Cadillac DeVille: The First Car Providing Night Vision

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Cadillac DeVille: The First Car Providing Night Vision

The fall and rise of Cadillac is a saga of little interest to luxury car buyers in Korea. So who cares that the Cadillac name, for so long hailed as the world standard, had sunk to the point of being ridiculed as the car of choice among crime bosses, undertakers and retired doctors?

What matters is the product and in Korea, still a virgin market for imports, the Cadillac name has always stood for the ultimate in American motoring.

For the better part of two decades, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW have been eating GM's lunch, gobbling up big market share points from Cadillac. But now, the gloves are off and GM is fighting back to restore the luster of this American icon and to reposition its nameplate as a luxury global brand.

The Cadillac DeVille is the latest example of the rapid and radical transformations that are under way in the Cadillac division. The styling is more youthful, the handling is surprisingly agile and the cockpit is loaded with high technology, the centerpiece of which is the Night Vision system, the world's first application of infrared sensing technology in an automobile.

Being a techno toy lover, I was more interested in testing the Night Vision system than the car, so I specifically requisitioned a DeVille equipped with the optional system.

Night Vision-equipped DeVilles are instantly recognizable by the Cyclops-like lens that is mounted on the center of the grille, replacing Cadillac's famed wreath and crest insignia. That's the infrared camera. The black box , including the optical projection unit, is housed in the dashboard behind the instrument cluster.

How does it work? Reading the infrared heat signature of everything in the field of view ahead, the system projects a letter box-sized black and white image onto the lower edge of the windscreen. At first, it's a bit confusing because the tones are reversed; people show up as ghostly white shapes and surrounding objects are varying shades of grey. But the image is sharply defined and doesn't take long to get used to.

Controls are mounted to the left of the steering column: The same switch that shuts the system down also controls brightness. Another control raises or lowers the infrared image so that it does not interfere with the driver's vision.

Night Vision is designed as a driving aid, something to glance at occasionally, just as you do your side and rear view mirrors. Because it sees five times further than a normal human eye, cuts through fog and a blinding winter blizzard, Night Vision gives the driver much more time to react to animals or people wandering along dark roads. This is the biggest thing since electric windshield wipers were invented and it's a safe bet that this technology will be trickling down the model range and will be standard on all cars someday.

What's the verdict? In city driving, the system is really quite useless and should be turned off since it is more of a distraction than a safety asset. But driving in fog, in a blinding winter blizzard or along country roads at night, the system is a potential lifesaver.

Inside, the DeVille's cabin matches everything the Japanese and Germans offer point for point, but the interior somehow retains the trademark look and feel of a GM interior: a bit too big and a clunky interface.

Nevertheless, the driver is coddled with luxurious appointments such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel that tilts and telescopes and a tri-zone climate-control system with independent controls for the left-front, right-front and back-seat passengers. And there are rain-sensing windshield wipers, puddle lights and almost two dozen storage bins and pockets. Plus, there are side air bags for rear passengers.

The sheet metal, while contemporary, is still too conservative but the overall package is redeemed by performance, starting with the 4.6-liter 279 ps Northstar engine. This powerplant, first introduced in 1992, has been extensively refined for smoother, quieter running. Ride and handling, enhanced by an electronically controlled suspension, are taut but do not yet match a BMW 740 or even a Lexus LS430.

Price as tested: 105 million won ($87,500).

by Oles Gadacz

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