2003 Cadillac DeVille Reviews and Ratings

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2003 Cadillac DeVille
Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief

If you've been shopping exclusively for a luxury import, thinking you already know all about Cadillacs, you might want to think again. If you want a big sedan that offers athletic handling and performance, a car that feels solid, a car with a luxurious interior, a car with the latest technology, then take a look at the Cadillac DeVille. At a normal driving pace, the DeVille is a big, comfortable, luxurious sedan. Push it hard, and it feels like a big sports sedan.

Cadillac designed the DeVille to please a variety of drivers by offering three distinctive models. The DTS, or DeVille Touring Sedan, is an agile sports sedan. The DHS delivers high luxury with a more traditional Cadillac ride, while the standard DeVille offers a lower price.

For 2003, the DeVille gets minor styling refinements, and new standard and optional equipment. (The current-generation DeVille dates from model-year 2000, when it was completely redesigned.) XM Satellite Radio is now available, offering 100 coast-to-coast digital channels, including music, sports, talk, 24-hour news, and children's entertainment. A tire-pressure monitor is now standard, and Advanced Vehicle Navigation is available for all models.

Model Lineup
The 2003 Cadillac DeVille is offered in three distinct flavors: DeVille, DeVille DHS, and DeVille DTS. All are front-wheel-drive sedans powered by a 4.6-liter V8 engine, though the DTS is tuned for higher horsepower.

Of the three, the standard DeVille ($42,950) looks and drives the most like a traditional Cadillac, balancing luxury and value.

DHS (DeVille High-Luxury Sedan) and DTS (DeVille Touring Sedan) are both priced at $47,880. Both depart from Cadillac's old ways. They share many features, but as their names imply, one stresses luxury while the other highlights a sportier driving experience.

DHS and DeVille models come with a full bench seat in front and a column shifter. DTS comes with bucket seats and a floor shifter. The standard DeVille uses Cadillac's traditional digital instrumentation; DHS and DTS get the analog (dial) instruments often preferred by enthusiast drivers. Even the leather on DHS and DTS models is designed for different buyers: Where the DHS has elegantly gathered leather upholstery, the DTS has stretched perforated skins for a sporty look. Yet both offer a supple fit and feel. The DTS is distinguished by a wreath and crest in the grille, while the DHS and DeVille use a traditional hood ornament.

The Cadillac DeVille is a handsome, head-turning design, a combination of European and American, of contemporary and traditional. It still looks stylish and contemporary, even though it was last redesigned for the 2000 model year. Its styling distinguishes it from other cars, including other Cadillacs. It still draws approving looks and not everyone knows what it is.

DeVille was the first Cadillac to be solely designed using AutoStudio, a computer-aided design tool. Although it looks large and rich, the current DeVille is shorter than the 1999 model it replaced. Large front lighting clusters giving the DeVille a bold appearance. A grinning eggcrate grille extends between the headlights. Updated Cadillac wreath-and-crest emblems extend the classic-but-contemporary theme. For 2003, Cadillac has integrated turn-signal indicators into the side mirrors, a feature that is genuinely useful, alerting drivers alongside of you of your intention to turn or change lanes.

In profile the DeVille looks like a Cadillac. Large doors, massive body panels and expansive glass are broken only by a highlight trim piece along the lower body section. Large, full-arch wheel wells are filled by 16-inch alloy rims and Michelin all-season tires on DeVille and DHS, or 17-inch wheels and Michelin performance tires on DTS.

From the rear, the DeVille carries the traditional Cadillac ambiance, but with a far more contemporary flair. New tail lights help distinguish 2003 models. The fins of yesteryear may be gone, but those twin vertical slashes still shout Cadillac loud and clear. The tail lamps rely on Cadillac's industry-leading LED technology to light up significantly faster than normal incandescent units, giving drivers of following cars an extra fraction of a second warning, which is all it takes, in some cases, to prevent a collision. The rear turn signals are distinctive and stand out brightly when blinking.

The Cadillac DeVille interior is roomy, luxurious, and loaded with technology. Heated front seats and four-way power lumbar support are standard on DHS and DTS, optional on the base model.

DHS and DTS also feature power lumbar massage. Adaptive front seating ($995) on the DHS and DTS uses sensors to detect pressure points and automatically adjusts 10 individual air cells to conform to the occupant's body, changing the seat contours every 10 seconds if necessary. We see nothing wrong with relaxation while driving, so this seems like a good idea to us

The rear seat is inviting and comfortable. There is plenty of room available as you open the rear doors and climb in. Legroom seems endless. Even with the front seat at its rearmost position, the tallest of our testers could easily fit in back. Independent climate controls for rear passengers offer fan and temperature adjustments. Side-impact air bags for the rear seat are available for $295.

