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Tested: 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel Oozes Luxury

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 1/20/2021 Larry Griffin
a car parked on the side of a road: From the Archive: Slow and plush as it may be, Cadillac's new Seville embraces sybaritic excess. © André LaRoche - Car and Driver From the Archive: Slow and plush as it may be, Cadillac's new Seville embraces sybaritic excess.

From the March 1980 issue of Car and Driver.

Consider thumbs. The Cadillac Motor Car Division of General Motors Corporation surely never expected its new Seville to become heavily involved with thumbs, but it has. For instance, there are those who say the new design is all thumbs. Every one of us, in fact, is peering past the artistic thumb of his mind's eye, attempting to judge the visual perspicacity, or lack thereof, that went into this amazing apparition. It is stunning. On that, everyone agrees. But stunningly good or stunningly bad? And, beyond appearances, has Cadillac been sitting on its thumbs (there they are again), backpedaling away from the necessity for still further reductions in size and weight? Does Cadillac perceive us as sucking our thumbs at the thought of luxury without bulk?

Looks are the Seville's big calling card. In each of us there is a corner that loves ostentation in something. For those who love it in cars, the Seville awaits judgment. Cadillac is awaiting, more anxious than ever. Thumbs up or thumbs down?

The Seville is so individualistic in appearance that we will make no attempt to sway your thoughts and conclusions. We find little agreement among our own. We must congratulate its designers, however, for bravery and a willingness to lay it on the line. Mating a bluffly upright front end with a rakish windshield and a hunchback behind is the stuff of legends, good or bad, and the dream of those within The Firm who would hope to be credited with an instant classic. Guts are in good supply at Cadillac.

a car parked on the side of a building: 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel © André LaRoche - Car and Driver 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel

Engineering expertise also runs rampant. Recognition for the package of components that lies beneath the show­-stopping presence has been all but lost in the furor. For the first time, the Seville is propelled by front-wheel drive, its basic parts and pieces borrowed from the more mundane-looking Eldorado. This mechanical allotment is the Seville's gain. Its most significant inclusions are four-wheel independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. Chief engineer Robert J. Templin has also called in the industry's most comprehensive use of electronics to date. Electronic controls are used for suspension leveling, interior-climate adjustment, tuning of the radio, and, in gasoline-powered Sevilles, regulation of a sophisticated fuel-injection system.

The Elegante that Cadillac turned out for our testing had diesel power, the standard means of locomotion for a projected 50 to 60 percent of this year's Sevilles. The diesel is Cadillac's answer to corporate average fuel-economy requirements, saving the day to the tune of 21 mpg, according to motoring's law of the land, the EPA. The diesel displaces 5.7 liters. It is rated at 105 horsepower and 205 pound-feet of torque, and saddled with 4200 dead-weight pounds of sheetmetal, doodads, and sound deadening. This is the quietest diesel application in our experience, although it burbles at idle like a fishing trawler and is somewhat rackety on acceleration. Performance is anything but overwhelming. At 70 mph the diesel would just as soon go home and put up its feet rather than gather itself up to produce another 10 mph.

a close up of a car: 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel © André LaRoche - Car and Driver 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel

As before, the Seville is nothing if not a gimmick car. It has, for your pleasure and detachment from reality, a headlight sentinel with automatic dimming and shutoff; intermittent windshield wipers; a cruise control almost the match of Mercedes's; power windows, power mirrors, and power locks; an ambient-temperature gauge on the driver's outside mirror; an anti-theft security system that flashes the lights, sounds the horn, and disables the engine; light-­up information centers, left and right, with various words of warning; a three-­light, fender-mounted monitoring system for headlights, brights, and turn signals; tiny red taillight telltales that show in the rear-view mirror; cornering lights that activate with the turn signals; a glide-out ashtray nearly big enough to serve a TV dinner on; an electric trunk release; and infinitely more. Drive the Seville a hundred thousand miles and we'll bet you still won't know all its tricks. Why, the console alone is a work of genius, albeit a sizably chunky one. It has a map-and-litter pocket on its front and two storage spaces within. The back one is smallish, intended for whatever you like. The front one, on the other hand, is ribbed to organize a row of eight-track tapes (or presumably cassettes if you order that sound system), and also provides a miniature clipboard for a notepad, a clip for the writing utensil of your choice, and a light to scribble by. What next?

How about the glowing, all-encompassing sound of a digital electronic AM/FM/CB/eight-track stereo with scanning functions, an integral digital clock, and the ability to monitor CB re­ceptions while you're listening to the regular part of the radio? Perhaps you'II find the superlative automatic electronic climate control to your body's liking. Red and blue buttons raise and lower the Seville's cabin temperature one degree for each push of a button. Once set, the system functions without notice or adjustment, providing a continuous flow of air, your choice of blast or balm, neither dry nor humid.


