Pros: smooth, elegant ride, a multitude of creature comforts
Cons: some cheesy workmanship and design in out-of-sight places
I spent several years living in the Arizona desert, so one image that will never leave me is that of hundreds of little old ladies wheeling their road barges through the streets of Tucson. Come November, when the first frosts hit Detroit and Chicago and Minneapolis, a cadre of blue-haired widows would clamber into their cavernous Crown Vics, titanic Town Cars, or elephantine Electras; and motor their way south. We knew the desert tuna fleet was in when we started seeing more drivers peering from under the rim of the steering wheel than over it. Ms scmrak's cousin, a denizen of Florida these days, calls her version of the phenomenon the "Q-Tip Brigade"...
But Time has not halted its inexorable march and so I've gone the wee-est bit gray myself. I no longer drive a kidney-busting VW Beetle or a day-glo microbus: I've begun, as Rodney Dangerfield might say, to "resemble that remark" -- not, however, without protest. So it was with mixed emotions that not long ago I deposited my carcass behind the wheel of one of the quintessential land yachts, a pearl-gray four-door 2002 Cadillac DeVille.
In a five-day rental (yet another in an interminable series of Austin to Houston round trips), I added about 500 miles to that Deville's odometer; perhaps four hundred of highway driving and the remainder on the surface streets of the Bayou City. The following is my take on the vehicle, based on a week's exposure.
The Elements of Styling
The 2002 DeVille is the third model year for the current design, having been introduced in 2000. Gone are the last vestiges of those vertical-format tail lights, and with them the memory of the "tail-finned road locomotives" Cadillac hawked in the sixties. The new body is crisp and clean, with aerodynamic styling and a modern rear deck design; not dissimilar to a bulked-up version of the new Chevrolet Impala. The form is not flashy, trending more toward understatement and simplicity.
The DeVille's interior is cast in classic American luxury-car tradition: roomy and cushy. The base trim level (the one I drove) and the DHS are both six-seaters, with bench seats fore and aft (a sportier version, the DTS, seats three in the rear and two in the front). The rear seat boasts a fold-down armrest with a storage compartment and flip-out double cup-holder. The front seat converts from a bench to two separate seats, with fold-down armrest (with storage) and a seat component that separates into storage and cupholders. It's a highly refined version of the convertible center section Ford uses in its Taurus.
Interior appointments are suitably luxurious; the seats are supple rolled leather; and a (faux) walnut panel surrounds the passenger compartment. A tilt + telescope steering wheel is also wrapped in
Ahhh, the lap of luxury! Even the base-level DeVille includes such creature comforts as six-way adjustable seats (including telescoping shoulder-belt mounts), three-zone automatic climate control, power everything, AM/FM/CD/Cassette (in-dash), twin-flap sunvisors with lighted (variable-intensity) makeup mirrors, and sensor-controlled auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Storage abounds; in addition to the three console compartments in the seat system (two in front, one in back) Cadillac provides a spacious glove box with dividers and two in-door cubbyholes and map pockets in the door. The trunk is massive (large enough for six full-sized suitcases), plus some small cubbyholes in the side. A cargo net is standard, as is a pass-through in the center of the back seat large enough to accommodate two pairs of skis or a couple of two-by-fours (not a likely occurrence).
There is one power port in the front, and two more in the back seat armrests. All are alternately configured as cigarette lighters.
The Driving Experience
This is classic American luxury: a silky-smooth ride, almost decadent in its comfort. Passengers are shielded from lumpy, bumpy roads by a cushiony suspension, yet the driver still has a good connnection to the road. The ride, while smooth, does not give the feeling of "floating" over bumps that one notices in, say, the Lincoln Town Car.
Another key feature of the luxury ride is the powerful engine. That Caddy's big Northstar V8 (4.6 litre) puts out 275 horsepower for strong acceleration through the entire range of speeds. The engine, melded with a smooth four-speed overdrive automatic transmission, boasts quick acceleration from a standing start, for on-ramp merges, and for highway passing. Though powerful, the engine purrs softly at highway speeds, and yields surprising economy. Highway driving (my experience) runs at about 24 mpg, city driving is more or the order of 17. My four days of driving came in at slightly under 23 mpg for the trip. Note that the DeVille runs on regular gasoline (87 octane) instead of requiring premium like some high-performance engines.
Handling, while having nowhere near the crispness of a smaller, sportier car, is still quite good for a vehicle this size. Cornering is precise, although the turning circle is a huge 43 feet; maneuverability for parking could be a problem if you're used to a smaller vehicle. Braking is average or above, including the ABS system (which I can attest, works).
The instrument panel is 100% LED. Speed is displayed as two-inch blue numerals on a black screen, digital graphs of engine temperature and fuel reserve are shown on the sides. Smaller LED readouts give fuel range and economy stats, an odometer, and dual trip odometers. All but the central display (speedo + odometer) can be toggled off.
There's an onboard computer system, which displays at the bottom of the instrument panel. The options include instantaneous and average gas mileage, average speed, a timer, and readouts of remaining engine oil and transmission fluid life. The system also allows configuration of the alarm and door-lock system and other electronic gadgets, although not while the vehicle is in gear (smart!). The system includes sensors for ambient light and temperature, and will announce when the temperature is conducive to ice formation or if it's dark enough to turn on the headlamps (instead of merely using daytime running lamps).
The central control panel contains the usual array of climate and sound-system controls; there's a separate passenger "thermostat" on the dash and a third located on the rear of the console (for back seat passengers). The buttons and knobs are large and readable, although the gear-shift lever blocks easy access to some left-center controls from the driver's seat.
Cruise-control switches are located at the base of the steering wheel, while sound system (volume and selector) are on the right side and a temperature control and telephone switch are on the left side. All controls are lighted at night.
* Standard dual front airbags
* Optional side airbags
* Standard ABS
* Optional Night Vision thermal imaging driver assist system
* Optional ultrasonic rear parking assist system
* Standard OnStar driver assistance system
* Integrated hands-free telephone system (I'm not sure that belongs under "safety")
* Child car-seat anchors
* Lap belt / shoulder harnesses (5) and a center-front lap belt
The Plus and Minus Columns
Here's my take on the Good, the Indifferent, and the Ugly:
+ superb engine
+ virtually no engine, road, or wind noise
+ surprising gas mileage for a V8, and it uses regular
+ interior comfort
+ versatile climate control
+ steering-wheel-mounted controls (and lighted!)
+ storage, spaciousness, trunk room, rear-seat pass-through
= no major departure from big-car handling
= information overload from the onboard computer
= integrated telephone (I'm not a phone-atic like some of my friends)
= the "convertible" center front seat; though it's much better designed than that of a Taurus
= hard-to-reach dashboard controls
= fit and finish good but not great
= OnStar (though I might be more interested if there had been instructions)
- cheesy plastic used in rear armrest parts, trunk interior (broken pieces abounded)
- compact spare in a trunk well with a flimsy cover
- power ports in rear seat inaccessible to driver
The DeVille is a pricey automobile that is, for the most part, worth it: it's powerful and comfy, with a top-notch power plant. On the downside, my references indicate that the DeVille's depreciation is above average and its reliability average or below, but this is (in my opinion) par for the course for US luxury cars.
Still, this is a darned fine vehicle, and one that should keep owners happy for many years. I'm going with five stars on this one, but that's based on a limited exposure with no troubles at all. Keep your ears to the ground for news out of owners of the highly similar 2000 and 2001 models.