Ultrasonic Rear Park Assist (included in a couple of different option packages) is really slick and very well executed. When backing up, it sounds a chime as you approach a garage, a kid on a tricycle, or another parked car, or if they approach you. A small yellow lamp lights up above the rear window, where it is visible in the rear-view mirror or when looking over your shoulder. A second yellow light illuminates as you get closer. A third light comes on in red when you're in imminent danger of hitting the object. Aside from its obvious safety benefits, Ultrasonic Rear Parking Assists is very useful when parking the car or maneuvering in tight locations. It's becoming a must-have feature for those of us who sometimes find parallel parking a challenge.

Standard safety features include dual-stage air bag inflators. But we feel Cadillac has taken a step backward by eliminating the height adjustment for the front-seat shoulder harnesses; the height adjustment allowed shorter drivers to wear the belts more comfortably. We wonder how many owners who have this feature are aware of its existence, however.

Another thing we didn't like is the placement of the high-beam indicator next to the digital trip odometer. Both are nearly the same blue color, making the indicator difficult to see. So it's easy to leave the high beams on by mistake, blinding other drivers. Maybe that's part of the reason we see so many Cadillacs running around with their brights on.

Cadillac's Advanced Vehicle Navigation ($1995) incorporates voice-recognition technology, so the driver can keep hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. A 6.5-inch touch-screen is mounted in the dashboard. The screen tilts down to load the navigation DVD. You can also insert and play an entertainment DVD while the transmission is in Park (and only while it's in Park). The system plays music CDs as well. One navigation DVD covers the entire United States and Canada. For those who want to play music CDs while the navigation system is engaged, a glove box-mounted six-CD changer is available for $595.

OnStar comes standard and includes Personal Calling, which allows drivers to initiate and receive hands-free, voice-activated phone calls without an additional cellular contract. The system also includes Personal Advisor, which delivers Internet-based news headlines, sports scores, stock quotes, and weather reports.

The new XM Satellite Radio lists for $295, plus a monthly subscription fee. The XM radio requires the eight-speaker Bose AM/FM/CD audio system that comes standard on DTS and DHS.

Driving Impressions
The DeVille rides as supple as you would expect of a Cadillac. The suspension filters unwanted vibration and bumps, but doesn't let the car float around like a boat. Though not as firm as a BMW, the DeVille provides a well-controlled ride. Bumps are felt, but suppressed to comfortable levels. Go around a fast, sweeping turn and potholes won't upset the car's balance, a benefit of the DeVille's highly rigid chassis. We feel this makes the DeVille safer and more comfortable to drive in tight quarters, important in big cities when surrounded by big trucks and aggressive cab drivers.

The DeVille is smooth and stable at high speeds. The steering is precise and direct, so the car always goes where the driver intends.

Cadillac has achieved its luxury/sports duality by engineering a solid platform that can be extensively tailored to the individual buyer's tastes. The DeVille benefits from technology and higher-quality manufacturing. Aluminum suspension components reduce unsprung weight (the weight that moves with each wheel as it reacts to irregularities in the road), so the springs don't have to be as stiff to keep the wheels in firm contact with the pavement. This translates into more comfort on the highway without having to sacrifice handling.

The DTS model is particularly agile and feels rock solid on the open road. The DTS gets the latest version of Cadillac's Continuously Variable Road-Sensing Suspension (CVRSS 2.0), which features transient roll control, lateral support and enhanced stability. This electronically controlled suspension adjusts shock-absorber damping every few milliseconds, adapting to the road surface and the driver's demands. Variable shock damping allows the DTS suspension to soak up road irregularities and isolate passengers from the outside elements, while still providing the tight control needed for precise handling.

Braking is sure, stable and effective, with nice firm pedal feel. DeVille's braking system combines large four-wheel-discs with a small, lightweight anti-lock system. ABS works very well on this car: Jam on the brakes and you still have control of the steering. (Just remember to steer.) Electronic brake distribution (EBD) helps reduce stopping distances by re-proportioning the braking force from rear to front as the vehicle stops and its weight shifts forward. In everyday, around-town applications, the brake pedal feels smooth and progressive, making it easy to slow the car down smoothly.

