Review and road test of the Cadillac Seville (1998 - 2002)
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
As you ascend the pricing scale, there comes a point when a car's ability becomes largely taken for granted and what the car says about you becomes more important. This is a problem that has haunted the Cadillac Seville STS. The American giant has put so many toes in the water of the shark-infested European luxury car market that you'd expect it to nursing some rather nasty wounds. In 1998 however, Cadillac came back in a bigger way than ever before with the Seville. There's no doubt it's a good car, but then so is a Nissan QX or a Toyota Camry and would you really want to be seen stepping out of one of these at the golf club? Image talks and a used Cadillac Seville may well prove what many suspected - talk is cheap.
(4 dr saloon 4.6 petrol [STS])
The Cadillac Seville name was first used in 1956, although the modern Seville's history began in 1973 as a response to the first oil crisis. It was a full metre shorter than the Fleetwood luxury model, and ran an 'economical' 5.7-litre V8 instead of the Fleetwood's 8.2-litre guzzler. The fifth-generation Cadillac Seville hit the UK showrooms in April 1998 and was greeted by whistling wind and passing tumbleweed. Launched at the same time as the Chevrolet Corvette, Camaro and Blazer models, it was part of General Motors' programme to establish an American beachhead through twelve selected Vauxhall dealers. Sales were modest to say the least, with 127 finding new owners in the entire 1999 calendar year.
Initially it was proposed that the SLS (Seville Luxury Sedan) and STS (Seville Touring Sedan) would be introduced, but the less well-appointed SLS model was quietly dropped. The Seville STS was designed with a European market in mind, being 200mm shorter than its predecessor, and boasting the impressive 4.6-litre Northstar V8 engine, generating 300bhp which was transmitted through its front wheels. This made the Seville the world's most powerful front-wheel drive car.
The 2000 model year STS benefited from some tuning of the Northstar's engine note, changes to the cylinder head to make the car run more efficiently and also the development of 'continuously variable road-sensing suspension.' 'Active steering effort compensation' was also included, both systems aiming to reduce the chances of preoccupied American drivers spinning the Seville whilst simultaneously negotiating a 90-degree left and a supersized Philly Cheesesteak sandwich.
2001 model year cars benefited from improved steering feel, xenon headlamps, rain sensing wipers, electrically folding mirrors and the inclusion of a spectacularly powerful Bose stereo system. Official UK imports finished in early 2002.
What You Get
The interior of the Seville has come a long way from American luxury saloons most of us remember. There aren't any column shifters, rawhide seats or Routemaster-steering wheels. No, you won't feel like Boss Hogg or an extra from Shaft. There's still some pretty dubious fake wood, but on the whole, it looks remarkably like a Lexus or a big Nissan/Hyundai. Can it really steal sales from the established players?
The StabiliTrak drive dynamics system, tweaked since the Seville first arrived here, might just help. This is an active handling system intended, with traction control, to harness the 305bhp of the 4.6-litre Northstar V8 - the only engine on offer and now fitted with redesigned cylinder heads developed mainly to meet ever-tougher emissions regulations in both the USA and Europe. For the money you'd expect driver aids like this. BMW and Mercedes already offer stability systems that in extreme situations throttle the car back whilst simultaneously applying the brakes, hopefully helping the driver regain control when things get tricky.
As you'd expect from a car pitched in size and price against Jaguar's XJ8 Sovereign 4.0, BMW's 540i and Mercedes' E430, the Cadillac comes impressively equipped. The Bose 4.0 stereo system is billed as the world's most advanced - and sounds it. There's also dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated seats front and rear (!) plus an electrically adjustable steering wheel. The adaptive seating system inflates and deflates a series of ten air cushions to give a precisely tailored seat fit.
Some of the detailing is quite interesting too. Like steering wheel controls not only for the stereo but also for the air conditioning (why has no one thought of that before?) Of more dubious value is the digital compass built into the rear view mirror. Twin front and side airbags also come as part of the deal, as does the latest Bosch ABS system and a 4-speed automatic gearbox (there's no manual option).
What to Look For
The Seville is an astonishingly reliable car. With service intervals every 100,000-mile, the General Motors dealer network have no significant faults to report. When checking over a Seville look for damage to trim or minor body imperfections. In this sector of the market, such damage knocks used values hard. Your best bet will be to bag a low mileage used car from one of the approved dealers.
(approx based on a 2000 Seville STS) Whilst it would be easy to assume that for such a low volume model spares prices would be punitively expensive, that's not really the case. If you were figuring that the General Motors parts would be Vauxhall-cheap, then you'd be labouring under a similar misapprehension. Prices are on a par with class rivals. A radiator will cost around £515, an alternator just over £400 and a starter motor around £150. Front brake pads are approximately £75 a pair whilst a front headlamp costs in the region of £260.
On the Road
What the StabiliTrak stability control system has done to the Seville is to refine the concept, both by making its activation smoother and enabling the driver to power more easily out of dangerous manoeuvres. In its latest incarnation it has more heart-stopping scenarios programmed in to its electronic brain and reacts in more innovative ways to a driver's mistakes. Easy to say, harder to prove. A violent last minute lane-switch on soaking tarmac at 55mph pitches the car into a lurid sideways slide so easy to correct that you feel like Mario Andretti. Only when you do the same test with the system deactivated do you realise how small a chance you would have of avoiding an accident in an ordinary car.
StabiliTrak is an integral part of the STS Seville specification. The STS tag stands for 'Seville Touring Sedan'; a title intended to indicate the car's handling aspirations as a BMW 5 Series competitor. Many European buyers are going to take issue with that because, on a short run at least, the big Caddy feels anything but a BMW.
Clearly, the Detroit engineers have listened carefully to early European criticism. The steering, noted for being too light, now has what the boffins call "active steering effort compensation" to increase turning effort and give more feel through the steering wheel when the front wheels break traction. Better, yes, but most still would say that the driving experience is still not as involving as when piloting the German car.
You might also think that the ride is too springy after a trip round the block. Find some more challenging roads, however, and a very different picture emerges. Above 50mph, the speed-sensitive steering begins to come into its own, as does the ride. Not that you'd believe you were in anything German, or even in a Jaguar come to that. But this feeling is deceptive.
The Seville has the most absorbent ride in its class and achieves it without resorting to a suspension set-up which has more in common with a waterbed. Over dips and humps that would have an E-Class or a 5 Series taking off or smashing on its bump stops, the Cadillac cruises serenely. Don't get us wrong. Unlike say, a 540i, it's not a car you'd take for a country lane blast just for the heck of it, but over fast, undulating A or B roads, it's the most cosseting of all. The magnificent Northstar V8 engine struggles to deploy its power cleanly through the front wheels, but is still the Seville's best feature. A limp-home feature allows the car to run safely for up to 50 miles, even after total loss of oil. Service intervals of 100,000 miles should suggest that it's not a temperamental unit either.
The Seville STS makes an interesting used buy if you're after something outside the mainstream Audi-BMW-Mercedes axis. It rarely feels as accomplished as its German rivals, but it's a cheaper used bet and you'll never feel like you're going with the herd. Pursue an older model and let the previous owner swallow the cost of depreciation. With 100,000-mile service intervals and surprisingly good fuel economy, buying used is an economical way of getting behind the wheel of this generous slice of American pie.
Cadillac Seville (1998 - 2002) review by ANDY ENRIGHT