2006 Cadillac DTS

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Let’s say you’re in the market for a well-equipped, full-size luxury sedan that’s not an old man’s car — but also doesn’t have the jutting angles, 20-inch chromed wheels and pimp-strut posturing that’s become an unfortunate fad among so many cars in this class.

Then check out the new Cadillac DTS.

This model replaces the outgoing DeVille as Caddy’s biggest roller — at least insofar as passenger cars go (you can always upsize to an Escalade, if need be). It receives an all-new skin for ’06 that brings it closer to the current STS, appearance-wise — albeit with a much larger trunk (18.8 cubic feet vs. the STS’ smallish 13.8 cubic feet cubbyhole), available three-across (and heated) rear bench seat and a standard 275-hp, 32 valve aluminum Northstar V-8 engine (with an available upgrade to 291-hp) vs. the V-6 that’s standard in the smaller, shorter STS.

The DTS comes also comes standard with GM’s StabiliTrak integrated traction/stability control system, full-length curtain and side impact air bags, three-zone climate control air conditioning, Xenon HIgh Intensity Discharge (HID) lights, leather seat covers and wood trim. All models also come with GM’s OnStar roadside assistance/concierge service.

A menu of high-end options is available, too — ranging from GM’s infinitely self-adjusting Magnetic Ride Control suspension system to an in-dash GPS navigation system with touch-screen display (integrated with the audio and climate control systems), heated and cooled multi-stage driver and passenger seats, rain-sensing wipers, Park Assist, a power rear sunshade and Adaptive Cruise Control, which automatically adjusts the car’s speed/following distance in relation to the ebb and flow of the traffic ahead.

And it’s just $41,195 to start — making it one of the least expensive full-size and V-8-equipped luxury sedans on the market.

In fact, the base price of the ’06 DTS is not too much more than you’d be expected to pay for several “entry luxury” — and much smaller inside and out — import sedans. Mercedes-Benz, for example, wants $39,150 for its compact-sized, V-6 equipped C350. And the DTS-equivalent (in size/plushness, etc.) Lexus LS430 starts at $56,525 — nearly seven grand more than you’d pay for a top-of-the-line DTS with the 291-hp version of the Northstar V-8.

This car’s a bargain. Not much more than a loaded Lincoln Town Car (nice, but a definite old man’s car), roomier and higher prestige than a Chrysler 300 (and then there’s the styling issue) and less ostentatious (as well as a better deal for your dinero) than most of the Euro-brand stuff that’s out there right now.

It’s also front-wheel-drive — an increasing rarity in a market segment that is rapidly going back to rear-wheel-drive (or all-wheel-drive).

Now, rear-wheel drive is great for aggressive sport/enthusiast-type driving. But it is also almost always just plain awful in poor weather — even when crutched with the latest electronic traction/stability control technology. With the engine and transmission up front — and not much weight on the drive wheels out back — the typical rear drive car wants to fishtail like a just-landed sea bass anytime the roads are even slightly slick. Snow? Forget about it.

You’re much more likely to make it home safely (or get in to the office) during a January blizzard in the front-drive DTS than you would be in a rear-drive Lexus, BMW or Mercedes-Benz. With a good set of all-season tires, a FWD car like the DTS can usually go wherever an otherwise equivalent AWD car (like, for instance, a 4-Matic Mercedes-Benz E-Class) can.

This is an important point to consider.

All-wheel-drive — when it’s offered– just makes the car a lot more expensive. Acura’s AWD-equipped RL sedan starts at $49,300; the AWD Audi A6 Quattro starts at $43,970 — and that’s for a smaller, less roomy on the inside car with just a V-6 engine. The V-8 equipped A6 Quattro 4.2 has an MSRP of $53,770 — a $10k price difference compared to the V-8 DTS. And the A6 is still a much smaller car; if you want to get even close to DTS roominess, you’ll need to move up to the top-of-the-line A8 — and that car starts at $68,130. Is it nice? Sure it is. But nearly $27k nicer? That’s a tough call. (And the A8 still doesn’t have anywhere near as much legroom as the Caddy, either front or rear; the trunk’s smaller, too.)

Also, modern FWD cars like the DTS handle remarkably well. Torque steer — awkward jerking of the front end to the left or right under hard acceleration — has become almost a non-issue, noticeable only when the car is driven like a Winston Cup stocker — duty the DTS is not likely to be subjected to.

Bottom line: Unless you intend to autocross your DTS, odds are you’d never be able to tell the difference between it and a rear-drive STS — until it snows, at any rate.

In day-to-day driving, the DTS doesn’t wallow like the land yachts of yore — and there’s surprisingly little body roll even when pushed, Ronin-style, into a high-G turn. (Remember: The Secret Service favors big Caddies — armor-plated and fitted with run-flats and fully capable of Rockford-style maneuvers, if need be.) It’s not a BMW-killer — but driven within legal and socially responsible norms, it responds and performs as well as any otherwise similar rear-drive luxury car.

The optional MRC suspension (which first appeared on the XLR roadster, then became available optionally in the Chevy Corvette) offers a step-up in both handling tenacity and ride comfort — without compromising either.

In a nutshell, conventional gas-charged shocks (which typically are set for either soft, medium or firm ride) are replaced by an almost infinitely adjustable (and almost instantaneously variable) system of dampers that use magnetically-charged fluid to constantly increase/decrease ride firmness as the road changes. Drive the car hard — and the suspension automatically cinches up; or take it easy — and the suspension dials back to optimize ride comfort. It’s pretty trick — and worth the extra coin.

Finally, there is the issue of cosmetics — and the DTS’ new-for-2006 skin.

If good taste is defined as “that which is appropriate,” then the biggest Caddy certainly fits the bill. You won’t find any styling weirdness, no off-putting angry arches, silly pontoon bulges or gangster-grinning front end treatments. The lines are crisp and modern — Cadillac’s trademark V-shaped grilled and double-stacked headlights up front, echoes of the STS in the doors and cut of the roofline — finished off in back with traditional upright Cadillac tail-lights (with multi-LED illumination), V-themed third brake light on the trunk and four elliptical chromed exhaust tips.

It’s stately without being old mannish — nicely bridging the distance between the outgoing DeVille and the rock n’ roll/Led Zep themes of the more visually aggressive CTS and STS. It shouldn’t alienate the older buyers who liked the DeVille — while offering an appealing package their sons and daughters might just want to drive home in.

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