All DeVilles come with the superb Northstar V8 engine. This engine is tuned to produce 300 horsepower in the DTS, 275 horsepower in the DHS and DeVille. Thanks to this highly refined power plant, the 2003 DeVille is responsive, quiet, and fuel efficient. The DTS has lots of power and growls aggressively under hard acceleration.

The DeVille has a great drivetrain. The automatic transmission is GM's electronically controlled 4T80-E four-speed and it uses a viscous converter clutch for maximum smoothness with fuel efficiency. We were particularly impressed with the calibration of the transmission, and with the way it communicates with the engine. Squeeze the throttle to the floor in many new overdrive-automatic cars, and they surge briefly in fourth, then slam violently into second. But not the DeVille: It shifts immediately but smoothly down to third, snatching that strategic position in traffic without upsetting your passengers or your piece of mind. Slam down the gas pedal and it downshifts smartly to second, the Northstar engine growls to life and the car rockets ahead. It all works wonderfully.

Electronics help the driver control the DeVille in emergency maneuvers. Cadillac's StabiliTrak 2.0 skid-control system (standard on DTS, optional on DeVille and DHS) makes it nearly impossible to lose control of the DeVille. We say 'nearly,' because nothing can save you if you break the laws of physics. However, we reached some very high thresholds in the DeVille without breaking any of nature's laws. On a closed circuit, we were able to steer into a turn very abruptly, trying to spin the car out. In situations that would have caused most vehicles to pirouette into the weeds, the StabiliTrak-equipped DeVille held its course wherever we steered. StabiliTrak's computer lightly applies the brakes to individual wheels to keep the DeVille in control. This type of system can be a godsend when you are surprised on strange roads or caught out in emergency traffic situations.

Cadillac's Night Vision infrared system ($2250) is available on DTS and DHS. Using the same technology as military infrared systems, Night Vision makes it easy to see wild animals, pedestrians, and whatever else might wander into the road at night. More important, it allows you to see them when they are still far down the road, past the reach of the headlights. In theory, Night Vision can greatly enhance safety. Here's how it works: An infrared camera mounted in the center of the grille transmits an image about the size of the rear-view mirror onto the lower portion of the windshield. (It's sort of like the heads-up display used in fighter aircraft.) The image position is adjustable; it can be raised or lowered, and its intensity can be changed. Having Night Vision displayed in the lower area of the windshield requires some adjustment, however, and we think it could be distracting for some drivers. It's probably best to glance at it occasionally, they way you glance at your gauges or rear-view mirror, to see whether your path is clear, or if any critters are lurking in the bushes. You wouldn't want to try to drive just by watching the Night Vision screen; it would be like trying to drive by watching a television monitor. This is a promising technology, but you should take a good look at it to determine whether you'd find it worth the considerable extra cost. You can tell a DeVille has Night Vision by the grille sensor, which replaces the Cadillac wreath and crest.

Cadillac's 2003 DeVille is a world-class sedan. It's big, comfortable, easy to drive, and fast. It comes in three distinct models to suit driver preferences. Things are happening at GM's Cadillac division.

Model as tested
Cadillac DeVille Touring Sedan ($47,880)
Basic Warranty
4 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Detroit, Michigan
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Night Vision ($2,250); adaptive seating ($995); Premium Luxury package ($1,985) includes cargo mat, rear seat side airbags, garage door opener, wood trim, ultrasonic rear parking assist and memory seats

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
DeVille ($42,950); DHS ($47,880); DTS ($47,880)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual front airbags, dual front-seat side airbags, dual front seatbelt pre-tensioners
Safety equipment (optional)
4.6-liter dohc 32-valve V8
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
AM/FM/cassette/CD; cruise control; OnStar; StabiliTrak; CVRSS 2.0 variable suspension damping; tachometer; power door locks, windows and mirrors; 8-way power, 4-way lumbar front seats; heated seats front and rear; leather and wood-trimmed tilt and power telescoping steering wheel;tri-zone climate control; remote keyless entry, trunk and fuel door release; fog lamps; floor shifter w/console; Rainsense wipers; Zebrano wood trim

Engine & Transmission
4.6-liter dohc 32-valve V8
Drivetrain type
front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
300 @ 6000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc with ABS
Suspension, front
independent, strut-type, coil springs, anti-roll bar/independent, semi-trailing arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar, automatic level control
Suspension, rear
independent, strut-type, coil springs, anti-roll bar/independent, semi-trailing arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar, automatic level control

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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