Cadillac used the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance as a chance to get some attention for their latest concept car, in much the same way I used fake choking at friends’ Bar Mitzvah’s to get attention for myself. Unlike a faked choking, the Cadillac Escala is actually quite lovely, and represents Caddy’s new design direction. Let’s look at it in detail.
The Escala (the name seems to have been picked to drive Google-searchers to hot deals on Escalades) is a vision of how Cadillac wants to see themselves in the near future, as well as a concept for a hypothetical new flagship sedan.
Cadillac has stood out in the past decade among other premium carmakers by embracing a more dramatic, angular design aesthetic, and I’ve admired them for that. They’ve been proponents of sharp corners, crisp creases, and unrepentant verticality for their lamp signatures for a while. It’s not been to everyone’s taste, but I always liked that they weren’t indistinguishable from so many other cars out there.
With the Escala, it seems that they’re scaling back a bit, and adopting some of the softer surfaces and horizontal light elements of the mainstream. The reason for this I think is less about blending in with everyone else and more about an idea of understatement that hasn’t exactly been synonymous with Cadillac for quite some time.
One of the designers of the Escala, Jennifer Kraska, summed it up as:
“Luxury doesn’t have to shout or scream, it can whisper,”
... and I think that may sum up Cadilllac’s design goals here better than anything.
They seem to want to move away from bling, and into the sort of quiet luxury that makes bottom-tier people like myself feel vaguely unsettled without anyone actually having to say anything about the weird stains on my shirt. It’s all about presence.
Generally, I think they’ve done it quite well.
The front face, while an evolution of their current face, appropriates elements—especially in the shape of the scaled-down headlight design—from a lot of other carmakers.
It makes the front, while not anonymous, perhaps a bit more familiar, and likely less polarizing.
There’s less chrome brightwork, and what there is tends to have a repeated hockey-stick-like shape. It’s a strong motif, and I think it works, especially in profile, where the front door hinge-thingy and the C-pillar trim echo each other in a pleasing way.
The one place where creases have actually sharpened is on the hood, which I like, but I have to admit, really reminds me of the stretched leather of a Velorex hood.
The chart covers a lot of design details I like, but I think the biggest deal is in the overall design of the car. It’s a high-end, full-size premium car that’s not a traditional three-fancy-box design: it’s a four-door fastback hatch. While this isn’t the first time this has been tried for a premium car—big Citroëns have done it, the Merkur Scorpio gave it a shot, and the Porsche Panamera has been doing it for years—but for a mainstream American carmaker, it’s still unusual.
I think we have Tesla to thank for the acceptance of a big hatchback sedan in the luxury space, and I think the Model S was absolutely a big influence in the Escala, and that makes sense.
On the inside, I think the dash and steering wheel especially, you can actually find some lineage to Caddy interiors of the past, with the strong horizontal theme of the instrument panel. Sure, it’s in muted grays instead of moose-vulva reds, and there’s modern (even curved) OLED instruments, but we’re getting a feel of the comfort-focus of Cadillac of old as opposed to current Cadillac’s performance/driver focus. I think we have the creeping shadow of autonomy to thank for that.
Overally, it’s a strong and compelling direction. There’s definitely a place for muted elegance, though I also think there’s a place for loud status-screaming as well. I’ll be excited to see what makes it to the real world, and how it all plays out.