Full Disclosure: Cadillac wanted my opinion on the 2001 Eldorado ETC so much so that they sold one new to a guy in Florida, who sold it to my dad’s neighbor, who drove it for about 7 years and then wrecked it, drove it another 6 months then sold it to us as a project car. Needless to say it had seen better days.
Cadillac introduced what became the final generation of the Eldorado in 1992, and it was a big deal. Actually, it was a massive deal, as the new generation Eldorado was 11” longer and 3” wider than its predecessor. Seriously, this car is within an inch of the length and width dimensions of my dad’s 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan. That van holds 7 people and a bunch of junk behind them. The Eldorado, well... Let’s just say that it’s more ‘Merican in it’s usage of space...
The first year they released this generation, it came equipped with the Cadillac High Technology (Ha, port-injected, 2-valves per cylinder, pushrod V8. High Technology it’s oversized ass) 4.9L V8, producing 200 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. This obviously was inadequate, and was replaced in the second year of production with the first generation of the Northstar series, the 4.6L. Within a couple of years it was broken into two different Northstar variants, the LD8 and L37, attached to two different trim levels, ESC and ETC. The LD8 has 275 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque compared to the L37 which has 300 hp and the same torque. What makes the difference is that the LD8’s power and torque come into play about 500rpm sooner than the L37’s. This one has the L37...
I like the way this Eldorado looks, and I’m thoroughly unashamed of it. I love the way that it uses random straight lines for everything. There are a number of random ‘style lines’ along the sides. The one that is especially weird (and in my taste kind of cool looking) runs from the rear windows to the taillights. It does not, however, run along the same level as the windows. It sits roughly 2-3 inches above the vehicle’s window sills and sweeps back to become the trunk line.
I love the way that the headlights and grill work. They’re unreasonably tiny. Seriously, the headlights are roughly 3-4 inches tall. They are also very, very long. It has corner lights as well as the side turn signal indicators. What I like most of all, however, is the way the rear of the car looks. It do, in fact, have booty. The taillights are 2-3 inches wide and are as tall as the rear of the car. They run from the top of the bumper to the top of the trunk, and they look wonderful at night when they’re lit up. Also worthy of note are the exhaust tips. There are four of them, two on each side. They are symmetrical. This is good.
The interior is the best that 1990s Cadillac had to offer the world. It’s... Well, it’s not amazing, but it’s not bad either. Everything is soft-touch material. The entire door panel is soft-touch material, with a leatherette pouch running the bottom of the door. The dashboard, save for the wood trim (which looks fake but has real wood inside of it - had to re-glue a trim piece), is soft-touch material. This entire car is pretty much soft-touch. The material covering the inside of the massive c-pillar is soft-touch.
Pretty much every switch or lever or button in the car is positioned so that one has to put the least effort possible into operating it. All of the radio controls are within easy reach from the driver’s seat, as are the climate controls. However, Cadillac thought this was just a bit too far to reach. To remedy this, they decided to place volume, preset/track, temperature, and fan speed controls on the steering wheel. The gear selector falls directly to hand when resting one’s arm on the center console. The steering wheel looks relatively ugly and old-fashioned, but there’s something that just feels right when you loosely wrap and hand around the partially-wooden circle.
The only real issue with the interior is space. One would reasonably believe that the interior of a nearly 17 foot long car would be rather spacious but, alas, the opposite is in fact true. This is not to say that the car is cramped, but rather that you don’t have the luxury of excess interior space. If you’re above six feet tall, you will either have to lean the seat back until it resembles a barcalounger, or you’ll have to lower the seat cushion until it’s on the floor. If you don’t do either of these things, your head will hit the ceiling. There is no argument about that - front seat headroom is merely non-existent. The front seats are spacious, but not over-flowing. As a rather thin fellow myself, there’s roughly 2-3 inches of extra seat to each side of me. Granted, this seat easily beats my ‘99 Mountaineer or ‘96 Miata for space, but I’d argue that it is easily smaller than the driver’s seat of my father’s ‘96 Ram 1500. The seats, however, are very comfortable, especially for long trips. The headrest tilts easily so you can angle your head upright after having to lean the seat back to fit under the roof.
