Vintage Review: 1980 Cadillac Seville Diesel – “Seems To Serve Little Purpose Other Than To Force The Rich Go Slumming In Truck Stops”

Car magazines from back in the day tend to get stereotyped, with Road & Track commonly being called out for being very anti-Detroit. Well, it wasn’t quite as simple as that, as they had their set of criteria against which all cars were judged, and that tended to favor smaller cars and ones with good dynamic qualities which inherently favored smaller cars and imports. And they generally looked down on styling excesses. So one might assume they would excoriate this Diesel Seville.

Not so; they were a whole lot gentler on its styling than I was in one of my more acerbic GM Deadly Sins. Or is “acerbic” too weak a word? Not to worry; it’s not like R&T didn’t point out some significant shortcomings, most of all its sluggish acceleration (0-60 in 21 seconds), mediocre fuel economy (17.5 mpg) and noisy engine. So the title quote refers specifically to its standard diesel engine. Why bother?

R&T just didn’t get the point of a diesel Cadillac. Why put up with all of the shortcomings when the whole point of a Cadillac is to go wafting down the highway effortlessly and ever-so quietly? At least the gen1 Seville diesel they tested in 1978 still had somewhat acceptable acceleration (0-60 in 15.7 seconds). What happened?

Supposedly the 1980 emission standards were blamed by GM for the reason the Olds 5.7 diesel V8 lost almost 20% of its none-too ample power that year, dropping from 125hp in 1979 to 105hp in 1980. But curiously, all the Mercedes diesels actually increased their power in 1980, with the 240D going from 62 to 67 hp, the 300D from 77 to 83 hp, and the 300SD from 110 to 120 hp. Hmm…

The result was unfortunate. The Olds 5.7 diesel V8 was born with some inherent weaknesses that would soon doom it, but its performance was one of the brighter aspects, with 0-60 times of 15 to 17 seconds typical, depending on the weight of the vehicle.  That was quicker than just about any other diesel, with the exception of the turbocharged Mercedes 300D/SD. Now it struggled, and not just in getting on that freeway ramp. Highway cruising where there were grades, even fairly mild ones,  resulted in downshifts, with considerable engine noise, quite out of character for a Cadillac, even in 1980. And of course all this struggling with the 4255lbs of the Seville resulted in the mediocre fuel economy average of 17.5 mpg.

Of course R&T couldn’t foresee that the Seville’s engine travails were only to get worse, as in 1980 the quite satisfactory Olds 350 gas V8 and the Cadillac 368 V8 were both available, but they would fall by the wayside for the underwhelming 4.1 HT V8 and the Buick V6. And the fact that this generation of Seville sold some 40-50% less than the previous one.

R&T points out that Cadillac was clearly chasing the diesel Mercedes, which dominated the brand at this time of Peak Diesel, making the 5.7 diesel standard in the Seville whereas it cost $974 extra on other Cadillac models. Given the emasculated engines performance and economy, R&T suggests that “it seems to serve little purpose other than to force the rich to go slumming at truck stops”.

R&T agrees that the Seville’s new styling is “extremely controversial which in itself is most refreshing in these days of look-alike and forgettable cars”. True that, depending on your preference in refreshments. And you thought cars all look alike today? It’s a perpetual problem, since forever. So yes, the Seville stood out, for better or for worse.

The interior appointments were of course sybaritic, with all the comfort and power items available at the times. As to handling, obviously it suffered from being biased heavily to comfort and silence, at the expense of tight handling. Still, it was deemed to be “a fairly agile car, and much more so than its predecessor”. With 63% of its weight on the front wheels, understeer was of course strong when pushed harder into curves. But who was going to do that with a Seville? Nobody bought these borderline pimp-mobiles to drive fast down a curvy road.

In summation, the Seville had the usual Cadillac qualities of luxury and comfort, but lacked performance, smoothness of operation and silence. That’s not a passing grade, and that leaves aside the issue of its controversial styling.


Related CC reading:

Curbside Classic: 1980-1985 Cadillac Seville – GM’s Deadly Sin No. 17 – From Halo To Devil’s Pitchfork

Automotive History: 1978 Oldsmobile 5.7L Diesel V8 – GM’s Deadly Sin #34 – Premature Injeculation

Curbside Classic: 1980-85 Cadillac Seville – Context Is Everything

Curbside Classic: 1985 Cadillac Seville – I Just Don’t Care