COLUMNS: Cadillac XTS Platinum Concept

By - March 18, 2010
Cadillac's 110-year trek from its initial existence as the Detroit Automobile Company has been a long, hard trip. From rising to be the "Standard of the World" it fell to the depths in the Cimarron era and is again on the way up, attaining, if not yet the pinnacle of the motor industry, at least genuine respectability. The XTS Platinum concept shown in January closely foreshadows a promising new addition to the range that will replace both the front-wheel-drive DTS and the rear-wheel-drive STS. It benefits from an exquisite interior equal to any luxury car's but suffers a major weakness: the pug-nose, front-wheel-drive look imposed by the transverse-engine platform.
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The three principal concerns in real estate are location, location, and location. In car design, they are proportions, proportions, and proportions. The XTS fails to achieve the universal approbation attained by the Sixteen concept of seven years ago because it looks like two different designs jammed together. From the leading edge of the front doors back, it's excellent. From there forward, it's drastically squeezed to fit an inappropriate platform. There should be at least six more inches between the doors and the wheels, putting overall length up to three inches more than that of a Mercedes-Benz S-class. It's hard to see what's wrong with that; earlier Cadillac drivers enjoyed much bigger vehicles.
Some very good designers have tried to convince us all that the old way of shaping cars should be abandoned, that we should be thinking hard about reducing a car's "footprint." If you need a given interior volume, they say, just make cars taller. Giorgetto Giugiaro espoused this theory and has built instructive concept cars showing the way. Patrick Le Quément at Renault struggled mightily to get the upright Vel Satis accepted, but it was stuck on a too-narrow chassis and convinced few buyers. The truth is that a long hood just looks right and a stumpy one doesn't.
The chain-saw sculpting seen on the 1999 Evoq concept has been greatly softened, and sensuous curves have been added to the mix. To my eye, the XTS's grille is oversize in the way of BMW's first Rolls-Royce, and it is surprising to see the front end adopt Audi's "shield" look, but overall this is a good-looking car. The trouble is, it's not convincing as a top-of-the-range luxury car. It is entirely too much like a midrange, middle-class "entry luxury" model, not quite up to the standards of the BMW 7-series, the S-class, the Lexus LS460, or the Audi A8.
So there is still a fair distance to go before Cadillac becomes an aspirational marque once more, but the refinement of the XTS Platinum concept's interior and the suavity of its surfaces clearly show that the Cadillac division is at last on the right road, if not yet running in the fast lane.
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1 The upper side-window profile is nicely done and thankfully doesn't try to ape BMW's characteristic kink, as have so many others.
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2 This rather flat, almost vertical wall derives from the A-pillar and gives importance to the too-short "engine room."
3 The bottom of the trapezoidal upper grille emphasizes the strong central line that runs through the whole lower body.
4 This bright-finish lower grille turns the front trapezoid into something seemingly copied from Audi.
5 Hidden below the shield is yet another air inlet. There's probably little airflow through the shiny grilles, so this opening is likely needed for extreme-condition cooling.
6 The wheel is much too close to the door, exaggerating the front overhang and hindering any pretense of elegance.
7 The strong line emerging from the front fender is simple, clear, and beautifully modeled.
8 The cabin's expanses of wood trim blend into the door panels in a single elegant curve.
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9 Christine Park, principal interior designer, stresses the "cradling" aspect of the main instrument panel. The theme works quite well.
10 The dash top's pointed center continues the external lower-body theme.
11 Inner door handles evoke the pistils of a flower. They are visually delicate but feel robust.
12 Seats in the XTS are extremely understated-and all the better for it.
13 The fender line proper is very simple, just peaking in profile at the aft end of the upper lamp cluster.
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14 The elegantly slim mirrors must grow for the production version.
15 Taking heed of the Lexus LS460, perhaps, Cadillac has fashioned an elegant piece of trim that does much more than a simple constant section could.
16 The backlight is nearly flat. This would have been a nice place for a crease supplied by bending the glass, as General Motors did in the 1970s.
17 The CHMSL composition adds interest and avoids a clumsy spoiler.
18 Keeping the vee in the plan view on the rear bumper adds elegance and a bit of formality.
19 A great deal of attention has been paid to the exhaust outlets and the backup lights, integrating all the functions in a nearly full-width element.
20 The surface swelling outward to capture and cover the rear wheel is good. Too bad the tractive effort is primarily at the front end.
21 The indent in the lower body-side surface stiffens the sheetmetal and catches a lot of light.
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