There was a time, Cadillac’s marketers would have you believe, when this uniquely American marque set the standard for automotive luxury the world over. Personally, I find this difficult to believe. Until the economic globalization of auto culture began in the 1960s, “the world” of automobiles was essentially European on the one side of the Atlantic Ocean and North American on the other. And much as they might admire Yankee ingenuity and brash self-confidence, Europeans have always had a decidedly different interpretation of what constitutes luxury not only in their cars, but in any object, sentiment, or behavior.
It is a bit of a non sequitur, then, for Cadillac to propose that its impressive Seville Touring Sedan (STS) is poised to recapture the world standard for automotive excellence that its cars once defined. I do not think that Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, Mercedez-Benz, or BMW (not to mention such de luxe but departed automakers as Hispano-Suiza, Talbot-Lago, Bugatti, and so forth) ever seriously considered emulating whatever standard the early-era Cadillacs presumed to bear. This is not to deny that the ’98 Seville STS is an exceptional car. Indeed, it is in many ways unique in this world. But in this age of rampant commercial hyperbole, it bears remembering that “unique” and “idiosyncratic” can easily strike poses as two faces of the same coin.
The list of remarkable features embodied within the ’98 STS is long and legitimate. What’s not new but remains particularly admirable is the famed twin-cam V8, dubbed Northstar, that muscles out 300 velvety-smooth horsepower. The engine offers just enough guttural exhaust note to evoke distinctly primal pleasures, but it’s now so quiet at idle that Cadillac has disabled the starter motor after the engine is running so that drivers won’t unwittingly reattempt ignition. Much is made of this motor’s thoroughbred performance potential; just as impressive, if not more so, is its ability to persevere 100,000 miles between tune-ups and to endure up to 50 miles in “limp-home mode” even after total loss of engine coolant.
The Seville’s deftly massaged exterior sculpture is new, though it poses as traditional: Less angular and notchy than its predecessor, the flowing curves of the ’98 model still preserve the athletic, slightly predatory poise that has earned this car its loyal following. The car cuts a bold, uncompromising figure on the road, quite unlike its more lacy, courtly rivals from Europe and Japan. If this is a world car, its silhouette at any rate challenges world taste rather than capitulates to it.
By far, however, the most distinctive and novel aspect of the world-class Seville is its reliance upon nay, exultation in electromechanical wizardry. StabiliTrak circuitry monitors steering and driver action/reactions to keep the vehicle on course during evasive or panic maneuvers. The Continuously Variable Road Sensing Suspension (CVRSS) provides nearly infinite and instantaneous adjustments of shock dampers to match ride quality to road conditions and driving style. Meanwhile, the Integrated Chassis Control System (ICCS) constantly updates the air-shock absorber settings of the four-wheel independent suspension to counteract sideways body roll, nose-dive under braking, and rear “squat” when accelerating hard.
Third-generation Magnasteer speed-sensitive steering gives the STS perhaps the most responsive steering feel dare I say it? in the world. Employing much the same technology used to “levitate” bullet trains, Magnasteer III effects minute variations of an electromagnetic field to “tighten” or “loosen” steering feel as conditions merit. But the cyber-jewel of the whole package is Cadillac’s proprietary Performance Algorithm Shifting (PAS) technology, which, in a nutshell, keeps driver, motor, and transmission in near-perfect synchronicity. In other words, PAS ensures the proper up- or down-shift at the right moment (and right into the sweet spot of the powerband), according to whatever road conditions or driver habits require. Because PAS integrates feedback from the aforementioned suspension/steering systems, you can actually feel the transmission anticipate an upcoming corner, downshift upon hard braking, then snick back up through the gears as you wind ’er out down the straightaway.
Acronyms invade the cockpit too. To the $47,000 base price, an optional Adaptive Seat Package adds $1,202 for hospital-derived technology in the form of “feedback-adjusted” air cells in the front seats. When the driver and passenger sit down, 10 cells in each seat inflate according to the preferences of the sitter. Then, every four minutes, the cells deflate or inflate in tiny increments to accommodate inevitable fidgets.
A hero of a Bose 4.0 stereo system combines active EQ, eight-channel digital architecture, a single in-dash CD player, an optional six-CD console deck, and Radio Data System (RDS) radio reception. Although broadcasters have yet to make it the industry standard, RDS is purportedly the “next big thing”: It enables a car radio to seek stations based on format (country, talk radio, etc.). Scrolls of ticker-tape text detailing traffic or weather conditions are also part of the RDS future.