The rear seats are... odd... to say the least. As the image shows (unless Nibbles eats it), they are unbelievably plush, yet supportive. The headrests are like little pillows you gently lay your head on, and are even softer than the seats themselves. Between the seats is a fold-down armrest (no, it has no trunk pass-through, and no, the seats do not fold down) that is fairly comfy, but the cupholders that retract out of it are hit-and-miss. They hold cups relatively well, but they only take smaller-sized liquid-containment-vessels, and they feel horribly cheap. This is because they are horribly cheap. Oddly, rear seat headroom is quite acceptable for your 6-foot-ish friend. What isn’t acceptable for them, however, is the legroom. There’s usually plenty of room for one’s feet behind the front seats, but due to the fact that they are usually reclined heavily, there is little knee room. This means that the tall amongst your acquaintances will have their knees splayed out, not unlike how they would sit in a late-80s/early-90s ‘extended cab’ pickup. If we’re being honest though, these seats are here for one reason. You wanted a two-door coupe because your traveling needs usually only require space for you and your significant other. However, on rare occasion, you have a friend or two that tags along or needs a ride. If your vehicle were a two-seater, this would be a grand inconvenience - something by which Cadillac could not abide. Ergo, you have two rear seats that may not be very spacious but still convey the feeling that “you’re riding in a Cadillac”.
The Eldorado Touring Coupe was equipped with the Northstar L37 4.6L DOHC V8 engine. This nets you 300bhp and 295lb-ft of torque. What it does not net you, however, is either of these numbers at low rpm. I did a little research, and the power and torque curves on the L37 follow the same trajectories as the power and torque curves for my Miata’s 1.8L I4. Granted, these numbers start at and stay nearly 200bhp and lb-ft above the Miata, but make no mistake, this is a motor you have to wring to get the best out of. And that’s what makes it wonderful.
You can stab the throttle at a light, but unless you exercise caution all that will get you is tire squeal, followed by the Traction Engaged notification from the display center, followed by a neutered experience. Even if you turn the TCS off, it still just generates a load of squeal and very little go. 0-60 times as tested (by me) are mid-7s, for a car with 300bhp and a weight/power of under 13 lbs/hp. Where you really love this engine is when you’re on the highway. Hole-shot merging puts the biggest grin on your face and a very confused look on the many people you just passed. 40mph to highly-extra-legal speeds comes very quickly. When you get an opening in a two-lane passing zone and want to get around granny, it makes you giggle. The way the L37 pulls through 2nd gear is savage, especially when it climbs the cam around 4000rpm. And because the torque converter locks up fairly early, you just let off the gas and coast for great distances before you’re back in the realm of legal speeds. The greatest disservice that Cadillac ever did their customers and the L37 was that it was never offered with a manual. No Northstar unit, for that matter, was ever offered with one (the Shelby Series 1 doesn’t count for a multitude of reasons that, were I to explain, would bore you all to tears...).
The brakes leave a great many things to be desired. The ETC is equipped with 4-wheel disc brakes with 4-wheel ABS, but this is very misleading. When you stand on the brakes, the front end plows violently enough that it incites the fear that you’re going to legitimately hit the ground. The pedal feels okay when you’re in normal traffic, but when you’re having to surprise-brake while you’re slowing down in traffic, the pedal feels like it never ends. You push and push, farther down and harder, but it only stops slightly quicker and most certainly does not inspire confidence. My Mountaineer has mushy brakes like the Cadillac when it comes to normal driving, but in panic braking it exceeds for a simple reason: pedal force and travel are progressive. The harder and quicker you push, the more force it applies - not only to the wheels, but also back to the pedal. It communicates to you that it has heard your request for more stopping power, where the Cadillac doesn’t.
I mean, c’mon, it’s a Cadillac. It rides like a boat. This does tend to throw some people off at first when they feel bumps - it doesn’t suppress the road like a Rolls-Royce or Bentley. It can rebound pretty badly depending on how hard and fast you want to hit bumps. Again, where it excels is the highway. Washboard concrete interstate systems? It’s never heard of them. Pavement undulations? Not worth mentioning. This car soaks up the highway like nothing I’ve seen before. You enter the freeway, set the cruise, and it honestly feels like you’ve just laid down to a nice evening’s bath. There may be occasional waves that jostle you a bit, but nothing is allowed to compromise your Zen-like experience. This car is equipped with CVRSS, Continuously Variable Road Sensing Suspension, as well as an auto-leveling rear air suspension. I have no idea how the CVRSS works. Supposedly, the struts constantly vary between two stiffness settings, but I don’t know how they do this. This is not, I repeat NOT, MagneRide or Magnetic Ride Control. That wasn’t offered on Cadillac’s until 2002 in the Seville STS. Regardless, the CVRSS can be hit or miss. I discovered that it handles speed bumps much better if you take them at higher speed - I suppose the CVRSS stiffens up at that point to deal better. Take them at lower speeds, and the car bounces and rocks like its hit rough seas. However, if you attempt to take different suspension-ary obstacles like train tracks or dips in pavement at higher speed, it violently hits the bump stops. The auto-leveling rear works well, but gets confused when you jack the car up to rotate tires. It retained something like 4 extra inches of ride height afterwards and refused to lower to normal height until we took it on a thorough spin around the city. Overall, the ride is lovely, especially coming from a Miata-owner.
