6 ways the Celestiq resurrects peak Cadillac glam
Last week, under the curved ceiling of GM’s historic Design Dome, Cadillac engineers and designers were practically giddy. They invited us for an in-person look at the brand’s newly minted flagship: the $300K Celestiq ultra-luxury SUV. Not for decades has Cadillac attempted a car with this level of craftsmanship—or expense, for that matter. The endgame is to restore the American brand to the pinnacle of luxury, a position it long ago ceded to brands like Rolls-Royce and Bentley.
Can a made-in-Detroit vehicle really go head-to-head against the world’s most prestigious, six-figure luxobarges? In case you think Cadillac’s getting too big a head, the company has done crazier things. There was the Great Depression-defying V16, as well as the the 1957 Eldorado Brougham, which cost more than any contemporary Rolls-Royce—not to mention the average American house. In that context, the $300,000 Celestiq is almost (perversely) conservative. Looking at the first four months of 2022, Federal Reserve Economic Data puts the average price of the U.S. house at $507,800, and the median at $428,700.
Cadillac has indicated that more truly opulent, hand-built, low-production vehicles are on the way. As a mark of distinction, each such Cadillac will bear a modern rendition of the Goddess iconography, worn by the V16 and the Series 62 (as a hood ornament) but not seen since 1956. No word on whether the Brougham’s shot glasses will make a comeback.
Fans of American luxury have been aching for a statement of intent and leadership like the Celestiq. During our time with the car, we noted six particularly high-tech details that suggest Cadillac stands a chance, with this car, to earn the right to the lofty language of 1915’s “Penalty of Leadership” ad. If you’re not familiar with the spot, here’s what the copy from Theodore J. McManus says:
In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity. Whether the leadership be vested in a man or in a manufactured product, emulation and envy are ever at work. In art, in literature, in music, in industry, the reward and the punishment are the same. The reward is widespread recognition; the punishment, fierce denial and detraction.
It’s a bit much. But isn’t that the point?
Door handles … so 2020
The B- and C-pillars hide tiny buttons that will “pop” the doors open at a push, but no good butler, vehicle or human, would let its driver perform such a crass task. Short-range radar hidden in the doors talks to your key fob and releases the latches automatically upon your approach. If the radar doesn’t sense any obstacles within its swing—passing or stationary traffic, lamp posts, walls—the door will rotate to fully open; if there is something in the way, it will “present” an edge to you that you can grasp with your fingers.
If you’re swinging up to a friend’s house, or if your chauffeur is pulling up to yours, you or your driver can use the center console touchscreen to open a door with a finger tap. To close it, simple depress the brake pedal. No awkward stretches across the cabin in this luxo-mobile. There’s even a setting that works with the car’s GPS system to identify and remember exceptions to “open on approach”: Your garage, for instance, where you might walk by the car multiple times while carrying the key but without intending to jump in the driver’s seat.
Beyond head-up displays
Peer closely at the stack of LED modules comprising the Celestiq’s nearly upright headlights, and you’ll find that one is not like the others. The top element, wedged beside a vertical DRL blade and a blade of brushed aluminum, is a digital micro-mirror device (DMD) that can project 1.3 million pixels onto the road surface. Think navigation directions (like turn arrows), road condition alerts, and snazzy start-up sequences.
The module itself represents a huge win for Cadillac. When it first started shopping around for the part among its suppliers, the smallest was roughly the size of a grapefruit. The DMD unit that will make production is the size of your thumb.
The real magic occurs when the front camera works with these two projectors and both headlight arrays to outline a car (or pedestrian) on the road and “blank out” the other vehicle, redirecting the beam around them. This highly configurable type of headlight has been legal in Europe since the 2000s but NHTSA only finalized the rule that would approve them in February of 2022.
Cadillac’s designers and engineers are equally proud of the car’s sleek profile. Despite the radar-sensitive doors, the extensive array of cameras, and the multitude of sensors to enable Ultra Cruise, which is GM’s most advanced, hands-free driving system, the Celestiq doesn’t wear any ungainly appendages—”coffee cans,” as lead exterior designer Taki Karras puts it—or distracting black splotches. Hiding 14 radar units did introduced headaches, like making sure that the metallic paint didn’t confuse the rear long-range radar hidden beneath it.
“We use a lot of metal flake in our paints,” says chief engineer Tony Roma, “and we worked with our R&D team to figure out the frequency and direction of the radar, and what size the metal particles are in the paint, to tell our paint supplier how to apply the paint to make sure the radar doesn’t get obscured by the paint. If you do it wrong, the radar would be blind.”
3D-printed steering wheel plate
By using 3D printing to make this aluminum “control panel” spoke of the steering, Cadillac could use the same piece of metal as the “show side,” or what you see and touch, and the “B side,” what you don’t. This highly flexible manufacturing method allowed them to accommodate all the wiring elements and attachment points on the reserve surface in the most efficient way possible.
“When it comes out of the 3D printer, it’s actually pretty rough, like a casting,” says Tristan Murphy, design manager for Cadillac interiors. “So what we do is actually grow it 1 percent larger, then we come back with a CNC mill, and we mill every single one, then we hand polish and hand finish every single one.
“We looked at, like, how does Rolls do it versus Bugatti, right, and when you look at the way we’re doing it, we’re much more inline with the million dollar market compared to the traditional Rolls, Bentley [market].”
Leather-lined floors, trunk
“Because you have vision of this [cargo] area the whole time—there is no separation—it was very important to make this as beautiful as the cabin,” says Laetitia Lopez, lead creative designer for color and trim. Not only is the trunk lined in leather, like the floors—it is upholstered in the same grade leather as the dash and doors and arm rests are. A mainstream vehicle would save money by using lesser grades on less obvious surfaces, but the Lyriq is not your standard fare. The only leather surface that is not full-grain is on the horn button of the steering wheel, where safety concerns around airbag deployment forced the designers’ hands.
The Celestiq also boasts a frunk, which is lined in suede color-matched to the rest of the vehicle; but since this was a prototype, we weren’t allowed to open it.
Four driver-worthy chairs
The rear chairs are almost identical to the ones in the front: Free-standing, 22-way adjustable, the same “neck scarf,” the same massage system. They’re also completely visible … from the trunk.
“When you go talk about the rear-seat experience, when you look in Rolls or a Bentley, it’s this very typical automotive bench seat, big bulkhead, you’re kind of cocooned,” says Murphy. “Where here we wanted to create this open, optimistic, airy cabin. I remember having the conversations early on, like was it even possible?”
In short, the engineering team had to get very creative to create structural rigidity and pack sound insulation in other areas. “The bulkhead normally has a lot of structure with it, and it also serves to sep you from these huge rear tires, and in this case, we have a really large electric motor that’s like, right there, literally two feet away from your ear,” says Roma.
The usual arrangement in the rear-seat of a luxury vehicle is a “slouching” seat, whose back is attached to the bulkhead and moves up and down on a track.
Murphy laughs. “Nobody will ever know the pains of how much easier it would be to do a traditional bench seat.”
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