There's something reassuring about driving a car that will call for help if you have an accident.

That's right, even if you are injured, or unconscious, the car will call for help and tell the ambulance exactly where you are. Or, more accurately, the OnStar system will summon emergency help. It is automatically activated whenever the airbags deploy.

OnStar, available exclusively on 1997 Cadillacs, is more than just an emergency service. It is a full-service communications system, and the Cadillac DeVille Concours I was driving was so equipped.

OnStar integrates a Global Positioning System (GPS) into the voice-activated, hands-free cellular phone. When you press a button on the cell phone it always knows precisely where you are, even when you don't. About 40 trained service advisors staff the OnStar center 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in Farmington Hills, Mich. They can give you route directions over the phone if you are lost, or are looking for a specific place. They can also call an ambulance or police car for you, send a tow truck if you have a flat, and even unlock the doors if you get locked out.

OnStar can even track your car if it is stolen.

It costs $895 plus dealer installation and about $22.50 per month.

OnStar is the result of collaboration between General Motors North America Operations, Delco Electronics, Hughes Electronics Corporation and Electronic Data Systems. Lincoln and BMW offer less-comprehensive systems, but only OnStar has automatic notification in case of airbag deployment.

OnStar currently has agreements with some hotel, gas, floral and travel companies so that advisers can, for example, make reservations for you while you drive. Or direct you to a service station.

While Cadillac's research indicates many of these services have special appeal to women, 73 percent of all people surveyed expressed interest in being able to get help immediately during an emergency.

Although I did not have an experience which required the use of the service, it was comforting to know it was there if needed.

Concours refined

The Concours is one of my favorite Cadillacs because it has the 275-horsepower Northstar V8, but this year it has been refined with a host of technical innovations.

One such addition is StabiliTrak, a system that uses various yaw and lateral sensors to monitor the car's direction. If the car is not following the intended path, such as fishtailing on slippery turn, StabiliTrak applies various combinations of traction control and braking to straighten the vehicle. This complex system adds considerable peace of mind to driving in inclement weather.

A rain-sensing system automatically turns on the wipers when rain falls.

Front side airbags are now standard as well.

Up front, a revised grille and headlights gives the Concours a slightly new look. Underneath, the body structure has been revised to lessen interior noise and give a firmer feel.

This year the Concours finally gets the interior it deserves. The instrumentation and secondary switches are now models of elegance and simplicity. The wide, flat buttons and knobs for radio and climate control are as nice as any in the industry, even if they are nearly identical to those in a Lexus.

It's interesting how the new dash and console transform the whole car, making it friendlier and easier to use. The atmosphere is warmer because of Zebrano wood inserts and plenty of leather.

There is seating for five. I would prefer that the front bucket seats have more contouring for better lateral support, but in general they are comfortable places to sit for long drives.

The dual-overhead-camshaft (DOHC) engine, too, contributes to the Concours' overall friendliness because it is such a willing partner. Stomp on the gas and it jumps. The exhaust pipe's muted shriek is an aural delight that says this is no old person's car.

While th ride is Cadillac smooth, handling is still reasonably athletic because the Road-Sensing Suspension adjusts rapidly to driving conditions. The Concours acquits itself reasonably on twisty roads, and absolutely excels at barreling down the interstate.


The base price of our test car was $41,995. It was equipped with options of AM/FM stereo with compact disc player, DSP active audio, electronic compass and garage door opener.

The sticker price was $43,952.


The basic warranty is for four years or 50,000 miles.

Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by automobile manufacturers.

Point: The DeVille Concours is a technical tour de force. The available OnStar system adds peace of mind and security, while StabiliTrak enhances handling and performance in all kinds of weather.

A sweet engine plus the simplified instrument make the DeVille Concours a Cadillac that appeals to all ages.

Counterpoint: Minor styling changes for 1997 make the DeVille look more contemporary, but the styling remains traditional and conservative.

The seats could use more lateral support.


ENGINE: 4.6-liter, V8


WHEELBASE: 113.8 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 4,009 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $41,995


MPG RATING: 17 city, 26 hwy.