The Cadillac handles well. Well, it handles well for a 3900lb car with a piss-poor weight balance and floaty ride. Body roll is surprisingly minimal (One could suppose this is the CVRSS acting; I feel it’s due to the massive sway bars) and the understeer is controllable. It handles better than other ‘sporty’ FWD GM vehicles I’ve driven, such as the Pontiac G6 and Grand Am. It is still a big, nose-heavy car, and responds as expected. It’s like a Buick but rather than having deadly understeer and plow when driving quickly, it feels safe and secure. It’s still not stellar, but it’s not dangerous or inconvenient when you need to make driving adventurous. That is, until the tires start giving up. Then you inevitably understeer into the tree.
The ETC was equipped with the 4T80-E, or 4-speed Transverse-Mounted 8,000lb GVWR weight-rated electronically-controlled transmission. It was designed specifically to couple with the Northstar V8 and is one of the highest capacity FWD transmissions that GM has ever produced. It reportedly cost 80% more and weighed 60lbs more than GM’s closest transmission, the 4T60-E. What does all of this mean? Well, it’s one of the better 4-speed automatics I’ve had the pleasure of using. In the ETC, it’s coupled to a 3.71 final ratio, which does tend to push the revs up when you’re cruising on the highway, but not too highly. But the ETC was not designed as an economy car, and the combination of transmission and final drive totals up to a Goldilocks-ian ‘just right’ whilst you motor along. It can mosey along in a higher gear, making no discernable engine noise as you cruise the streets. It can also pull like a madman through lower gears, using the most of it’s delightful powerband. Overall, the 4T80-E is a good transmission and a wonderful pairing to the Northstar L37.
For a car that was built in 2001, the toys can be a little lackluster. If you consider, however, that most of these toys were introduced back in the ‘90s, it seems a little less worse-off. It’s got a soft-close trunk. It has 2 person memory driver’s seat, which is tied to two different remotes and ignition keys for a highly personalized experience. The power mirrors and radio presets also have a memory recall function tied to the Driver 1 and Driver 2 remotes. The driver’s seat is not alone in having power adjustment - the passenger’s does as well. Both seats also have dual high-and-low setting heated seats, the former of which likens the seat to a home heating pad. It’s that good. The passenger’s side exterior mirror has a setting which, when turned on, will angle the mirror down towards the rear tire and curb to make backing up in small spaces easier. The ETC also came with a Bose audio system, an AM/FM/CD/Cassette receiver with 4 custom speakers and an amplifier. It’s an adequate system, but it was certainly tuned for a specific few genres of music. As clichéd as it seems, classical, jazz, and Sinatra sound the best in this car. Rock is okay but lackluster, and it has trouble dealing with anything containing bass. This ETC came with a sunroof, and it has OnStar. It has rain-sensing wipers that work relatively well (they pretty much just judge how intermittent they should be) and automatic headlights that also tie into the wiper system. What is the one toy it should be equipped with? Parking sensors. This car is massive, but you can’t see the trunk from the driver’s seat. This means you constantly over-estimate it’s size and park with way too much space behind it.
As I stated under Toys, the Bose audio is adequate but not amazing. This is okay though. The noise the L37 makes is heavenly. The engine itself is rather quiet - you don’t hear it idling or running whilst you’re cruising down the road. The mufflers are what make the car. You hear a quiet burble emanating from below the trunk while it sits running. However, when you charge down the highway it makes a delicious kind of sound that quite befits a smaller displacement DOHC V8. It’s refined yet has a snarl to it. The Collector’s Series Eldorados, which were produced both as the Eldorado’s final run and as a celebration of 50 years of the Eldorado nameplate, were supposedly equipped with an exhaust tuned to sound like the first Eldorados built back in 1952. I haven’t had the luck to hear one of these, but according to Cadillac the only difference is the fitment of different mufflers. I’m sure they’re quite nice.
We paid $1250 for this one, and spent another $1250 repairing it. That total includes a bumper cover, passenger door, front passenger fender, one starter, two radiators (because the fans weren’t placed far enough away from the first one), and a sway bar link kit. We sold it for $3500. I also spent 4 months driving it. Overall, the car was an amazing value, mainly because we picked it up and repaired it for cheap.
Engine: 4.6L DOHC Northstar L37 V8
Power: 300bhp @ 6000 RPM and 295lb-ft @4400 RPM
Transmission: 4-speed 4T80-E
0-60 Time: Officially 6.5s, more realistically around 7.5s
Top Speed: *Limited to 115mph, but is most likely capable of 140mph
Drivetrain: Transverse-mounted V8 coupled to a 4-speed automatic
Curb Weight: Roughly 3,800lbs
MPG: EPA estimated 15 city/25 highway. Realistically, 14 city/22 highway unless you really try and use the throttle very sparingly.
MSRP: About $45,000 as equipped