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2006 DTS

Overall rating:  Product Rating: 4.5

Reviewed by 5 users

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Surprising amount of improvement; new DTS compared to STS


by mkaresh:      Oct 25, 2005 - Updated Sep 3, 2006


Product Rating: 4.0 Recommended: Yes 

Pros: Smooth ride, much more refined and better behaved than the DeVille, quality interior
Cons: Automatic transmission performance, front overhang, rear seat room and comfort could be better
The Bottom Line: Much better than the DeVille, and far better than I expected. For luxury sedan buyers, a very good buy--except the new Buick Lucerne offers nearly as much for much less.


I have reposted this review because I suddenly realized that I'd originally posted under the 2006 Cadillac DeVille listing--and there is no longer a DeVille. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Six years ago, when my father was shopping for a new car, I pressured him to give the recently redesigned Cadillac DeVille a shot. In its new, performance-oriented DTS trim I figured the DeVille was the American car most likely to compare well with the Japanese and German sedans we'd also driven.

Well, he hated the car. It felt large and ungainly, the engine sounded crude, the powertrain responded slowly and then overly much to the throttle, and the amount of torque steer was unseemly. It was not among the final contenders.

Even though he's not actively seeking a replacement for the Lexus GS he bought that time around, I still like to test drive luxury sedans with my father because he's much more the target market for such cars than I am. To me, used to driving a Mazda Protege5, they all feel smooth and sound quiet.

So last year we test drove the then-new Cadillac STS. Closer, but not something he'd replace the Lexus with. The main objection: steering that isolated the driver from the car rather than connecting him to it.

That car had the standard suspension and steering system. The dealer did not have one with the optional magnetic shock suspension and ZF-supplied steering system at that time. Maybe a car so equipped would fare better?

Interested in finding out, I recently checked back with the dealer. The salesman thought my father would be even more impressed with the new DTS, which has replaced the DeVille for 2006. I was wary, remembering how far off the mark the DeVille had been, and knowing that much of the former car remained in the new one.

But, if I was going to bring my father by to look at the STS anyway, we might as well check out the DTS as well. So we drove both cars, first the DTS, then the STS V6 with 1SG Package and all-wheel-drive. The DTS was equipped with the Performance Package, which adds a slightly more powerful engine (291 vs. 275 horsepower), larger wheels (18s vs. 17s), and a firmer suspension with GM's trick Magnetic Ride Control shocks to the top-level Luxury trim.

Styling

The DTS looks much like the DeVille, but with redesigned front and rear ends. Both are improvements over the old ones. I never cared for the weakly-shaped headlamps on the DeVille. The first vertically-stacked headlamps in recent memory on a Cadillac, their quarter-circular shape suggested that the designers weren't quite sure of this direction. In contrast, like those on all Cadillacs since that DeVille the headlamps on the DTS are unabashedly vertical. As a result, the new front end makes a much clearer, stronger, and more elegant statement.

I had fewer issues with the rear end on the old car, but the thinner tail lamps on the DTS also make a stronger, more elegant statement. A thing chrome strip at the bottom of the trunk lid completes the look. Especially in black this is a sharp car when viewed fromt he rear quarter.

My father stood in the showroom looking back and forth between a DTS and an STS. He felt there wasn't much difference in appearance between the two. I disagreed. The proportions of the DTS are the same as those of the DeVille, and so it continues to have a more American appearance than the STS. There's less rake to the body, with a more level beltline, and a relatively large rear fender. And, as on the great majority of front-wheel-drive cars, the front wheel opening is set near the rear edge of the front fender. This yields a large amount of front overhang, and the headlamps do not wrap around to disguise said overhang. This is by far my least favorite aspect of the DTS' appearance. On the STS the wheel opening is further forward, giving the car a stronger stance and better proportions.

Though the DeVille had a handsome interior, the DTS' is much better, the best from GM yet. The design is thoroughly international, the materials are first-rate, and the variety of surfaces entertains both the eye and the hand. I especially like the rich wood trim (included on the top-line Luxury and Performance models) and the soft perforated leather (or a vinyl that feels much like leather) on the door panels. Though not on the car we drove, two premium grades of leather are available. Judging from the rich look and feel of similar leather optional in the Lexus LS, either is likely worth the extra cost.

Most impressive of all, the interior's pieces all fit together tightly and precisely. This was supposedly a goal established by GM Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz, one the team clearly succeeded in achieving. Examine the wood trim that circles the center stack, and you'll find a very even, barely there gap between it and the gray plastic panels it surrounds. Check the gap between the door panels and instrument panel, one especially hard to get right, and you'll find that it's unusually small and perfectly even. This was well beyond the capabilities of GM in the past, and apparently remains beyond the capabilities of most manufacturers.

