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ELDORADO PERFORMS LIKE A WINNER

Wham! We're outta here.

That's the reaction when the gas pedal of the 1995 Cadillac Eldorado Touring Coupe is firmly and fully depressed. The 300-horsepower Northstar engine responsible for that violent response also is the major reason for the car's appeal.The Eldorado Touring Coupe - ETC in car lingo - is, along with the Seville SLS and STS four-doors, Cadillac's international showpiece, meaning it's intended to compete with the big luxomo-biles from Europe and Japan. Its performance makes the ETC a winner.

The vaunted Northstar engine, which slams out its 300 hp at 6,000 rpm and generates a let's-move-it 295 pounds of torque at 4,400 rpm, is impressive. Kick it, and the Northstar will leap from a crawl to expressway speed in a hurry (zero to 60 mph in about 7.5 seconds) or it'll shift the four-speed automatic transmission down a notch and rip through traffic.

The safety features of the ETC make it easy to utilize the power, if done so responsibly. It's got dual air bags, anti-lock disc brakes, traction control and an automatically adjusting suspension. They give it handling characteristics superior to those of many performance coupes and sedans priced above its bases of $38,220 (the one-name Eldorado) and $41,535 (the fully equipped ETC).

The ETC lacks little in the way of comfort and convenience. It's also massive - 3,800 pounds and 202.2 inches long - with conservative, mildly reworked styling.

Where the ETC comes up short is in ergonomics. It's got all the bells and whistles, but they just aren't as easy to read and operate as in other imported roadburners.

The only way to control the flow of heated or cooled air from the automatic climate control system is by manually opening and closing the vents. Otherwise, the system will decide whether to direct air to the upper or lower outlets to maintain the desired temperature. The central control gives no choice, nor does it offer the right-left switches common to upscale imports.

The mix of digital-analog instrumentation also can be vexing. The system will tell a driver almost anything anyone would care to know about what's going on, and the trip computer is useful. But extracting information can take attention away from driving.

Still, the ETC is a driver's car. It's got power for performance, an adaptive suspension and the ride is seldom less than fine. Visibility is good - save from the awkwardly entered rear seats - and the surprisingly high noise level is easily offset by the premium CD-cassette stereo, a $972 option.

The interior is spacious, with more headroom in the rear than the front (38.3 inches vs. 37.8 inches) and generous legroom (42.6 inches in the front, 36.1 in the rear). The front seats are in keeping with traditional American luxury car standards, meaning they're not as firm or supportive as those of some imports.

There isn't much storage space in the open cabin, but the trunk offers more than 15 cubic feet of space. The standard perks for occupants include front and rear drink holders, rear heating-AC vents and controls, and leather seating with Zebrano wood trim.

Overall, the ETC is a serious contender, thanks to its muscular powertrain and capable suspension. Just don't expect all of the detailed qualities required to make a luxury car totally driver-and occupant-friendly.