The Key elements of Cadillac’s Elmiraj concept are not those mentioned in the speeches to the press on its reveal at Pebble Beach but are instead the eternal verities of Cadillac: it’s big, it’s clearly and unmistakably American, it’s attractive in a showy way, and it’s carefully detailed to demonstrate that it’s not just a bigger and more expensive Chevrolet. Not really worthy of the multiple press panegyrics in some reports I’ve seen, the Elmiraj is surely a big step in the right direction. Some “off” elements need to be dealt with, but I — along with most of the people who’ve seen it — really like this car. Love it? We’re not there yet, but it’s good enough to engender optimism for the brand’s future.
The easiest part of design criticism is picking points that are clearly wrong. The Elmiraj has only three or four, starting with the deliberately misspelled name, intended to evoke El Mirage dry lake in the California high desert, once home to hot-rod clubs for their top-speed runs. So why not just say so and use the Hispanic name, as Cadillac has often done in the past? Eldoradough might have suggested the high price asked for the first front-wheel-drive Cadillac coupes long ago, but that would have been as silly a name as this one. Another minor negative is the new badge, bereft of the wreath and ducks in heraldic order so long associated with Cadillac. I can see altering the graphics a bit, but to do a poor art student’s imitation Mondrian painting is infra dig.
More seriously, there are those spectacular (and spectacularly vulnerable) forged wheels — totally superfluous and distressing to anyone who must live with cars. The huge constructs are all right for a show car but not for daily use, where they would soon be grievously curb-marked. To my eye, the most egregious error lies in the vertical outlets on the front fenders. This is no GTO Ferrari, and it doesn’t need to evacuate large volumes of hot air at high speed. I’ve often characterized similar vents on Jaguars, Land Rovers, et al. as “paper-towel dispensers,” and I hate seeing the beautifully modeled surfaces on the flanks of this machine broken up by a design cliché. I remember the seven-foot-long rear-fender stampings of late-1950s Cadillacs and despair that today’s stylists can’t seem to leave a much shorter panel well enough alone.
The best part of the Elmiraj is the fluidly shaped cabin, which is unlike anything that German or Indian-British or Germano-British luxury-car companies (or their Asian copyists) might do. The wooden headliner is imaginative, semitransparent dials are new and intriguing, and I can imagine this interior going into production exactly as shown. Refine the exterior, perhaps increasing the height of the side glass in the process, and Cadillac would have a winner, the kind of car it has needed for decades, salable to geriatrics and (rich) young people alike. As with Cadillacs of yore.
FRONT 3/4 VIEW
1 Wreath and crest? We don’t need no wreath and crest. This dime-store shield is supposed to be fresh and modern, but it looks cheap and undistinguished, barely Cadillac.
2 This surface just above the grille is elegantly and subtly shaped, positive at the center peak but becoming slightly concave as it sweeps around the sides.
3 A slight, sharp break in the hood surface evokes past GM design classics and gives a tailored look to the skin.
4 LED headlamps are arranged in a slim vertical lamp assembly that provides profile emphasis and decoration as it flows over the top of the front fender.
5 The subtle “banana” windowsill line has become all too common in recent years, but it works well on the Elmiraj with its chopped-top proportions.
6 The ogival curve of the upper profile is elegantly handled, with the transition from convex to concave taking place approximately halfway up the C-pillar.
7 Beautiful modeling: this subtle crease line deriving from the end of the headlamp assembly drops below the mirror base and fades to nothing in the door.
8 Several British makes have featured these vertical slots, but they simply break the flow of the sides, serve no useful purpose, and devalue the overall profile.
9 These 22-inch wheels are frankly silly. Jazzy and well-styled, yes. But too big and far too exposed to curb damage, thus ultimately badly designed.
10 The thin chrome strip wrapping around the front corner continues along the sill and finishes behind the rear wheel, a wonderful linear accent as it climbs to the rear.
REAR 3/4 VIEW
11 Taillamps recapitulate the Cadillac signature tall blade, set into the skin surfaces with faceted walls.
12 This concave band runs from the center peak all the way into the C-pillar, where the surface is convex, the transitions handled all but imperceptibly.
13 These outlet details, unlike the slots in the sides below them, do nothing to disturb the sensitively handled surfacing of the entire car.
14 Brilliant simplicity. Nothing is sculpted, tortured, or made “interesting.” The sills are direct and clear and accentuate the visual length of an already big car.
15 Extra points for rear-quarter glass that doesn’t imitate BMW’s Hofmeister kink.
16 Sharp triangular sections, horizontal and vertical, help emphasize the taillights without breaking the surface flow of the grand masses of the body.
17 As on the front end, a clearly delineated V-shape in plan view carries to the base of the backlight.
18 Exhaust tips are nicely sculpted compositions with four apparent outlets for the 4.5-liter twin-turbo V-8.
19 A surprising but highly agreeable feature of the interior is the wood veneer headliner, far less oppressive than the frequent dark fabric in luxury cars.
20 The instruments are mere skeletons — just data rings and needles — with an imaging screen behind them, necessary technical elements like gauges set apart from the sensuous sculpting of the whole driving compartment.
21 This wooden shelf looks as if it would feel intrusive, but once the driver is seated it becomes an agreeable sensuous element in a truly luxurious cabin.
22 Leather-covered sliding control for the transmission looks inviting and feels good in the hand, like a computer mouse.
23 Wood and leather wheel is a tactile delight, and its classic simplicity suits a Cadillac. This is a car, not a driving machine or a fighter plane.
24 Seat shape is inviting, and the sliding arrangement for both front and rear seats makes entrance to the rear extremely easy, unlike in most big two-door cars.