In comparison, the interior of the more expensive STS is a half-step behind, with less even (though also generally high) materials quality and larger, slightly less even gaps between parts.

Accommodations

The driving position in the DTS is a bit higher than in the average luxury sedan, affording a very good view forward despite wide A-pillars. The instrument panel curves away from the front seat, minimizing its perceived bulk and opening up the interior. Visibility in other directions is adequate.

You'll feel relatively buried in the less roomy STS, with its BMW-like driving position, more massive instrument panel, and taller center console.

In both cars the steering wheel's power tilt adjuster moves too quickly, making precise adjustment difficult.

The DTS' front seats are moderately soft but well-shaped. Unlike in older American luxury cars, you don't just sink into an amorphous pile of foam. In the passenger seat I felt a bit too much pressure from a bulge midway along the right thigh bolster, such that I checked to make sure I wasn't sitting on something. But I felt no such pressure point in the driver's seat, so either I got used to their shape or I wasn't positioning myself the same way in both seats. My father had no such issues. Lateral support is minimal, but then the DTS, even in Performance trim, clearly isn't a car for charging hard down a curvy road.

The front seats in the STS are far firmer, perhaps in an attempt to out-German the Germans. Their cushions are also overly flat. As a result, we both felt we were considerably less comfortable in the front seats of that car.

Though roomier than that of the STS, the rear seat of the DTS is still tighter than I expected. Unlike in a number of large sedans these days, my knees were within a couple inches of the front seatbacks. If tall people are in the front seats (my father and I aren't) expect knee room to be marginal for adult rear seat passengers.

The rear seat is decently shaped, but far from the most comfortable I've sampled. Those in the large Lexus and BMW are more cosseting. A seat cushion higher off the floor, as in the BMW, would provide better thigh support. Also, unless the DTS' front seats are raised there isn't enough room beneath them for the rear passengers' feet. A common issue with luxury cars, but an issue nonetheless.

The top-line Luxury and Performance models include massaging front seats and four-way power lumbar adjusters and heaters in the rear seats. A good car for long trips.

On the Road

Cadillac's Northstar V8 hasn't gained a significant amount of power since it was introduced thirteen years ago. (Was it really thirteen years ago? My how time flies...) So it's hardly the stand-out performer it once was. Back in 1993, when the 295-horsepower Northstar was introduced, the most powerful Accord engine produced 140 horsepower, and even the V6 in a Nissan Maxima SE produced "only" 190. This year, you can get a 244-horsepower V6 in the Accord, and a 265-horsepower six powers the Maxima.

Still, 291 horsepower remains a healthy amount. Flooring the DTS' accelerator from a dead stop easily smokes the front tires and yields strong acceleration. On the other hand, acceleration at moderate speeds is a bit weak.

The fault rests not with the engine but the transmission. Said transmission has four widely-spaced ratios and resists kicking down into a gear that would get the engine anywhere near its powerband. The regular (non-variable valve) Northstar continues to need at least 4,000 RPM to truly come alive, and the transmission likes to keep it in the 3,000 to 4,000 range. A responsive six-speed automatic could do wonders for this car.

The DTS' engine note is considerably more refined than that in the DeVille. The 320-horsepower Northstar in the STS, which benefits from variable valve timing, is louder and more aggressive-sounding. I preferred this, but my father did not. He thought the STS engine sounded strained. A Lexus V8 remains quieter and the noise it does make remains more sophisticated, but at least with the DTS the difference is much smaller than before.

Flooring the accelerator in the DeVille unsettled the front end and jerked the steering wheel about, so I expected similar misbehavior in the DTS. But I found not even a hint of it. Even dipping deep into the gas pedal in turns failed to elicit a tug from the steering wheel. My father didn't think he could tell which wheels were being driven. Impressive.

The Performance Package suspension is firmer than that in the regular DTS, but its still not quite up to sport sedans levels. The car feels a bit on the loose side in quick transitions. But once through the initial touch of squishiness the suspension firms up and holds the line through a turn well, with good balance for a front-drive sedan and moderate lean. I certainly expected far more understeer in hard turns. Perhaps more importantly, the DTS reacts naturally to steering inputs, so I had no trouble adapting to the large size of the car. From the driver's seat it feels smaller than it is. Not quite agile, but getting there.

Though the STS was fitted with a ZF steering system much like that used in up-level BMW sedans, I actually preferred the steering in the DTS. While still not a paragon of communication, the steering in the DTS gains effort more naturally as it is turned and has a less insulated, lighter feel to it.

