For the third time in five years, Cadillac has chosen Monterey Car Week to unveil a vision of the brand’s future. The first two cars, the 2011 Ciel and 2013 Elmiraj, were explorations of its “Art & Science” design, a styling language that’s informed every new Cadillac model released in the 21st century, and has been instrumental in making the brand what it is today. In fact, without the Ciel and Elmiraj, Cadillac’s current lineup would likely look very different. But its latest concept, the Escala, could be the most important of the trio; it likely marks the end of Art & Science’s 17 year run, and begins a completely new chapter for the brand.
The angular creases and upright lines of Art & Science debuted on the 1999 Evoq concept. That car became the XLR grand tourer, and the language was instrumental in the company’s phasing out of its big, soft-edged ’90s-era luxobarges in favor of clean-sheet models like the original CTS and SRX. The language has evolved gracefully over the years, and if this is indeed the end of Art & Science, new models like the CT6 and XT5 have proven that Cadillac has been smart in sticking with it on its unparalleled climb back from afterthought to luxury car royalty.
But the luxury segments are changing fast, and now that Cadillac is a player again, it needs to innovate in order to compete. And from a rented mansion in the hills above Monterey, California, the company’s latest concept looks like just the car to raise the brand’s profile – and grow its footprint in the luxury market – as we enter the 2020s.
Like the Ciel and Elmiraj, the Escala is being treated as a concept, and is a preview of the brand’s styling direction going into the next decade, not as a teaser for a future model. In his remarks at the unveiling, brand chief Johan de Nysschen laid out the car’s purpose: “First, Escala is a statement of intent for the next iteration of the Cadillac design language, and also technical concepts in development for future Cadillac models. Secondly, Escala builds Cadillac’s aspirational character, signaling the brand’s return to the pinnacle of premium.” But he also added: “Depending on the development of market segment for large luxury sedans, Escala is a potential addition to our existing product plan.”
Cadillac needs a car like this, and in our opinion, there’s a pretty good chance we could see something like it on the roads in the not-too-distant future.
The Escala is built on a stretched CT6 platform and is powered by a prototype 4.2 liter twin-turbo V8 – an engine that’s perfectly suited for a Cadillac flagship. And as recently as this April, the company was working on a flagship (tentatively known as the CT8) that would slot above the current CT6, and would eventually be joined by an even more prestige model (the CT9) by the early 2020s. America’s appetite for SUVs is what reportedly scuttled these plans, but if Cadillac is taking its next steps deeper into the luxury market – think Bentley territory – and wants to appeal to more European and Chinese buyers, it will need something bigger and more exclusive that the CT6, and something like the Escala looks like a beautiful place to start.
The Escala (Spanish for “scale”), is a big, beautifully-proportioned luxury car that rounds off many of Art & Science’s hard edges. Its pillar-less greenhouse and tall, arching windshield recall Cadillac’s “bubble-top” cars of the early ’60s, and the gracefully sloping and unadorned rear recall the “Sedanette” fastback cars of the late ’40s. But other than that, the design is pure 21st century. At nearly 18 feet long, the big sedan rides on massive 22-inch wheels, but looks understated and imposing, with its front end dominated by its massive shield-shaped grille.
Inside, the car’s dashboard is comprised of three ultra-thin arching OLED displays that simplify the car’s controls to near-abstraction, giving the car a tech-infused elegance. The front seats are wrapped in leather, while the rears are trimmed in wool – a touch inspired by bespoke tailoring. Combined with all that glass, the cabin is a beautifully-designed, airy space perfectly suited for a luxury car of the near-future.
Cadillac says the Escala is “both a driver’s car and an indulgent flagship sedan,” and from our vantage point at its unveiling, looks exactly like the car the brand needs as a flagship as it continues its push further upmarket. But even if the Escala never does see production, its big proportions, clean lines, and embrace of technology mean that the brand is still on the right path, and is ready to move forward after the success of Art & Science.