GM went bankrupt. Why? Because it seemed to be the only thing that enabled them to get their act together after stumbling around since about 1985. I like GM cars. I mean, come on, I even did a post defending the shrunken 1986 Toronado! But they seemed to lose their way–misjudging the market, letting their car lines atrophy while concentrating on short-term SUV profits in the early ’90s, designing fuel efficient engines that were efficient, if sometimes less than robust (I’m looking at you, Cadillac HT4100!)–take your pick. But today’s Cadillacs are nice. The XTS is drool-worthy to me, the ATS is a nice mini-CTS (don’t call it Cimarron II, please!) and the new ’14 CTS is another worthy luxury car. But it took a while for Cadillac to re-find its mojo, and the 2000-05 Deville/DHS/DTS came about during a time of confusion for the mammoth U.S. automaker.

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1991 Sedan de Ville

I like Cadillacs. I like Lincolns too, as well as Chrysler New Yorkers, Electras, Ninety-Eight Regencys and other big, plush, silent cruisers. Always have, always will. My recent purchase of a 2000 Town Car Cartier was the fulfillment of a long-term desire to have an American luxury car. Back in the late ’90s, I test drove quite a few Caddys and Lincolns, thinking about getting one. I was particularly enamored of the 1989-93 Sedan de Ville. The neighbors had a new one when I was 11 or so–a ’91 SDV in Academy Gray with silver lower section and dove gray leather.

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1993 Coupe de Ville

True, they were front-wheel drive, but they still were clearly Cadillacs. From the imposing grille, to the vertical taillights and finlets, they oozed luxury.

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1991 Sedan de Ville interior

Especially inside. The seating was first rate, especially in the leather-bound edition. Much detailing was evident, from the seat sew style, to the plush carpet, to the digital dash and power assists–even the chrome window and door lock buttons were well done.

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1991 Coupe de Ville

I drove at least two Academy Gray ’93 SDVs, one of which had dark red leather. The gray over red one I drove at Bob Eriksen Chevrolet was the best! I also drove a light beige ’93 SDV with a dark brown fake convertible top that croaked two blocks from the dealership. I locked it, walked back to the showroom, gave the embarrassed salesman the key, told him where it was, and left.

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1991 Coupe de Ville front seat

But I still liked these cars; I drove probably six or eight of them, and all were comfy cruisers. I also drove a Garnet Red ’89 Eldo and Polo Green ’91 Seville that were also nice–if lacking in the presence the Coupe and Sedan de Villes had.

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1991 Coupe de Ville back seat

Just look at all the nice details, like the lavaliere strap and mini-wreath and crest on the courtesy light. There were even Cadillac emblems on the seat belt buckles. From the seats, to the dash, to that wonderful chrome-plated wreath and crest on the hood leading the way, you knew you were in a Cadillac, the pride of the GM fleet. Was it a 1953 Sixty Special? Of course not, but what 1990-93 model automobile was?

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1999 Deville

In 1994 the Coupe de Ville was gone, and the Sedan de Ville simply became the Deville. The 1994-96 model looked a bit zaftig with its enclosed rear wheels, but I liked them–they reminded me of the 1993-96 Fleetwoods, which were right up there with a new Town Car in my dream garage. In 1997 the rear wheels were opened up and a nose job was done, improving the looks.

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And then, after a long line of chrome-bedecked, true blue (albeit FWD) Caddys, in the fall of 1999 traditional Cadillac buyers were greeted with this. Now I know up to this point I seem to have been building up to a Niedermeyeresque GM Deadly Sin explosion, but you may be somewhat disappointed. For as a then-college student I was very interested in this new Cadillac. I remember seeking out the literature and keeping in touch with a salesman at McLaughlin Cadillac-Olds, wanting to see the first one that came in.

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The first one was a black DTS, and I was greeted with this nose upon pulling my 1991 Volvo into the dealer lot. Well, it certainly looked like a Cadillac from the front! DTSs (replacing the Deville Concours) and DHSs (replacing the 1997-99 Deville D’Elegance) got a grille-mounted wreath and crest, but standard Devilles got the good old stand-up version.

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Those slick, oh-so-slim taillights of the 1989-99 model were replaced with less sharp (literally and figuratively) units, reminding me more of the Town Car. The CHMSL built into the trunk lid looked pretty cool, however.

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Up until this point the Deville had been the sole holdout for traditional Cadillac looks, with the beautiful Seville “greyhound” model of 1992 being much more international in flavor–but still every inch a Cadillac. The 1992-and-up Eldorado was also quite fresh and modern, though perhaps more formal than the Seville and sportier STS. Catera? Bah, let us not speak of that. The 2000 Deville finally came into the modern era, quite appropriate for the new decade. Indeed, they still look contemporary today, fourteen years after they first appeared in Cadillac showrooms.

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But were they still a Cadillac? I recently pondered that question when I test drove a 2005 Deville with 74K for my sister’s in-laws. Vicki saw my Town Car on Thanksgiving Day and went nuts: “Oh wow what a beautiful car! It’s so nice! If you ever find something this nice in a Cadillac, let me know!” Apparently their bright red 1992-97 vintage Seville was getting on in years, and she was looking to perhaps surprise Kenny with a nicer, more recent model.

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So I went down to McLaughlin to look at this promising 2005 model, in Cashmere with Neutral Shale leather. It was in great shape, with only a door ding by the driver’s door handle and a couple of chips on the passenger-side rear quarter panel marring its finish. Now keep in mind I have been driving this car’s main competitor, a Town Car, for a month and a half. And I had not driven a Cadillac newer than a 1993, with the exception of a 2003 CTS about five years ago.

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Driving impressions? Well, it was nice. It was comfortable, and I kind of liked the digital dash, though it’s not to everyone’s taste. I REALLY liked that hood ornament out in front! It felt much narrower than my Lincoln (the TC is 78.2″, the Deville 74.5″ but it felt much more pronounced to me), but at the same time more European in handling and acceleration–almost as if you’d combined my Volvo V50 and my Town Car into one vehicle! Of course it is FWD unit-construction and the Lincoln is RWD body-on-frame, which probably accounts for the differences in driving dynamics. The Deville and DHS version of the Northstar had 275-hp, with the DTS getting 300. Even with 74K, this car was no slouch.

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My reaction to the interior was a bit mixed. The window controls and many of the dash controls looked like they came off an Impala, but the wood was pretty, and I loved the chrome door handles; their shape looked like something you’d see in an art exhibition. And this car had heated and cooled seats, and–get this–a heated steering wheel. I did not try out the cooled seats (it was 30 degrees out), but the heated steering wheel was very nice.

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So, the car looked good, drove nice, and the price was very reasonable. A shoe-in, right? But I couldn’t recommend it to Vicki, as the original owner was a smoker, and despite the car being fully detailed and vacuumed, it still smelled like an ashtray inside. It wasn’t that bad, but was impossible to ignore, and a deal breaker. Pity, it was a really nice car otherwise.

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Guess I’ll just have to keep looking for her; oh darn, I’ll have to drive several more Cadillacs, what a shame!

Nope, these weren’t bad cars, but I think the XTS is more Cadillac-like, inside and out. I still miss the little Cadillac crests on the seatbacks that used to be on the ’80s models, though…

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