I kept reminding my father than this was Cadillac's equivalent of the Lincoln Town Car. He wasn't buying it. He rents a car to get from the airport to my house, and this time got a Ford Five Hundred. Ford's idea of a large car for its traditional customers, it's far squishier than the DTS.

As might be expected given its looser handling, the DTS with its sport suspension rides much more smoothly than the STS with its sport suspension. The edges are taken off road imperfections, and even larger bumps are absorbed well. A Lexus LS or large European sedan has an even more composed ride, but the difference isn't nearly what it was. More significant, especially from the passenger seat I felt a small amount of quivering in the DTS' structure, indicating that its still not as solid as the best European sedans. This isn't much of a surprise, as the DTS' 4,000-pound curb weight hundreds of pounds under that of similarly-large European cars. The STS does better in this regard.

The DTS rides silently over many road surfaces, especially under 50 miles-per-hour, but road noise intrudes on some. Noises have a more muffled quality in a Lexus. Despite laminated side glass, tire noise from other, nearby cars was evident on the highway.

Cadillac DTS Price Comparisons and Pricing

Prices, because they change frequently and can include many variables, are also handled through my site. With TrueDelta, you do not need to select trim lines or option packages to price a DTS. It is also the only site that provides true "apples to apples" price comparisons, with adjustments for feature differences.

The STS offers most options only as part of large packages, making price comparisons tricky. With sunroofs and performance suspensions on both cars, the DTS has a nearly $8,000 advantage. Adjusting for the STS' additional features cuts this gap to about $5,000.

The regular DTS is a closer match to the Town Car. The two cars are priced within a couple hundred dollars, but the Cadillac comes more heavily equipped, such that after adjusting for features it is about $2,600 less, even though it carries no rebate and the Lincoln currently has a $2,500 rebate. As I see it, this is an easy choice.

Compared to the Lexus LS, the DTS with Performance Package lists for about $6,000 less. Adjusting for equipment differences widens the gap to nearly $9,000.

On the other hand, the new 2006 Buick Lucerne CXS has much the same engine, suspension, and tires as the DTS, and costs about $11,000 less even after accounting for feature differences.

Prices change frequently, and differences will vary based on feature level. To quickly generate these and other comparisons with the specific features you want, visit my Web site, www.truedelta.com. (It's the only site that provides true "apples-to-apples" price comparisons.)

TrueDelta's page for the DTS:

http://www.truedelta.com/models/DTS.php

Last Words

Though still not my kind of car--I more enjoyed driving the sportier STS--the new DTS is a substantial improvement over the DeVille, and a far better car than I expected it to be. For people seeking a premium-brand luxury sedan it could well be the best value, as it costs much less than the imported competition, and even than the Lincoln Town Car once its higher content is accounted for.

The DTS' strongest competition comes from in-house in the form of the new Buick Lucerne. I hope to test drive one soon to see how it stacks up.

Of my three main issues with the DTS, the front overhang cannot readily be fixed. The rear seat could be redesigned more easily; I recommend a more cosseting shape when GM freshens the car in two to three years. Finally, the four-speed automatic is likely to be replaced by a six-speed in the next year or two. Especially after that change this will be a strong contender among luxury sedans.

In the end, my father far preferred the DTS to the STS. Seems he's getting old, despite driving a Mazda RX-8 most of the time lately. It also seems that, for once, a salesman was more insightful than I was, as we only drove the DTS in the first place at his insistence. Good call.

A Note on Cadillac DTS Reliability

I cannot practically cover reliability within the context of this review. However, many people are interested in such information, so I've started collecting my own data. Results, once they are available, will be posted to my site, www.truedelta.com, with updates every three months.

Unlike other sources, TrueDelta will clearly identify what difference it will make if you buy a DTS rather than another vehicle by providing "times in the shop" and "days in the shop" stats (among others). You will be able to specify the number of years, annual miles, and types of repairs to include in Cadillac DTS reliability comparisons.

Before I can report results, I need data on all cars--not just the DTS--from people like you. To encourage participation, those who help provide the data will receive free access to the site's reliability information. For non-participants, this access will cost $24.95.

For the details, and to sign up, visit www.truedelta.com.

A link to this website and alphabetized links to my other vehicle reviews can be found on my profile page.

If you're an Epinions member, and you want to receive an email alert from Epinions when I post a new review, click here.

Some of my reviews of related vehicles:
2000 Cadillac DeVille DTS review
Buick Lucerne review
Cadillac STS review
Lexus LS 430 review
Product Rating: 4.0
Recommended: Yes 

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