Cadillac's Ciel ("sky" or "heaven" in French, pronounced C-L) concept car is meant to establish a flexible template for future models. Cadillac has slogged along a twisted, costly, and often muddy path since the nameplate's nadir with the Cimarron, trying to get back to its self-proclaimed status as "The Standard of the World." The turning point for Cadillac's renaissance was Wayne Cherry's presentation of the Evoq concept roadster at the 1999 Detroit show, which established the sharp-edged, chain-saw sculpture aesthetic that Cadillac has subsequently followed for both passenger cars and trucks, the latter of which also began with the 1999 model year.
Trucks have been good to the bottom line, but I regret seeing a bit too much of the coarse, oversize detailing that works well enough for the Escalade on the Ciel. The more refined textures of the similar Sixteen concept would have been better, I believe. The Ciel's very low front end has a bit of a bulldozer/snowplow-blade look that surprises, but apart from that, the total effect of this study is quite nice and is a positive improvement for Cadillac. The height of the windshield is appropriate for an open car, but it is clear that any top, even a cloth one, would make the Ciel a poor proportional copy of the now-old-looking Chrysler 300. The equally proportionally challenged chopped-top Camaro seems to indicate that this look is in favor at GM Design right now, but it really does not transfer well to sedans.
Where the Ciel's proportions are excellent is in the length of the hood compared with the rest of the car. It successfully avoids the stumpy front-wheel-drive look of the 2010 XTS Platinum concept, in which good surface development of the passenger compartment was vitiated by FWD-economy-car visual mass distribution, the entire front being much too short for a big sedan.
Just as the three guiding principles for real estate are "location, location, location," so is "proportion" the first three or four concerns in car design, followed by the too-often neglected "beauty," which is often made subsidiary to "novelty." Under Ed Welburn's regime, GM styling has tended to the conservative side, with a fair amount of backward-looking self-reference. It has avoided disasters like the Pontiac Aztek but hasn't achieved -- yet -- any home runs like Bill Mitchell's Buick Riviera. Obviously it was difficult to innovate during the precipitous decline toward bankruptcy and the slow struggle to emerge from that state, when budgets were severely constrained, but efforts such as this handsome concept show that the capacity is there to make things happen.
If GM reached its peak after some fifty years of activity and its lowest point after another fifty, it seems possible that credible if not superb efforts like the Ciel will lead to a second flowering of the company's -- and the nation's -- industrial capability. One good omen of progress: General Motors has now made 100 million small-block Chevy V-8s, but the Ciel doesn't have one.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1. The sharp separation of hood-top surfaces was a Bill Mitchell specialty, brought back with mastery here.
2. Careful delineation of the hood from near-horizontal fender valence panels is both elegant and sensitively executed.
3. The windshield is seriously cut down, speedster-style, and the little quarter glass on the doors allows unimpeded access to the lavish interior, unlike true wraparound glass.
4. The rounded side panels are nicely defined by this four-door's central door cut, showing a voluptuous character missing from Cadillacs for a decade or more.
5. The texture in the side vents seems too coarse and unrefined for a luxury car. And one wonders if they are needed at all. Purity of form should be enough.
6. I like big wheels as much as anyone but find these ultra-low-profile tires are disconcerting on a luxury car, where ride comfort is really more important than cornering grip.
7. The liberation from traditional lamp forms offered by LEDs is fully accepted and nicely utilized on the Ciel.
8. This grille is again coarser and more trucklike than is really appropriate for a luxury car, even a big one like this.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
9. Notice that the cockpit sill is convex, with the highest point behind the driver's seatback, beyond which it tapers downward all the way to the abrupt bend in the taillight.
10. The hard highlight controlled by the sharp bend in the door cut washes out completely in the rear doors.
11. Integrated headrests with fairings behind the seats terminate the cockpit area clearly and cleanly, adding an otherwise-lacking air of sportiness to the total composition.
12. Repetition of the front end surfacing theme is nicely carried out, with the pleasing difference that the area below the horizontal definition line is concave, in opposition to the front end's convexity.
13. Recapitulating the front grille shape is a rather Lincoln-like conceit, but it works well enough here to relieve the plain back panel.
14. The tall vertical taillights fit into the Cadillac tradition and very nicely terminate the flowing side panels. The top part is both elegant and practical.
15. The exhaust outlets again seem oversize, just very slightly out of scale, but the Ciel is, after all, a very big car.
16. This subtly rising line helps reduce the visual bulk of the unadorned side panels, and it runs through the rear wheel center for a sensitive composition. Very nice indeed.
17. The face of the steering wheel is free of buttons, but on the forward side there are plenty of controls, thus combining convenience with classical appearance.
18. The wooden elements are real, but isn't it time to stop chopping down trees to decorate luxury cars?
19. The high-aspect-ratio screen pops up from a slot in the wide shelf in front of the passenger. It's neat but not useful to the driver.