Ask Jack: Trading in Your (Chance at a) Chevy for a Cadillac-ack-ack?

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

Way before the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad existed, I had my own financial angel and devil on my shoulders in the form of my grandfather and mother, respectively. Granddad retired at 54 and lived more than four decades in perfect comfort based on the investment decisions he’d made prior to retirement. My mom is… well, let’s just say she didn’t retire at 54.

Mom always had champagne taste and a debutante’s contempt for anybody who did not. When my grandfather decided to buy himself a Cadillac shortly after retiring, my mother told me, in quite snippy fashion, that it was “a used Cadillac, like what a loan shark would drive.” I don’t know what I thought I was going to find in Granddad’s garage when I got there, but the six-month-old ice-blue Eldorado Biarritz that he’d actually bought wasn’t it. He took me to the grocery store in it. When we went to the register, he took out a coupon book.

“Granddad,” I asked, “why do you use coupons if you have a Eldorado with a stainless steel roof?”

“Johnny,” he winked at me, “that’s why I have one.

Shortly afterwards, my father bought a Town Car. It was brand new, which pleased my mother. But in my heart of hearts I always liked Granddad’s Eldorado better, all the more so because I knew he got it cheap. Every time I manage to buy something outrageous at a steep discount, I think of my sharp-dealing grandfather and his delight at never paying retail for anything. Which brings us to today’s questioner, who is considering following in the old man’s footsteps, after a fashion.

Sean writes,

Looking at a car for a retirement from my career job. Although I’m still going to work consulting and side work I won’t be driving into the city any more so I feel like I can get a car and really take care of it for once. Definitely want comfort and space so I was thinking Impala. Yes I know it’s no sports car lol. But I can get a Cadillac for the same money if I get an older model. I’m thinking under 30 grand out the door. They say it’s the same car. Do I get the Chevy or Caddy?

Sean didn’t say, but I’m going to assume that he’s talking about the Cadillac XTS since that’s the platform twin to the Impala. Turns out that my family really digs this car: my wife praised the XTS in a review and my brother grooved on the Impala a few years earlier. It seems like a reasonable choice either way.

After doing some investigation of various used-car pricing sites, it looks like $25,000 will get you a very nice 2015 XTS or a very nice 2017 Impala. Getting a brand-new one, particularly in Premier trim, will ring the register in the $30,000 range. So let’s compare a hypothetical 2015 XTS “Luxury” trim against a 2018 Impala LT brand-new from your local dealer. What’s the better buy?

Let’s start with the fact that you’ll have to pay extra for the 3.6-liter V6 in the Impala; it’s standard in the XTS. So don’t be fooled by loss-leader four-cylinder cars either in the dealer weekend ads or the ex-rental listings. Otherwise, the XTS is pretty much the same as the Impala, but everything is just that little bit nicer. If you can find a Platinum trim, then you get some truly exemplary interior fittings. Both cars are quiet, the Cadillac being more so. It’s possible to find a twin-turbo Vsport out there, but not at these price/mileage levels.

Most of the Cadillacs I found in the $25k range had about 20,000 miles on them. That’s mileage that you wouldn’t have on a new Impala, or a low-mileage 2017 turn-in, but the Cadillac also has a longer warranty. More importantly, the Cadillac warranty is performed at Cadillac dealers. As someone who has dealt extensively with GM dealership warranty service, I can attest that the wreath-and-crest is a serious advantage here. You’ll also get a loaner car from most dealers when you are in for service.

Down the road, the Cadillac will always be worth a little more, if that matters. The quality of the paint may be higher. On the downside, some of the XTS models have heavy, and pricey, wheel/tire combos. And if you happen to get an XTS with Brembos, that will cost you more to service, obviously.

So what should Sean do? The no-risk choice is to get an Impala. But I’d be tempted to do some careful shopping for an XTS that really did have a little-old-lady-from-Pasadena owner. It’s easier to find that kind of history in a Cadillac XTS than it is with a new BMW M4 — at least at the moment, meow. And there’s a little bit of extra joy that comes from driving a Caddy. Even if it doesn’t matter anymore… it still kind of matters to some of us. In fact, I can easily see myself driving a Cadillac someday. Make mine ice blue, like Granddad’s first Eldorado. (Yes, there were others afterwards.) I’ll take my grandson shopping in it. Well, online shopping anyway. I’ll show him how to stack deals at Saks Off 5th. There’s never a reason to pay retail if you don’t have to.

[Image: Charley Baruth/TTAC]

Jack Baruth
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3 of 83 comments
  • BrentinWA BrentinWA on Feb 08, 2018

    i say go with the XTS. I have a 2013 Platinum model. Everyone that rides in it can't shut up about how much they love it inside. The lighting at night makes the interior positively lovely I also have asked the dealer about replacing the Brembo Brakes as I thought I may be nearing time at 55,000 miles, but they told me I am still at about 70% but no worries when replacement comes as it would only be about $130 per axle.. per AXLE, not per corner. Damned cheap in my book especially after experiencing other "luxury" car service bills.

  • OneAlpha OneAlpha on Feb 08, 2018

    One of the things that still disgusts me from my long-past days in retail were the cheap mofos who acted like they'd refuse a heart transplant if they couldn't get a deal on it. If you're not willing to pay full price, you don't really want something. And if you don't really want it, why are you trying to buy it? Stuff costs what it costs, and if you can't afford it don't buy it. I'm not a rich man, I just can't stand the penny-pincher mindset.

    • Ernest Ernest on Feb 08, 2018

      I often dispute the "you get what you pay for" mindset. Often you get more.

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