Cadillac’s first attempt at selling a car officially in the UK and boy did it backfire! However, look beyond the stigma of America trying to sell one of their notorious land yacht’s over here in Europe, and you’ll find perhaps one of the best executive saloon cars of the late 1990’s.
Prior to the Seville STS, Cadillac never sold any of its products officially here in Britain. The company was earning enough money to get by on the domestic market and the land yachts of the 70’s and early 80’s were nowhere near suitable for the UK road network. Big, gaudy and infamous for their poor build quality, trying to sell a big Caddy in Europe, let alone the UK, would’ve been an act of corporate suicide; not that Cadillac were strangers to that concept with their woeful Cimarron.
However, the Fuel Crises of the 1970’s, coupled with the advent of European and Japanese equivalents that introduced unparalleled build quality and performance with much more restrained dimensions resulted in the days of Cadillac’s decadence being over. The giant Sedan DeVille and the Eldorado were put on a diet and the integrity of the cars being output was upped substantially. No more would you find leftover souvenirs from the line workers such as sandwiches, coke cans and Hershey bars hidden in the glove compartments or under the seats, it was time for Cadillac’s renaissance.
While it took nearly all of the 80’s for Cadillac to get its footing and abandon its old principles, the overhaul of the company’s practices were more than apparent on the legendary Eldorado for the 1992 model year. The car was truly a quality item; smooth, crisp, well proportioned, aesthetically pleasing and with almost the same build quality you’d expect from Mercedes-Benz. This care and attention to detail was eventually applied to the few remaining models the company had on the go; the DeVille, the final generation of the Fleetwood, and the mid-size Seville.
1998 saw the launch of the Seville’s fifth and final generation, built on the compact General Motors G Platform (though on the Caddy it was referred to as the K Platform) which was introduced in 1995 and used on the Buick Rivera. As the dimensions of the latest Seville were comparable to the likes of the BMW 7-Series, the Rover 800 and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Cadillac made the bold move to try and sell the car in Europe. The car was first sold here in the UK, followed later by Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy and Finland among others. The car not only became the first Cadillac officially sold in Europe, but was also the first to be designed with Right-Hand Drive (RHD) in mind, rather than being a choppy after-market conversion like many previous U.S. exports such as the AMC Pacer.
Now, in spite of the general downer on American cars and the rather scathing contemporary reviews, including one by Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson in 1998 and another by Motors for Men in 2000, is the Cadillac worth your money?
Well, it’s made it up to #13, so it must be good for something!
The good points with this car come from the fact that it’s truly comparable to the European crop. Contrary to popular belief, the car is incredibly well built and very reliable. The internal furnishings and equipment are equal to the likes of contemporary Mercs and it provides a level of comfort specifically designed for long-distance drives. Let’s not forget after all that the car was built to cross the plains of the Midwest, so a quiet jaunt up the M1 between London and Birmingham or a family holiday to the Atlantic Coast are nothing the car’s comfort can’t handle.
This is further assisted by computer controlled inflatable comfort bags located inside the seats which monitor the profile of your body’s position through sensors in the cushion and inflates small bags of air that will adapt to your shape, providing perfect lumbar support. While the success of this technology is more down to taste, for a 1998 luxury saloon from the USA it was pretty clever stuff.
Furthermore, for a luxury saloon, the car has a lot of boot space and internally you could fit a family of five and the dog with room to spare. A common complaint is that rear legroom can be a bit limited, which is ironic for a supposedly giant American land yacht, but truth be told the back isn’t where you want to be. This machine was built specifically to be a driver’s car!
In terms of equipment, the car comes with all the goodies you expect from a European equivalent, truly dispelling the myth that American luxury cars are outdated carryovers from the 1970’s. It’s got LED displays, a full infotainment and air conditioning system, electric memory seats, traction control, engine management systems and much more. Another fun little quirk of the car is how polite it is, with LED messages appearing and ‘suggesting’ ways in which you could improve your driving experience.
My personal favourite is: “Light levels low; headlights suggested.” 🙂
As for engines, the car is fitted with an absolutely crisp and beautifully tuned Northstar 4.6L V8 engine producing between 275 and 300hp. Even Jeremy Clarkson admitted that the absolute best thing Cadillac did when building the Seville was to fit it with this amazing engine. Smooth, refined and with all the power you’d want, not since the Range Rover and the Rover 3.5L V8 had car and engine been so perfectly suited.
Furthermore, the engine has a very clever computer management system which can activate and deactivate pairs of cylinders in the event of overheating. Designed primarily for desert driving, this feature makes the engine run on two cylinders, allowing the other six to remain cool. Once the active cylinders start to overheat, the computer activates another set and shuts down the preceding ones. While this does hamper the performance of the car, it should be more than enough to help you find a suitable garage; essentially a limp-home mode.
