1990 Cadillac Allante

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Every year it's the same old thing.

Some rookie hits five home runs in April and without regard to past accomplishments or the fact the kid has no track record in the big leagues, he`s labeled the next Babe Ruth.

That`s what happened when Cadillac brought out the Allante in the 1987 model year. Cadillac went a bit overboard in its praise of the untried, untested two-seat luxury car. It wasn't the next Babe, but Cadillac said it was the next Benz.

As good as a two-seat Mercedes SL? Better, said Cadillac, which had the nerve to put a $54,700 price tag on it. Being as expensive as the Mercedes, it had to be as good as the German car, Cadillac apparently reasoned.

That was 1987, and this is 1990. The Mercedes SL sits up in the $80,000 range, and Allante is a mere $53,000 to $58,000, depending on whether you opt for the convertible or the convertible/hardtop version.

One reason Allante is still in the $50,000 range and not up there with Mercedes is that Allante hasn't sold that well. Luxury consumers preferred the real thing rather than an unreasonable facsimile.

The best thing Allante has going for it is that it's a test bed for Cadillac. For 1990, the system undergoing scrutiny is traction control, which is to a car in motion what antilock brakes are to a car coming to a stop.

By adding a few more sensors to the Allante's standard antilock brakes, Cadillac was able to offer traction control as standard, too. Traction control delivers just what the name implies.

Last fall, we went to Detroit for a preview of the 1990 Allante. Cadillac ventured to the Palace in suburban Auburn Hills, home to something called the Pistons, to show off traction control.

A large section of the parking lot was roped off. Rubber mats covered with liquid soap (to simulate ice as best you could in August) were laid out to form a driving course. An Allante had been set up with push button traction control. You could push the button to activate or deactivate the system.

Our first trip over the course was sans traction control. Floor the accelerator and hold onto the wheel because you quickly lost footing. Next we activated traction control and again floored the accelerator. The tires grabbed at the slimy soap-covered mats as if they were dry. No swing or sway, no slip or slide. No loss of traction or control. The Allante accelerated simply and swiftly.

Whether moving from a standing stop or maneuvering at speed through pylon-outlined curves, the Allante hugged the asphalt. With traction control keeping the driver in command while the car is moving and antilock brakes ensuring no slipups when coming to a stop, the Allante distinguished itself.

But that was then and this is now, and except for traction control and antilock brakes, the Allante offers nothing to distinguish itself or justify a $50,000 price tag.

We drove the convertible, priced a t $50,900 at the outset of the '90 model year but which has just been bumped up to $53,050. The convertible hardtop had been priced at $56,533 and now is $58,683. Cadillac cites the cost of a new power-operated convertible top system as well as "economics" for the increase.

Our test car had the old manual convertible top, hardly an easy-to-open- or-close unit. A new easier-to-handle top is in the works to justify the higher price and will be added on the '90s soon.

We had to call Cadillac's special 24-hour toll-free roadside assistance number to get help in lowering the top. Any resemblance to the pictures in the owner's manual and how the top works are purely coincidental. The manual, for example, doesn't show the rear quarter windows or how they are to be lowered to get the top down.

The young man who answered our call patiently gave detailed instructions to solve the problem and asked we call him back to ensure it worked. He turned an annoyingexp erience into a pleasant one-and forced us to concede that though owning an Allante wouldn't be on our list of things to accomplish before senility sets in, such a toll-free problem-solving service would make the pleasure of having a DeVille, Fleetwood or 60 Special even more enjoyable. Pininfarina of Italy designed the Allante. It's difficult to distinguish an Allante coming at you six blocks away; but it's very easy to tell that a Mercedes SL is approaching. Enough said about design and styling allure.

The 4.5-liter V-8 engine teamed with 4-speed automatic transmission is peppy enough but is EPA rated at 15 miles per gallon city/22 m.p.g. highway and carries a $650 gas guzzler tax as a result. In the 1991 model year, Cadillac replaces the 4.5- with a 4.9-liter V-8-in all cars except Allante.

Cadillac boasts Allante has revised strut mountings, gas-charged struts, revised speed dependent damping shift speeds and a direct acting front stabilizer bar along with four-wheel independent suspension.

Say what it will, Allante has a stiff suspension that allows lots of road harshness to be transmitted back into the wheel and seat. On a sporty $50,000 `Vette, you accept a few bumps; on a luxury $50,000 Cadillac, you expect to be cushioned.

Standard equipment on Allante includes automatic transmission, independent four-wheel suspension, antilock brakes, driver-side air bag, traction control, power brakes and steering, air conditioning, steel-belted radial tires, aluminum alloy wheels, reclining power seats, AM/FM stereo with cassette and compact disc player, power windows/door locks, tilt wheel, cruise control and rear-window defogger.

>> 1990 Allante Convertible
Wheelbase: 99.4 inches. Length: 178.7 inces. Engine: 4.5 liter, 200 h.p. V-8. Transmission: 4-speed automatic. Fuel economy: 15/22 m.p.g. Base price: $53,050, includes $650 guzzler tax. Strong point: Traction control/ABS. Weak point: Not your father`s mercedes SL. >>

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