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And, oh, we can't forget the seats. Ours were done up in gray leather, leather being the equipment on all Elegantes, and embossed with a large Cadillac crest in the center of each backrest. These are the most power-adjustable production-car seats in the world. Their controls send them forward, backward, upward, and downward, and tilt the lower seat itself. Cadillac has also powered the backrest rake adjustment and incorporated tilt and in-out steering­ wheel positioning. What more could you ask? we ask. Well, better lateral support and more front legroom for those of us who throw genetically long shadows would be nice. Other than that, we're happy, if amused and bemused by the Seville's hyper-poweritis. Oh, we forgot to mention power steering and brakes, but you've probably already guessed.

a dog sitting on top of a car: 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel © André LaRoche - Car and Driver 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel

The crisp gray of the seats is carried over into almost everything else inside that isn't "simulated teak wood-grain" or "butterfly walnut inlays." We're not charmed by the gauche stitchery along the prominent edges of the door trim and the slablike shelf above the dash, or by the peculiar, curving ends of this shelf, which sweep downward to fit loosely in depressions on top of the door trim. An angling, three-quarter ­inch gap of thin air hangs vacantly between the two surfaces. Mute testimony to a doubt within Cadillac about the practicality of making the two meet along the production line? If so, why? Everything else seems to fit quite well, and the car is more solid than most Detroit originals.

The Elegante's exterior color scheme, one of three two-tone combinations, picks up the gray theme with sleekly applied gray metallic over deep black, a thin red pinstripe separating the two. The humpback trunk provides a modest, 1.7-cubic-foot space advantage in comparison with the old Nova-based Seville, but a considerably more useful shape. Its contours are bundled with lush gray carpeting. So abhorrent to Cadillac is the idea of an exposed surface that even the hinges are hidden from the eye by carpeting. For all its pride in the mechanical pieces that lie beneath such respectable cloakings, Cadillac seems almost unwilling to admit that its automobiles, like all other automobiles, are first and foremost mechanical devices.

Cadillac's glow plugs prepare the engine very quickly for starting, even in cold weather taking no more than five seconds to get the job done. The engine's dieselness seems unobtrusive until the need for fuel or more than marginal performance arises. Its lack of pop is a painful shortcoming in busy traffic. This is the only car we've been able to full-throttle around our favorite ramp. Hitchcock could do a film about passing on two-lanes. The motor likes part throttle better than full, feeling less strained and tending to sag less noticeably as you first toe into the throttle. The faultless cruise control is a savior for the muscles of your right leg, which battle a strong throttle-return spring.

a car parked in a parking lot: 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel © André LaRoche - Car and Driver 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel

The biggest drawback besides the lack of power is constant and wearing wind noise around the A-pillar at speeds over 55 mph, a realm Cadillac seems to have ignored. A steady moan of effort intrudes at 75 to 80 mph, proving this more a town car than dedicated cross-country artiste. At lesser velocities the Seville is a mindless cruiser, almost hallucinogenic in its ability to just driffffift aloonnng. It is sleep-inducing. Its steering is very light, has adequate feel and decent response, but our car had a wander problem with which a momentary daydream could probably be combined to produce an expensive side trip. The electronic level control allows very little roll on long, sweeping corners. Firmer than expected, the suspension does admirably well across little faux pas of pavement, but floats in Detroit's worst tradition at the first sign of major ripples, dips, and eruptions. A European suspension option has just become available, and Don Sherman can tell you how he found out about it by turning all the hair at Cadillac snow-white. Cadillac's handling stab at the import bastion will serve best with the more energetic gasoline V-8, but more poise would stand the diesel in good stead as well.

It may upset Cadillac that the Seville's strongest audience, judging by roadway reactions, lies with people in pickup trucks and rusty old Oldsmobiles, but then we saw some near-wrecks perpetrated by gawking everyday-Cadillac drivers, too. No matter what you think of the Seville's appearance, its weight and size must be figured into the column marked "Minuses." Cars this size can't be justified anymore. That brings us back to thumbs. Take your choice, up or down.

Counterpoint

I always have the same reaction to Cadillacs: I'm appalled at the egregious Detroit-style luxury while reveling in the sybaritic pleasure of it all. Experienced that same mixed emotion with the Seville, but more than ever before. But then why not? It's the most expensive Cadillac of the year (and, with the exception of some limited-production limousines, the most expensive production Caddy ever, I guess), and all that money ought to buy all the fuzzy carpet, power this and that, automatic other things, and general plushplush there is. And it does. But beware. The car is so comfy, so quiet, so sedating, you quickly find yourself totally oblivious of the fact that you are, after all, driving. ("Oh. Excuse me, sir. Did I just run over you? Hard to tell, you know.")

As for the looks, I really like the new tail treatment, and I've always found the original Seville's front end crisp, clean, and appealing. I just don't like them together. Maybe next year they'll finish designing the car they got such a good start on. —Mike Kneppe

an open laptop computer sitting on top of a table: 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel © André LaRoche - Car and Driver 1980 Cadillac Seville Elegante Diesel

I don't much like the new Seville, but I must admit I do respect it. What Cadillac has here is the ultimate expression of the American luxury car, an automobile with almost universal appeal. Everyone from 42nd Street pimps to mannerly Miami matrons is going to fall for it.

If I were in charge of building the embodiment of the American dream, I'd have done it the same way—full wretched excess ahead. The Seville's styling turns heads and screams "money" like no other American car; Mercedes become invisible next to it. Your average American success story isn't interested in a hard-riding, noisy car that's trimmed like a fighter plane, either. Down-home luxury means having a hundred mechanical servants at your beck and call, an interior appointed like a good bordello, and a ride so smooth and quiet that you'd swear you were rolling down heaven's highway. The Seville's got it all, and that's why it's truly Elegante (if you don't believe me, just read the door panels). The new Seville may be gauche, but it's really good gauche. —Rich Ceppos

If the Seville is the answer, I obviously misunderstood the question. —David E. Davis, Jr.

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