Also, despite the car being built to travel for hundreds of miles in a straight line down America’s seemingly endless Interstates, the Seville does have some crisp handling. It’s not as sure-footed as European equivalents and if pushed too far it will slide, especially in the wet, but the car will easily whisk you around corners without putting on a spectacle of heroic understeer and tyre squeal. Also, the car doesn’t require a four mile turning-circle, being able to comfortably make U-turns that are not too dissimilar to its contemporaries.
Finally, there’s the image.
Aside from the fact that the car’s 1990’s styling is drop-dead gorgeous, among my personal favourites, there’s a real concern that anyone who drives an old Cadillac has completely lost their mind or aspires to be some kind of Cowboy or Oil Baron. The truth is the Cadillac is both understated and a real head turner. It’s not so big and overbearing, like the land yachts of the 70’s, that it’ll draw the attention of everyone you go near, but at the same time it’s still a Cadillac; which even today holds an air of obscurity among the many European and Japanese cars we see roaming the roads today. For a Cadillac, it’s very humble in appearance, with no lashings of chrome, bizarre proportions or a grille so large it would dwarf the Shard!
Now, onto the bad stuff, of which there is a fair amount.
The Cadillac is an incredibly thirsty beast, one of the few very American attributes it continues to maintain. With an average of 15 mpg on a good day, the car will see you getting very acquainted with your local petrol station.
Another issue endemic to the car is the gearbox, which is as responsive as a Sloth after it had consumed a suitcase full of Quaaludes! Put your foot down and you’ll have a lag time of at least five to ten seconds before the engine actually responds to your input, by which time any opportunity to overtake or accelerate from the lights has long since passed you by. The engine delay on these cars was truly something of note, one of the primary reasons this car failed to perform as well as the much more responsive BMW 7-Series.
Perhaps a more superficial issue is the road noise, which can be quite intrusive. For a luxury car, the soundproofing inside is really very poor with the noise of the wheels on the road being comparatively deafening to European cars of the same era.
While I mention the build quality is usually very good on these cars, the sad truth is that there are many comparative bangers roaming the roads with either cosmetic or mechanical issues that are both expensive and tedious to address. The head gaskets are particularly prone to failure if not maintained properly, a worrying prospect when you consider parts and spares aren’t readily available here in the UK. Although there are an abundance of spares available in America, shipping and handling will push up maintenance costs.
Most jarring of all though, and truly the reason why this car fails to make it into the top 10, is the issue of actually trying to find one!
Only a few thousand Seville’s were sold in Europe and today only a literal handful of them remain in roadworthy condition. Last checked, there were approximately 220 left on the roads of Britain in varying degrees of intactness. Occasionally one pops up for sale and will usually go for between £1,000 to £7,000 if you’re lucky. Early depreciation saw the prices of these cars hit rock bottom about 10 years ago, where you could easily pick up an old Seville for a song. Now, as they age and mature, the prices have started to see a turnaround, so if you do have a burning desire for a genuine Cadillac that you can use everyday then keep your finger on the buzzer!
Overall, contrary to Jeremy Clarkson’s predisposition towards American cars as a whole, the Cadillac Seville STS is not a terrible, unwieldy or irrational buy for an everyday classic. The car is a decent machine; well-equipped, smooth, extremely comfortable (let’s not deny) and with that Northstar V8, it’s a car that perfectly embodies American luxury cars of the 90’s. The Seville may not have struck a chord with the European car buying public, but that makes it no less of a car.
If you’re in the mood for something that’ll make you the talk of the town, then this old Caddy is definitely the car for you! 😀
- Comfort – 9/10 – Nothing short of the finest
- Practicality – 8/10 – Rear legroom is a little bit of a letdown, but otherwise the car is chocked full of space
- Reliability – 6/10 – A fairly reliable machine, but spare parts have to be imported for a price
- Speed – 6/10 – Northstar V8: Good. Gearbox: Bad
- Handling – 8/10 – Surprisingly well-suited to corners for an American car
- Looks – 10/10 – 90’s Cadillac? I swoon every time!
- Equipment – 8/10 – A touch outdated these days, but mostly comparable to some of today’s more basic executive cars
- Price – 7/10 – Badge depreciation keeps these cars cheap, the problem is trying to find one!
- Value – 5/10 – Selling them might be an issue, but the idea of buying a rare U.S. import can ring some people’s bells
- Total – 67/90 – The first Cadillac sold in the UK, and what a car it is!