PHOENIX - The Cadillac wreathed crest adorns the 2000-model DeVille, but nowhere will you find the word "Cadillac" on the exterior. "Sometimes it's tough to get people to look at DeVille," a Cadillac insider candidly explains.

What you will see is a completely restyled and re-engineered version of General Motors Corp.'s flagship luxury car - a car so different from its stodgy, aging predecessor that at a moment's glance you might mistake it for a Mercedes or other luxury model boasting "international flair."

If DeVille lives up to its looks and promise, it just may mark a turning point for the battered and besieged nameplate, whose sales have plunged from 168,832 in 1990 to 100,513 in 1998, the latter adjusted after some unseemly ballot-stuffing was discovered in its originally-reported December tally.

The division's slide continued during the first six months this year as car sales dipped 15% while the overall U.S. luxury car market rose by 10%.

DeVille held its own, however, with first-half sales this year and last running at just under 50,000 (Seville, Eldorado and Catera all trailed the prior year).

DeVille's biggest problem is its image as an old man's car lacking any semblance of the pizzazz and flair demanded by younger buyers who've grown up with a wide choice of high-performing, high-image imports to choose from.

DeVille is anathema to these folks. They look at it as a car their fathers equated with success, yet one that conveys exactly the opposite to their sons and daughters.

The 2000 DeVille will attempt to straddle the line between the geriatric set and the boomers by offering three distinct versions: One simply called DeVille, a somewhat less techy and softer-riding model; the DeVille High Luxury Sedan, or DHS with a tad more flair and equipment; and the boomer special, the DTS (DeVille Touring Sedan) with performance, technology and trim aimed squarely at import luxury car buyers.

Although it remains front-drive, the 2000 DeVille shifts to GM's G platform shared with the Buick Park Avenue, a stiffer body designed to improve ride and handling with less vibration and noise and improved crashworthiness.

The car is 2 ins. (5 cm) shorter and narrower than the '99 but its wheelbase is 1.5 ins. (3.8 cm) longer, providing almost equal interior space.

Up front, the DeVille features stacked front headlamps and what designer Dennis Little calls a "powerdome" hood made of aluminum. The DeVille and DHS have chromed eggcrate grilles, while the DTS sports a chrome grille header with a painted grille.

All three shun excess ornamentation. "We tried to put chrome on tastefully," says Mr. Little. "We didn't want to trowel it on." There's a traditional hood ornament on the DeVille, but a Cadillac crest badge is used on the sportier DTS, which also features built-in foglamps in the front fascia.

Also up front: The industry's first application of night vision, which uses infrared technology to extend the driver's vision two to three times with low beams and twice the range of high-beam headlamps. Night vision is optional at a price yet to be revealed.

The DeVille's side appearance also is a major departure. There's less glass area, and the styling cues tie front and rear together harmoniously. Fender flares depart from the prior model's slab appearance.

The overall effect is sleeker, slipperier look - and the 2000 DeVille is indeed more aerodynamic: Its coefficient of drag (Cd) is 0.30 vs. 0.37 for the '99.

Rear styling changes are even more dramatic. Gone are DeVille's mainstay vertical rear lamps, replaced by larger, wider lamps that are more reminiscent of imported luxury cars. The rear lamps feature light emitting diode (LED) technology that illuminates twice as fast as standard incandescent bulbs, giving more warning to drivers following behind during braking.

Another rear-end feature: An ultrasonic "rear parking assist" that alerts the driver with both audible and visible cues as he/she backs up closer to objects.

All three versions are powered by a revamped Northstar double overhead-cam 4.6L V-8 boasting lower emissions and operating on regular unleaded fuel. It's the first major Northstar upgrade since the engine was introduced seven years ago.

The DTS gets a 300-hp engine, while the other two are powered by the 275-hp version.

The engines feature a new combustion chamber utilizing roller-follower devices between each cam lobe and valve stem vs. the previous-generation Northstar's direct valve actuation, a change that reduces friction and improves fuel economy.

There's also a new ignition system delivering power directly to the spark plugs and a new powertrain electronic module encased in aluminum to withstand underhood heat. Special attention also was placed on the engine's exhaust sound to achieve a throaty, but pleasing, sound.

The list of innovations and enhancements is a long one. Some examples:

n Steering and suspension tweaking that, say Cadillac engineers, gives DeVille greater stability and maneuverability on slippery surfaces and in tight situations than rear-drive competitors such as BMW and Lexus. Cadillac's "StabiliTrak" stability control system goes up a notch with the addition of active steering to offset side slip, and the carryover continuously variable road-sensing suspension system can now adjust damping forces independently at each direction of wheel travel.

n Multiplexing that reduces electrical wiring to a single wire for every function using digitally coded messages.

n Rear air bags optional.

n Optional navigation system featuring both audible and visual commands.

n Standard rain-sensor automatic windshield wipers.

n The first use at GM of a fully math-based process to design both the interior and exterior, eliminating traditional and timely methods, including clay modeling.

n Interiors on all three models feature more angular lines and modest use of chrome and wood. The DeVille model has digital gauges, apparently what older buyers like best, and DeVille and DHS have room for three up front. Leather seating is used in all three.

David Whittaker, G-platform vehicle line executive, naturally is enthused about the 2000 DeVille. "We think this is a break-out car," he says, "and that it will attract people who never considered a DeVille before."

He'll soon know if he's right. DeVille goes on sale in September.