Q: Hello Greg and I’d like to know your opinion of the new Cadillacs? I have owned several in my lifetime, starting with a 1952 Cadillac I bought used in 1958.
Some of my friends say they have lost their way, but I know from reading your columns that you won’t say that. How about your opinion on the new Cadillacs versus the old? Sincerely, Merle G., IL
A: Merle, I held you letter until I test drove the new Cadillac CT6 this past week so I could give you my most recent comparison available.
As one of America’s top luxury brand builders, Cadillac is the second oldest nameplate in General Motors’ history next to the Buick.
From day one way back in 1902 and before GM took over the brand, owning and driving a Cadillac was a statement in luxury motor coach building.
Through the decades, Cadillac stayed true to its luxury creed, and became the car of choice in the United States when it came to the big-three (GM, Ford, Chrysler) luxury offerings, which included Ford’s Lincoln and Chrysler’s Imperial.
Over the years Cadillac had many firsts. Included were the first pushrod overhead valve V8 in 1949 (Olds had one too), Harley Earl designed first tailfins in 1948, first to use a wrap around windshield, initial high-beam low beam “Cadillac Eye” that sat on the dashboard in 1952, recipient of Motor Trend’s inaugural “Car of the Year” award in 1949, first transistor radio in 1957, first fully automatic air conditioning system, and on and on. (They also built some real mean military tanks for use during WWII and the Korean War).
Yet, with all of its historic sales advantages when it came to building luxury cars, the decade of the 1970s changed everything and forced the Cadillac Company to do a complete about face about the type of car it was building. Specifically, if you owned a Cadillac in the early to mid 1970s, it was a huge, V8 powered car high on comfort and occupant amenities but way low on handling and fuel mileage attributes.
I owned two Cadillacs in my time, a 1972 Sedan Deville 472-V8 and a 1975 Coupe Deville, the latter powered by a 500-cubic inch V8 that averaged maybe 12 miles to the gallon at best.
Thus, with the oil crisis and fuel mileage now “top of mind” in the auto buyer’s dictionary, the large, luxurious cars that we all came to love were suddenly relegated to “back lot trade-in specials.” No one wanted these gas guzzlers any longer, and Cadillac along with all the other major brands in America were in a complete re-structure mode of operation.
As Cadillac went through all the re-vamping pains that both Ford and Chrysler endured, namely downsizing yet still delivering the luxury expected, there were indeed many misfires. Cadillac’s V8-6-4 engine might have been decades ahead in cylinder deactivation theory for enhanced fuel mileage, the problem is it just wasn’t reliable.
With smaller engines the norm for many a year Cadillac designers produced some major “hiccups” and failures. Perhaps the most offensive was Cadillac’s front drive compact called the Cimarron (1982-1988). It didn’t take long for consumers to figure out that Cimarron was nothing more than a highly optioned and more luxurious Chevy Cavalier. The effort nearly killed the Cadillac’s reputation and in my mind is historically General Motors’ most grievous brand blunder ever.
But then things changed for the better.
Cadillac got serious about the kind of cars it was building, and finally made the decision to build world class, autonomous, automobiles again.
To compete in the competitive world market with BMW, Porsche, Lexus, Audi, Infiniti and many more, Cadillac went from a front-drive layout back to rear-drive, which is the choice of true car aficionados everywhere, me included. Added were AWD Cadillacs, now the norm in traction hungry performance cars be it cold climate or not.
Slowly but surely, these new modern Cadillacs started to make major inroads. And, even though the Allante with its Northstar engine and mechanicals (1986 to 1993) was never a popular car by any means, it started the evolution to take Cadillac from a popular domestic car maker to a world class car maker.
The result today includes some of the best Cadillacs ever built, from the compact ATS to the mid-size CTS (available with a supercharged V8 Corvette drivetrain if desired) to the new CT6, which I mentioned earlier. If you want an SUV/Crossover, Cadillac is right there with its XT5, SRX and Escalade.
The CT6 I just test drove is hands down one of the very best cars I’ve reviewed this year. Powered by a turbo charged 2.0-liter four cylinder producing 265 horses, it easily motivated the 122-inch wheelbase CT6 with authority and then delivered an astounding average MPG for my 300-mile drive of 34.3-MPG. Want more power, two V6’s are available, one of them a dual turbo V6 that produces 404 horses.
In summary, it may have taken Cadillac a little longer to completely revamp its car construction platform into a world class brand, but they have surely done so.
Today Cadillac is reaping the benefits of their “world class car” management decisions, and even though I still love those big Devilles, Eldorados and Fleetwoods that are popular at classic car shows, I give a major league tip of the hat to everyone at Cadillac. Thanks for your question Merle.