The Cadillac stand at last month’s North American International Auto Show neatly summed up the predicament of Cadillac’s current product, which exceeds the number of SUV crossovers it sells.
For 15 years, Cadillac had hoped its V-Performance cars would join the ranks of the M-Class from BMW and Mercedes-Benz AMG. It succeeded admirably, producing cars that equaled or beat the competition in performance, only to be shunned by consumers as Cadillac’s sales and reputation continued to slide painfully long into irrelevance, despite producing cars that outperformed the Germans.
Perhaps herein lies the problem.
A thought crossed my mind after sampling the 2019 Cadillac CTS-V, the high-performance, high-performance version of Cadillac’s mid-size luxury sedan.
It’s not that the Cadillac CTS-V isn’t a great performer; that it. With a solid rear-wheel drive chassis and a 6.2-liter V8 with 640 hp, it takes 3.7 seconds to hit 60 mph, compared to its Stuttgart competitors. The transmission shifts intelligently, the tires communicate their intentions, the brakes grip hard and the seats hold you firmly in place. In other words, this car is an absolute blast.
Even better, the car is connected to a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless charging, and the required infotainment system.
Do I like this car? Certainly, despite his minor annoyances. For example, when you order the Recaro front seats, you forego the front seat ventilation, a luxury you can get in a car for half the price. The cabin is noisy at speed, with a lot of tire noise. This is a Cadillac, not a Chevrolet. Trunk space is pathetically meager.
However, this is a wonderfully fun car, just like the CTS-V models that came before it. But the problem with the CTS-V is the same that has plagued new Cadillacs for 15 years or more, one that affects nearly every new model from GM’s flagship brand: These are great cars, but they aren’t great Cadillacs.
Sure, auto journalists sang the praises of these cars, myself included. But we don’t buy Cadillacs. Those who do are clearly dismissing them because it’s not what they expect from a Cadillac. Buyers have long been anticipating what Cadillac has offered: opulent comfort, spacious accommodations, generous luggage space and the latest technology packaged in a sophisticated, exhilarating design in a meticulously built vehicle.
That’s why the Escalade SUV has the highest bargain price of any Cadillac. It’s the closest approximation to what consumers really want from the brand. He is big, bold, daring, physical, powerful and unapologetic. Other Cadillacs look shy in comparison. A simple vanilla imitation of Cadillac’s past glory.
This $87,990 knife-edge CTS-V design is what we’ve come to associate with modern Cadillacs. Yes, it is eye-catching and sporty, but you would hardly call it cute or alluring. Indeed, the numerous air vents and quick body trim parts lack the skill that a brand of this caliber demands. It looks old.
GM’s design studios certainly have the ability to create Cadillacs like the Cien and Elmiraj, two test cars that seemed like Cadillac truly understood its heritage.
And herein lies the problem: where is the elegance, the rhetoric that captures the essence of our time?
And Cadillac knows that.
That’s why the company showed the 1959 Cadillac El Dorado convertible at the Detroit Auto Show and attracted far more attention than the hunchbacked XTS sedan on the ground below. A car that expresses the exuberance of the times, a car built to the highest industry standards, built at a time when Cadillac recognized the difference between the production class and mass production, a lesson many luxury brands have forgotten. General Motors didn’t make many Cadillacs, but every one they made was great.