New Vehicle/Review

1996 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham

by JOHN HEILIG

SEE ALSO: Cadillac Buyer's Guide

    
SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE: 5.7-liter V-8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE : 260 hp @4800 rpml3 30 ft. lb. @ 2400 rpm
TRANSMISSION: Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY: 17 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, 15.3 mpg test
WHEELBASE: 121.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH: 225.0 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT: 57.1 in.
OVERALL WIDTH: 78.0 in.
CURB WEIGHT: 4451 Ibs.
FUEL CAPACITY: 23.0 gal.
LUG&AGE CAPACITY: 21.1 cu. ft.
TIRES: P235/70R15
INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, fuel level, water temperature.
EQUIPMENT: Electronic level control, cruise control, traction control,
           ABS, dual air bags, power windows, power mirrors,
           power seats with memory, Twilight Sentinel,
           AM/FM stereo with cassette, leather seats.
STICKER PRICK: $41,855

A large number of Cadillac owners are in for a traumatic shock a the end of the 1996 model year. Cadillac has decided, after nudging by General Motors, that the rear-wheel-drive Fleetwood was a dinosaur and should be replaced by a front-wheel-drive model. Therefore' 1996 is the last for the large rear-wheel-drive sedan that has been a mainstay of Cadillac's line for years.

Our tester is the largest of the large, the Fleetwood Brougham. At almost 19 feet in overall length, the Fleetwood Brougham approaches the real estate coverage of the behemoths of the 1960s.

But this isn't a lumbering klutz of a car. Yeah, it's big, and it's not the best car for winding roads. But it can be driven at a good pace over almost any relatively straight road.

Where the Fleetwood Brougham shines, though, is on the Interstates. Here is a true land yacht, with gobs of comfort and ease, that can travel at any speed (even in Montana), offer its passengers a quite and peaceful ride with excellent sound and heating/cooling systems, and permit the riders to arrive at their destination without having felt as if they had been in a torture chamber.

The Fleetwood is powered by a 5.7-liter V-8 that's rated at a healthy 260 horsepower. Unlike the front-wheel-drive Caddies, this isn't a Northstar engine. Rather, it's the old big block that also powers the Corvette and Camaro in slightly different form. As such, it's a torquey engine that can handle the 4450-pound weight of the Fleetwood and still tow 7000 pounds.

The engine drives the rear wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission that is smooth. It also has traction control that keeps the rear wheels from slipping. It's an interesting traction control, too. I have a difficult entry point on my daily commute, where I enter the main highway from a stop sign on a hill, and there's often gravel or loose stones on the road. If traffic is heavy, I have to accelerate quickly to avoid making enemies. With the Fleetwood's traction control, there is just enough feedback through the pedal to make hard acceleration exciting. In normal situations, of course, the traction control is an asset. Cadillac quotes a 0-60 time of 8.5 seconds, so you know the car can perform when it has to.

We always treat our road test cars as if they're our own and use them for whatever purposes. Well, with the Fleetwood I had to get some peat moss for the garden. I discovered to my pleasant surprise that two peat moss bales will fit in the Fleetwood's trunk with room to spare. Now, the average Fleetwood owner is 69 years old and makes $65,000, so they can hire someone to take the peat moss to the garden and apply it, but it's nice to know that the trunk is big enough to handle the equivalent of two steamer trunks.

Passengers sit in leather-faced seats with benches front and rear. This is a true six passenger car. There's a fold-down console to make the front seats more individual, but it can be folded back. The console also holds the obligatory cup holders. Both front seats are powered with a memory and both are heated, just to make the ride more comfortable. Another nice touch is the lumbar support for those of us who are more mature (okay, older3.

Rear seat legroom is excellent for all but NBA superstars. But you expect that in a large car.

A lot of people aren't going to mourn the passing of the Fleetwood Brougham. The rap against the car, of course, is its size and its alleged gas guzzling. But we were able to average over 15.7 mpg in the Fleetwood which, while not great, isn't bad. And every one of those miles was spent in comfort.

Many, too, will mourn the passing of the Fleetwood name, which began with a small custom coachbuilding company in eastern Pennsylvania and was appropriated by Cadillac in the 1920s. While Fleetwoods since then have kept the style of custom coachbuilt cars, something was lost in the transition. And-while a proper replacement for the Fleetwood Brougham car will surface someday, the era of custom coachbuilding is gone forever.

You can spend a lot more for a luxury car but you'll have a hard time getting more car for your money.

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