Another “world-class” attribute of the Seville’s interior makes a special impression, and the press materials say it all: “The 1998 Seville has a class-leading 19 specific storage areas 14 more than the 1997 Seville.” Indeed, there are custom-sized cubbies for tissues, checkbook wallet, DayTimer, Thomas Guide map book, cell-phone dock, writing pad you get the idea. Cadillac makes a special point of noting that “the driver has more than 14 liters of storage space within his or her reach, compared with the 7 liters provided by a BMW 740i.”
Aye, there’s the rub. With its liters of cubbies, reams of acronyms, and panoply of focus-group-derived, democratically selected goodies and gadgets, the Seville is a marvel of integrated engineering and of agglomerative taste. Like a giant, self-propelled Swiss Army Knife, the Cadillac Seville attempts to proffer everything for everybody at any time. Suddenly, “world-class” takes on a new meaning: every conceivable feature and device...in the world...in one car. The Cadillac may well have succeeded in besting its rivals at this game but what if those rivals were playing an entirely different game? Maybe, for example, BMW isn’t too concerned with its scanty 7 liters of arm’s-length storage.
If for no other reason, the Seville is a world-class car simply because Cadillac says so: The Seville is being exported, in right- and left-hand drive versions, to some 40 countries. The most intriguing irony of all, however, is that underneath all the features and gadgets, bells and whistles, this is an all-American car endowed with a tremendous reserve of all-American brio, self-confidence, and nerve. Buyers in the U.S. and elsewhere who are looking for a cosmopolitan car that defines a new world standard will undoubtedly be disappointed by aspects of Seville’s interpretation. But those preferring the essence of America’s technical know-how, its feisty spirit, and its swaggering, more-is-better view of the world will find the Seville most civilized indeed.
If they're coming, we must build it
Middle Tennessee continues to blossom as a market for premium car brands. On Tuesday, the general contracting firm Carden Company hosted a foundation-pouring ceremony for the new Gary Force Acura showroom, to open this winter in Westgate Commons near CoolSprings. According to general manager Benny Dotson, the dealership will transfer all Acura sales and service operations from its current location near Hickory Hollow Mall to the new 35,000-square-foot facility. “We’ve outgrown our existing showroom,” he says. “It’s just that simple.” The new building will incorporate a two-story, circular showroom enclosed in a glass atrium.
Concerning plans for the existing showroom, Dotson will tease but not commit. “You’ll just have to watch. There are a lot of things up our sleeve that oughta shake up the Nashville car market just a little bit.” Meanwhile, adding to the apparent luster of the upscale auto scene are the new BMW facility nearing completion next to 100 Oaks Mall and the new Lexus facility, which will share a Westgate Commons address with the Acura showroom.
Hit the road running
Now that the dust has settled in the aftermath of Nissan’s whirlwind road show of new models for ’99 and beyond, this much seems clear: Nissan is at once embattled and emboldened in an international fight for survival. In the midst of stops in Detroit, New York, and Los Angeles, Nissan’s road show rolled into Smyrna for a morale-boosting detour. During the event’s presentation, notable for warts-and-all candor, Nissan officials issued “welcome to our future” salutations by unveiling a bevy of new models both to the press and to Nissan assembly plant workers.
“We’re going to start doing our job,” admitted Nissan division general manager Mike Seergy to the throng of plant workers, “to ensure that your next day off is one you choose.” The prevailing mood of mea culpa among Nissan’s executives reflected a bold admission of management’s responsibility for Nissan’s sorry straits. Certainly, the plant workers deserve little blame: For the fifth year in a row, Nissan’s Smyrna plant has been judged “the most productive automotive assembly facility in North America,” according to the industry’s influential Harbour Report.
The new-model unveilings did much to inspire certain high hopes for the struggling automaker. Most notable on the immediate horizon was the ’99 Frontier 4x4 pickup with new V6 power. More exciting yet was the glimpse of an all-new (and as-yet unnamed) mini-SUV based on the Frontier and due in 2000. Featuring unique, stepped floor- and roof-lines, as well as an especially versatile roof-rack and removable-bin storage system, the new SUV is Nissan’s better-late-than-never bid for a so-called “entry-level” sport/ute. A new four-door version of the Frontier compact truck is also slated for model year 2000, as are significant “freshenings” of the stalwart Sentra, Altima, and Maxima sedans.
By far, however, a trio of concept vehicles stole the road show. A fashionably ungainly “sport/utility truck” (SUT) incorporated an enclosed cabin with a rear fifth door/hatch that opens onto a short pickup bed. A “New Concept Sedan” morphed sedan, minivan, and wagon cues into a bona fide Jetson-mobile. But the “Z Concept” cheered the crowd most of all: Its clever renaissance of the Datsun 240Z mystique is eminently modern, racy, and compact. Better yet, its appearance, and those of its sibling concepts, are said to be imminent before too much of the 21st century rolls by.
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