- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

There’s an old adage that says you should always dance with the one what brung ya.

It also applies to automobile manufacturers, who do everything they can to appeal to new customers, but who should never forget the devotees who got them to where they are.

Cadillac is a case in point. It became “the standard of the world” by appealing to wealthy older folks, and even to some younger buyers who wanted to tell the world they had arrived on the upper rungs of the success ladder.

But as the automobile industry became ever more diverse and dynamic, as did the population, the old formula did not work as well as it had before.

Where Cadillac once ruled the luxury roost in the United States, it lost to usurpers from foreign lands: BMW, Acura, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Volvo, Audi, Infiniti and Jaguar, as buyers sought high performance to go with the luxury appointments.

Somewhat belatedly, Cadillac joined the parade. Moving away from a lineup of mostly staid front-drive sedans, it crafted Escalade SUVs out of existing GM trucks, and introduced the XLR sports car, the SRX crossover wagon and new performance-oriented rear-drive sedans — the CTS and the newer STS.

There was irony in the transition. Back in the 1980s, when GM decreed that virtually all of its cars would convert to front-wheel drive to enhance packaging and fuel economy, Cadillac had to wean its long-standing customers away from rear drive and into front-drive cars. But ever-powerful engines in performance sedans dictated a return to rear-wheel drive, which handles power better than front drive. Now Cadillac is moving in the opposite direction.

But wait. You can’t forget the folks who brought you to the dance. So Cadillac is continuing one big car with front-wheel drive for its traditional customers. For 2006, it is called the DTS, in keeping with the company’s move toward letter designations for all its automobile models. For some unknown reason, luxury car buyers like letters and numbers better than names.

That means the De Ville name has gone to that great automobile graveyard in the desert. It’s a shame because it has graced some of the finest Cadillacs since 1949, when it first appeared. The cars were designated either Sedan de Ville or Coupe de Ville, but last year it was simply the De Ville, which makes no sense linguistically or grammatically. Over the years, Cadillac has produced more than 6 million De Villes.

The new DTS is the largest car in the Cadillac lineup, though nowhere near as large as the behemoths of the mid-1970s. It is large in today’s context, which means somewhere around the DTS’s 105 cubic feet of passenger room, with 19 cubic feet of stash space in the trunk.

That’s big enough to cosset four persons in plush comfort, although the fifth center-rear position, as usual, is shortchanged. In the back seat, there’s also a shortage of toe space beneath the front seats. For the die-hard traditionalists, Cadillac also offers the option of a bench seat up front, which allows the DTS to carry six.

Though the basic passenger pod is similar to that of last year’s De Ville, the new DTS has been spiffed up with the same aggressive styling as the CTS and STS models. There’s a massive egg-crate grille up front, with a big Cadillac badge in the middle, flanked by xenon high-discharge headlights stacked vertically. Out back, all of the lights use light-emitting diodes, which light up faster than bulbs.

There are four versions of the DTS: three trim levels with the 275-horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 engine, and the performance version with the same engine but tweaked to deliver 291 horsepower. Prices range from $41,990 for the base model to $50,490 for the performance option with all the goodies.

Only one transmission is offered: A tried-and-true GM four-speed automatic, which works well enough but puts the DTS on the short end of the comparison charts. Competitors offer five-, six- and even seven-speed automatics these days.

On the road, the DTS offers about everything anyone looking at this class of car could want. Cruising is quiet and serene, with little wind or road noise coming through to the passengers. The luxury appointments are first rate, even on the versions with fake wood trim. With the real wood trim and lumbar supports that massage the lower back, it becomes positively sensuous.

The performance package has a somewhat tighter suspension system, which marginally helps the handling but delivers a slightly stiffer ride. The 16 extra horses are noticeable only if you drive the 291 version side-by-side with the 275-horsepower car.

In truth, DTS customers likely will be quite happy with any of the other three packages. The differences among them are confined to levels of equipment, but all of them offer competent handling on curving roads, a comfortable ride and plenty of power off the line. Cadillac says the zero-to-60 mph time for the 291-horsepower version is 6.9 seconds, with the 275-horsepower car a half-second slower.

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