Why I love the Cadillac Ciel

I'm loving this thing.

Back in August, Nick and I were at the Pebble Beach Concours, as most of you know.  The day we arrived, we got hosed by Air Traffic Control, and missed the debut of the Cadillac Ciel concept car.  When we both saw it in the flesh the next morning, I was smitten.  While GM is calling it a strict concept, I think that it really does represent a lot about the future of the Cadillac brand in two or three different realms.

First off, there’s the styling.  No one’s touched the four-door convertible concept in ages (in production) for various reasons (The Wrangler Unlimited is a different animal completely so I’m going to sort of ignore that).  Meanwhile, the Ciel pulls off a Detroit trademark, with its smooth sidelines and low bodywork, accentuated by an oversized grille and badge up front.  Throw in the huge wheels and the tailfin motifs out back, and it’s no mistake that this is a true, blue-blooded Cadillac, like GM used to make.  Where some of the Cadillac lineup of today has a distinctly European flair, this newbie screams “USA!” like nobody’s business.  The styling itself is great, and with the stopgap XTS about to hit the market next spring, this could be a great way for GM to drum up support for a new Cadillac flagship to go up against the Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7-Series.  With a roof (but still with the distinctive suicide doors), RWD, and a usable interior with the same motifs as the concept, Cadillac could have a seriously compelling flagship to advertise.

The wheels with these vents are just awesome, admittedly. I want this.

The engineering underneath the Ciel is something to seriously consider as well.  It’s no secret that General Motors is working around the clock to improve their fuel economy measures, with the next Malibu downsizing to four-cylinder engines only and the XTS most likely not getting a V8 engine, as well as with the shiny new Volt, which is probably the most advanced vehicle they’ve ever made.  The Ciel, though, is worth a look under the hood.  Unlike with most concepts, the Ciel concept car is fully functional, making use of a twin-turbocharged V6 engine coupled to a hybrid system with lithium-ion batteries, and all-wheel drive putting the power to the road.  It’s not the first Cadillac to wear a hybrid name, but with the fact that this powertrain puts out (according to GM) 425hp, it might represent a great replacement in multiple formats of the old Northstar V8.  It’s an engine that Cadillac can really be proud of, for the fact that it combines forced-induction with an electric motor–providing V8-esque grunt and possibly V6 efficiency.

The dasboard design, the steering wheel, and the instrument panel are all postmodern in the best way.

Finally, there’s the interior.  I got a good look at it during the days we were there, and while Cadillac’s most recent interiors have been a huge improvement over their below-average predecessors, the new interior design is just plain cool.  The solid wood finish on the rear of the front seats, while not really a feasible production item, are striking, and the lines match the bold exterior.  Put it next to a current CTS, and the CTS will look more boring than a Camry on a rainy day.  Cadillac needs to really make a statement in the upper echelon of the luxury market if they want to be on the same level as they were back in the early 1970s, and the Ciel, with its avant-garde powertrain, beautiful interior, and striking exterior, could be the right move.  But, exactly how should GM implement it?

GM wouldn’t have put a car like this on debut during Concours Weekend if they didn’t want to make a statement.  The fact is, Cadillac has the resources to bring us a real flagship sedan, but the XTS is only a stopgap to keep Cadillac in another sedan market.  The ELR will give them a credible luxury extended-range alternative energy car, but that’s still not enough to convince some buyers.  The Ciel, though, attracted a massive amount of attention.  First off, if Cadillac is to build a flagship inspired by this car, it needs an exclusive (and competent) platform, something that GM has consistently failed to deliver for the brand.  The DTS shared its bones with the flea-bitten Buick Lucerne, and the STS, while an exclusive platform, didn’t really have the  goods to put Cadillac back on the map.  Now, the Northstar is indeed finished (thanks to emisssions, most likely), but GM should still offer the LS3 V8 engine as an option, with the supercharged LSA as a potential Ciel-V.  The four-door convertible, while a bit “pie in the sky” at this point, should be a limited-production offering to bring buyers into the showrooms.  That twin-turbo V6, though, could be a good idea as a base engine, and the hybrid can work as an alternative to the hybrid S400.  The foundation has been laid, and General Motors has the resources now, to bring Cadillac one step closer to the “Standard of the World” once more.

-Al

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