There's more riding on the 2005 Cadillac STS than just a new name-although it has one of those. As the Cadillac press kit lays it out after recounting highlights of the on-again, off-again forty-eight-year history of the Seville nameplate, "The Seville name and design remained in place until now. This year, Cadillac will launch the all-new 2005 STS, the first rear-wheel-drive model in twenty-five years." So, this Seville replacement is evidently not a Seville after all; it's an STS. And after three decades spent persuading Americans that front-wheel drive is really where it's at, Cadillac now would like to explain why it's not.
The letters STS, previously used to denote sporty Sevilles, put the newest Cadillac in nominal line with the rear-wheel-drive CTS below it in the range and the SRX crossover beside it. (Both share GM's thus far Cadillac-exclusive Sigma chassis.) Above the STS rides the venerable front-wheel-drive DeVille DTS. Ironically, Cadillac's biggest seller will soldier on for an indefinite period, though the DeVille part of its name surely can't be long for this world. Then comes the Corvette-based XLR as well as the heavyweight Escalade, which doesn't fit into the letter name scheme at all.
"OK, you got us," a Cadillac marketing person apologized. "We're making progress" on the consistent nomenclature front, "but we're not all the way there yet." The goal for now is to get us to think of the STS and the CTS in the way BMW's 5-series relates to its 3-series and the Mercedes E-class relates to its C-class.
In short, think German. The STS, along with its Sigma siblings, is a car built with an eye on Germany-German cars, German sensibilities, and Germany's clearly delineated market segments. It's quite a challenge. Like the American team turning up for international soccer matches, the Sigma luxury machines showcase American engineers engaged in a sport historically played best by foreigners.
In attempting a comeback in this arena, the natural instinct would be to crib shamelessly from the Germans' playbook-and GM does just this. While the new STS's not unhandsome lines make reference to Cadillac's distinctive creased-angle and vertical-headlamps design language from top to bottom, a close look inside suggests the car is the creation of design and engineering teams that spent more than a few afternoons hanging around the last 5-series BMW, probing, analyzing, and costing it down to the last micron, atomic subparticle, and cent.
If you have to copy someone these days, you could do worse than BMW. Seats, door panels, carpets all look as if they've entered a witness relocation program from an outgoing 5-series, while the dash and door-cap plastics, rather shiny on our preproduction test cars, also will ring a more muted Bavarian bell by the time they make it to the showroom floor.
The always excellent-looking flashes of Cadillac's trademark eucalyptus wood gracing the console, center stack, shift lever, door caps, door pulls, and steering wheel-warmer and more appealing than any German wood-grain effect-help remind us that we are not in a Teutonic ride, as do American-looking gauge fonts, the sat-nav system, and secondary controls. But, for all those touches, it looks like default interior design. One wonders what makes this obviously a Cadillac.
The engineers who met us in Monterey, California, got a laugh when they emphasized Cadillac's self-restraint in not larding the STS with dubious high-tech electronic gizmos like some German rival they were too polite to name.
At first glance, the STS does seem in less danger of disappearing up its own unnecessarily complicated fundament owing to its maker's hypercompetitive quest for supremacy in the automotive electronics arms race. But maybe not. IDrive or no, the STS still calls for long nights scouring the owner's manual. The STS thinks for the driver-with emergency brake assist and radar-controlled, distance-sensitive cruise control-and it heeds commands, with customized voice-memory operations among a never-ending bevy of useful and useless electronic functions one gets to behold or control.