Design of the Year

By Design: Cadillac Escala Concept

They still don’t know who they are

Not one of the people running Cadillac as a separate General Motors entity out of a trendy Manhattan coffee bar appears to know what Cadillac was ­— irrelevant, they say, we want to be a luxury brand, not just a car company — or what it should be. There have been many fumbling attempts to conceptualize a successful 21st-century Cadillac, some of them well back in the 1980s (remember the Voyage?), but not a single good concept has been followed by a worthy product. No Ciel four-door convertible, no Elmiraj, and — above all — no Cadillac Sixteen. I’m not an unstinting Bob Lutz admirer as so many journalists are, but the guy does indeed know and love cars and had truly great instincts as to what should be built. His Sixteen was a near-perfect modern Cadillac, but thanks to inept, bankruptcy-bound mismanagement, it was not to be.

I can say with certainty that, to me, no Cimarron, no BMW-imitating ATS, nor any hard-riding, noisy, Corvette four-door hot rod in a CTS-V costume is a real Cadillac, however good the last two may be purely as cars. A Cadillac has to be big and powerful, capable of being fast but not really a fast car, and above all it has to be comfortable. Escalade, you say? That’s what keeps the people running Cadillac today with cash to pay their baristas, but the highly successful Chevrolet Suburban in luxury disguise is not a real Cadillac either.

Neither is the Cadillac Escala Concept. While a very nicely styled if excessively generic sedan, it looks more to me like a well-executed Chevrolet than a Cadillac. Its grille shape is a smiling trapezoid, not the severely rectilinear grid that has said Cadillac for decades, and its Silverado-style headlamps are more Bow Tie than wreath and crest (or just crest now). Not to mention the twin bumps on the hood, like 60-year-old Corvettes.

You know just by gazing at it that this good-looking car probably won’t be a best-seller, especially since Cadillac’s marketers, such as they are, are almost bound to price it too high, as they have most recent new Cadillacs. You can’t look at a German manufacturer’s price list and choose your window-sticker figure accordingly when you have nothing left of Cadillac’s true heritage. And that heritage never encompassed front-wheel drive, short hoods, and self-effacing front-end compositions.

At least the Escala Concept doesn’t suffer from the first two of those negative — for a luxury brand — attributes, and it does have in its favor a name you can pronounce and almost surely remember, not a quasi-Germanic collection of letters and numbers signifying nothing of interest. But why truncate the name of the one money-making vehicle in your lineup by removing a few suffix letters? Could there be a plan to bring back more shortened names? Eldora, Coupe de Vil, or Eldo Bro?

Cool. Those would probably go over well with the baristas.

By Design Cadillac Escala rear three quarter

1. The short, BMW-style front overhang is agreeable, if not terribly Cadillac-like.

2. There’s a substantial downward plunge of the front-end surfaces outboard of the tall center section.

3. Tiny mirrors or large multi-million pixel CCD or CMOS sensors for rear-view cameras?

4. This windshield and roof centerline section is an impressive, elegant, long, gentle curve.

5. The chrome piece delineates the quarter-glass profile with its sharp-pointed termination on the C-pillar.

6. Backlight on this successful fastback is actually big enough to give the driver some rear vision.

7. A well-executed undercut section below the spoiler lip gives some definition to the rear …

8. … which is further emphasized by the sharp-edged surface change on the rear fascia. This is framed in chrome and nicely done.

9. T-shaped taillights keep the vertical emphasis expected of Cadillac, but they pick up a bit of the transverse red favored by rival German marques.

10. A very slim transverse chrome piece across the full rear, just above the low-mounted license plate, is reflected in accent pieces on the two corners. Altogether a nice rear composition.

11. What in the world is this tiny hockey-stick trim piece supposed to do? It recalls some false Formula 1 trickery on other considerably less-distinguished makes.

By Design Cadillac Escala front three quarter 1

12. Chrome accents outline the simple frontal composition, altogether too much like a Chevrolet.

13. Truck headlamps again makeyou think of Chevrolet, not Cadillac, at first glance.

14. And wouldn’t a chrome-and-gold Bow Tie emblem look right at home?

15. Twin bumps on the hood don’t particularly identify this as a Cadillac.

16. This concave groove helps define the fender and runs out in a fade on the rear door skin.

17. The A-pillar in paint is deceptively thin, but you see a thicker structure behind the windshield perimeter black paint in parallel.

18. The usual bulge to the wheel opening is nicely done, and we are spared a wide vertical surface. It’s there but subdued.

19. Behind the hockey-stick trim is an area inflected to reflect light from above, another indication of real mastery of surfaces on this nice but undistinguished body.

20. A nice little point in the center carries up onto the hood and through the grille texture. Very Bill Mitchell.

By Design Cadillac Escala interior 1

21. The gently indented surface in the door gives a visual impression of extra interior space.

22. This steering wheel with mini-airbag housing looks very Cadillac to me—and very attractive.

23. Framing the side-by-side screens with thin bright lines is elegant.

24. The nine piano-key switches are elegant as well, but they must be an ergonomic nightmare: all identical making it difficult to rememberwhat each does.

25. This sweeping curve across more than two-thirds of the IP is elegant and reminds me favorably of the advanced Citroën CX of the late ’70s.

26. The soft-looking panel up the side of the tunnel looks comfortable, but the hard edge on the right side does the passenger no favors. Altogether, the interior is simple, clean, and
quite elegant.

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