I approached test driving the Cadillac DeVille with lukewarm acquiescence. After all, Cadillac is popular with the older generation. It's certainly not something a self-proclaimed hip, thirty-something should be driving, right? Wrong.First of all, the DeVille has a sleek, sexy exterior — definitely not what I was expecting — putting it in the running with the likes of Lexus and Mercedes. For example, a small porthole in the front grille, the "eye" for the night-vision system, together with a graphite paint scheme (new for 2001), makes the DeVille look like something Batman might drive on his day off. Speaking of night vision, its claim to fame is that it clarifies what you see in the dark. However, after trying it for a week, I found it was a distraction. It projects a grainy image on the windshield via a heads-up display. I kept shifting my gaze from this image back to where my eyes should have been, on the road. Also, night vision adds $2,250 to the bottom line.

A Cadillac standby, the 4.6-liter DOHC Northstar V8, produces 275 hp at 5,600 rpm and 300 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. In the DTS, a tweaked version of the V8 puts out 300 hp at 6,000 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. While accelerating onto the highway, the powerplant climbed up smoothly, rather than hesitating then surging forward with a burst of power like some other V8s I've driven. The automatic tranny links to the powerplant via a viscous converter clutch. This is said to provide smooth operation by minimizing torque variation when the clutch is applied.

A continuously variable road- sensing suspension (CVRSS) ensures a smooth ride. Wheel-position sensors detect road conditions and instantly adjust dampers at each corner to ensure smooth-as-silk handling. Equal-length drive axles limit torque steer by reducing angle differences from side to side during acceleration. Also standard on the DTS is Stabilitrak 2.0 traction control. Modifications of Stabilitrak for 2001 include side-slip rate control and active steering-effort compensation. And variable-assist speed-sensitive steering makes steering crisp and nearly effortless.

The luxurious interior gives front passengers an added boost besides power leather seats and an outstanding stereo massaging lumbar support. This glorious feature, coupled with heat, nearly lulled me to sleep while driving on the highway. A light push on the round lumbar switch on the side of the seat activates 20 rollers cascading up and down for 10 soothing minutes. After my 10 minutes of fun was over, I kept hitting the button for more, like Pavlov's pooch. While it may sound like the front passengers get all the fun, this is not so. Rear passengers have their own climate controls and heated seats are standard fare.

And, while the DeVille may be thought of as strictly a luxury sedan, think again. Let me explain. While visiting a local garden center, my mother happened upon a 6-ft apricot tree she had to have. After some careful maneuvering, the tree ended up with its base on the floor of the front passenger area and its branches extending into the back seat. Needless to say, the DeVille can haul trees, at least some of them.

Fuel economy for the DeVille lists at 27 highway, 17 city. Base price is $46,267. Add on options and destination charges, and the price jumps to $51,672.

Sherri Koucky