1999 Cadillac Eldorado Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Once, buying a Cadillac meant you were too old for anything else.No more.
The moment you sit in the Eldorado Touring Coupe, or 'ETC,' as it has been badged, you know you're in a Cadillac. The cues and styling of the Eldorado interior say what Cadillacs have always said: 'big,' 'lavish,' 'grandiose.'
But dipping into the power of the forceful Northstar V8, a different breed of Cadillac comes to life. From the first takeoff this car identifies itself as a far more aggressive package than you remember, aimed at a much younger buyer. The ETC definitely has its strengths -- but it also has enough 'old' Cadillac qualities to compromise the result.
At a glance, the ETC is no lightweight with a curb weight of 3876 pounds. It shouldn't be, but the ETC's weight is visual and stylistic as well as physical. This car's lines are clean and spare, but the high beltline, huge C-pillar, heavy-looking trunk box and small, bunker-like windows convey an impression of enormous mass.
And the closer you get, the bigger it seems. With a lengthy 108-inch wheelbase and overall length of 200.6 inches, it is the largest of the mass-market coupes, surpassed only by the recently deceased Lincoln Continental Mark VIII.
The ETC is furnished with the full-thrust 300-horsepower Northstar V8, while the base Eldorado has a milder 275-horsepower version of the same engine. Body-colored grille and bumpers blend handsomely into the car's form, the whole tied to together by a narrow band of chrome running the full length of the car. Our test ETC was furnished with optional chrome eight-spoke sport wheels ($795), which brighten the car's character nicely, and optional Goodyear Eagle GA P225/60ZR16 tires ($250).
Officially categorized as 'mid-size,' the ETC has class-leading volume in both the front seat and back seat, and the impression created by the enormous trunk box is no illusion. Classically Cadillac, the ETC trunk is a massive 15 cubic feet, far greater than other mid-size coupes.
The Eldorado Touring Coupe's interior is large, elegant, and generous in appointments. For safety, dual front de-powered airbags are standard. A beautifully sleek band of fine Zebrano wood trim encircles you from mid-door around the dashboard to mid-door. The dash is admirably simple and straightforward, with excellent analog instruments. The automatic twilight-sensing headlight system can be adjusted for sensitivity or switched off altogether.
The steering wheel has two paddles, one that controls audio volume and station selection, the other controlling the climate control's temperature and fan level. The wheel adjusts up and down, but does not telescope fore and aft.
A full multi-task trip computer is mounted on the dash above the console. It computes current cruising range, fuel efficiency, fuel used, average speed, elapsed time, battery voltage, percent of oil-life left -- in either English or metric figures. Next to this computer are remote controls for opening the trunk and fuel door. A fine Bose AM/FM/cassette/CD is standard on the ETC (optional in the base Eldorado) with a 12-disc remote changer in the trunk standard. The radio also has a radio data system that will display the station, search for particular kinds of stations or look for traffic bulletins. It can even interrupt tapes and CDs with emergency information.
The heating and air conditioning system delivers readouts for both interior and exterior ambient temperature. A toggle on the lower right allows the front passenger to select separate temperature settings. Rear-seat passengers get their own climate controls as well. The ETC's heated seats warm quickly, but we found the lowest of the two settings too hot.
Fog lights are standard, as are the obligatory two front cupholders. The electric external rearview mirrors have a handy provision that adjusts them downward to the curb when Reverse is selected, aiding in parking this large car. Our test car was furnished with the standard compass in the rearview mirror and an optional overhead garage-door opener ($107).
The Eldorado Touring Coupe's upholstery is gorgeous, glove-quality light-cream leather. The front seats have eight-way power adjustment. Lateral support is average, but the lumbar adjustment is excellent. We found the seatback-tilt range insufficient, dictating more recline than some drivers demand.
If the Eldorado Touring Coupe seems loaded with creature comforts, it's absolutely jam-packed with high-tech mechanical systems and geegaws for enhancing the driving experience.
Everything begins with the ETC's well-publicized and deservedly praised 4.6-liter Northstar V8. This engine's 300 horsepower at 6000 rpm is matched by a brawny 295 foot-pounds of torque, though this torque comes at a fairly high 4400 rpm, rather than down low, where it would produce even heartier takeoff. The only transmission available is an excellent Hydra-matic four-speed.
The Eldorado Touring Coupe's 0-to-60 mph acceleration times are spirited, coming in right at 7 seconds flat. Passing maneuvers from 30 to 70 mph take only about 6.5 seconds, which is very uplifting.
The irony is that this superb engine only underlines the fact that the Eldorado Touring Coupe is front-wheel drive. So far, nobody has worked out how to make a really powerful engine work smoothly with front-wheel drive and Cadillac is no exception. Accelerating the ETC hard from standstill, it exhibits low-speed torque-steer, meaning the engine's torque is literally trying to pull the front wheels this way and that. It's an unpleasant effect. And furthermore, because hard acceleration transfers weight to the rear tires, away from the front drive-wheels, the front wheels quickly lose traction and begin to spin. Then the traction control, sensing wheelspin, begins to order braking pulses at the front wheels. In a nanosecond, the ABS and the engine are in direct conflict with each other, the former trying to stop wheelspin, the latter trying to accelerate, all in a high-tech attempt to compensate for the shortcomings of a front-wheel-drive system prematurely overcome by healthy horsepower.
Driven moderately, this performance cul de sac won't be noticed. However it is the stated purpose of the Cadillac Eldorado ETC and Seville STS to attract younger, sportier buyers. They're going to notice. Sophisticated traction control systems have eliminated many of the downsides of a rear-wheel-drive platform. We'd like this big Cadillac much better if it was rear-wheel drive.
Besides ABS and traction control, three other systems are standard in the Eldorado Touring Coupe -- Magnasteer variable assist steering, CVRSS continuously variable road-sensing suspension and StabiliTrak stability control. (On the base Eldorado, CVRSS is unavailable and StabiliTrak is optional.)
StabiliTrak uses yaw and lateral-acceleration sensors in conjunction with the suspension, steering and ABS to detect oversteer (fishtailing) or understeer (front-end washout). Immediately upon sensing either of these conditions, StabiliTrak applies braking to the one wheel that can help to regain stability. Various top-line builders are using these systems now and, presuming the laws of physics haven't been too grievously violated by the driver, they really work.
The CVRSS suspension is an advanced system that reads the road surface's roughness and on rougher surfaces automatically adjusts the shock damping rate of each individual wheel. The result is reduced impact harshness, a smoother ride and more sustained contact with the road during extreme emergency maneuvers.
Magnasteer actively varies the amount of power-assist given the steering, more at low speeds to decrease steering effort, with increasingly less at higher speeds, where increased steering effort has a steadying effect.
Cadillac's Eldorado Touring Coupe has pulled out all the high-tech stops to win over younger, more aggressive buyers. The Northstar engine and much of the mechanicals are first rate.
However, from the minute you pull that utterly huge, heavy door shut behind you, you know this is a traditional Cadillac. It feels big. It doesn't offer the same level of road feel that modern imported luxury sports sedans offer. As a boulevard cruiser, the ETC is pure Cadillac. But as a real driver's car, it has a way to go.
Options As Tested
Goodyear Eagle GA tires ($250), chrome wheels ($795), garage door opener ($107).
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