Cadillac’s Celestiq is poised to recapture the standard of the world

Steven Pham

Like countless other companies, automotive and not, Cadillac wants an electric vehicle to make its greatness known. Fresh from a visit to GM’s Design Dome in Warren, Michigan, we can vouch for one thing: This EV ain’t like the others.

For starters, it’s $300,000. At minimum. If you’re upset by that figure, you aren’t the target audience. The Celestiq is a made-in-Detroit statement of ten-figure money. Regular folks can’t even visualize their dreams on an online configurator, in part because there is no set list of paints, leathers, fabrics, or finishes: Each car will be bespoke, the result of one-on-one interaction between the automaker and the customer. Plenty of manufacturers above Cadillac’s price point offer online visualizers—see Pagani—and also accommodate the most particular of client wishes, so take Caddy’s statement of exclusivity at face value. Not for you.

Boy, will you want one.

The car is imposing, a low-slung four-door whose graceful, lift-back proportions belie its massive size. Take a gander at the wheel diameter: 23 inches, one inch larger than those on the Escalade SUV. Yet the Celestiq sits comfortably on the giant rims, which are shod in custom, Cadillac-commissioned Michelins, their sidewalls embossed with a Celestiq-specific design.

The fluid surfacing and the precise creases in the car’s body subtlety signal the great expense of its construction. From the beltline down, front to rear, the car’s structure is comprised of eight pieces of sand-cast aluminum, whose rigidity mimics that of die-cast metal. The hood is a single sheet of delicately creased carbon fiber draped over the fenders to the headlights. The doors hide a short-range radar system that allowed designers to dismiss handles entirely: Walk up to the vehicle with the key in your pocket, and the door will either swing fully open or “present” an edge to you, depending on the proximity of pillars, walls, and other cars.

cadillac celestiq reveal logo emblem
Steven Pham

Even the brightwork bits are wildly impractical statements of excess. The metal “eyebrow” spanning the front of the car starts as a sheet of billet aluminum as wide as the car itself and almost a foot deep: The whole piece is brushed to a satin finish, then the front edge polished to a contrasting, higher sheen. The brushed metal that forms the rocker panel trim is an exposed piece of warm-formed aluminum that belongs to the car’s inner assembly. Traditionally, this would have been stamped, requiring it to be broken into four individual sections. Cadillac’s designers and engineers said no.

cadillac celestiq reveal profile
Steven Pham

The roof, each quadrant individually dimmable, is a single sheet of acoustically insulated glass. For it, Cadillac visited Peru, the site of the only foundry big enough to cast it in one piece. The Celestiq’s “grille” may not need to route air to a combustion engine, but Cadillac refused to spare expense: The blades that frame the headlights are stamped from aluminum, brushed, then accented with delicate polished texturing. The silver lines in the center section expose indium, the softest non-alkali metal chosen for its transparency to radar. 

cadillac celestiq reveal interior
Steven Pham

Peer inside—Cadillac isn’t yet allowing anyone to sit in this, its one and only prototype—and the show continues. The cabin is dominated by the car’s nearly flat waistline, a single contour that runs across the dash, continues through the doors, and sweeps behind the two rear chairs (there is no bulkhead) to meet the bottom of the liftgate’s glass. Designers and engineers suffered endless headaches to create it: “When we redid that speaker grille at the base of the A-pillar, we literally chased it all the way to the trunk,” says Tristan Murphy, Cadillac’s lead interior designer. Curved interior contours are useful in workaday cars because they disguise imperfections of line, but in the Celestiq’s linear cabin, there is no place to hide. Says the Celestiq’s lead engineer, Tony Roma: “The door pads have adjustability up, down, in, out in a way that I would get shot if I proposed doing it anywhere else. But we’re doing it here.”

cadillac celestiq reveal rear tallight side
Steven Pham

Those speaker grilles are, the team reflects, the largest Cadillac has ever made. Stamped out of aluminum, their holes are acid-etched before the whole panel is anodized, creating a dark finish that a laser precisely removes to create a 3-D effect. That curved glass panel on the dash fits two screens behind a single sheet of carefully bent glass measuring over four and a half feet, corner to diagonal corner. The floors are upholstered in leather, the cupholders in suede.

Lucid’s triple-motor, 1200-hp Sapphire boasts twice the horsepower of this dual-motor Cadillac, but if you’re comparing the two, you’re already on the wrong foot. Think of Bentley, and its “adequate” power: No one driving or being chauffeured in a Celestiq wants anyone to mistake them for a Tesla-esque blur. The Celestiq’s job isn’t to be the first high-tech EV, or even the most customizable Cadillac: It is to be Cadillac’s Veyron, a superlative, new-world interpretation of old-school prestige.

For nearly 80 years, Cadillac has again and again fallen prey to its own lofty condemnation, failing to equal or to excel. With the Celestiq, Detroit once again risks the penalty of leadership. For that alone, Cadillac deserves to live.

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    Maybe I’d need to see it in person. I’m not exactly jumping up and down over it. Now the Sixteen–which I did see in person…how high? Build the Sixteen–with the V 16!!!!! And make it ‘broughham-y’

    I may be jaded by the poor quality experience I had with a new CTS-V. It was great…when it ran or pieces werent falling off.

    Sorry to disagree, but the proposed Jensen redo was much, much better looking than this. Looking at the wheels, my first thought was ghetto.

    First thing that came to mind! I wonder if someone with enough cash will buy one and drop a 440 into it….

    And looking real good like a mid 60’s AMC Marlin!!
    One of my favorite designs. Sorta ‘66 Charger flavored.

    As with art, music, etc, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. The only reaction this evokes from within me is fight or flight. Right now I’m leaning towards flight. Just my two cents.

    Nothing in the admittedly exquisite details can overcome the disappointing exterior. It’s too large and too much.

    I hope it does, but history (since 1962) is not on their side. GM destroyed the marque when they started to focus on volume instead of exclusivity in the Cadillac. After numerous attempts to regain their place as “one of the best car brands in the world” its been 60 years and not there yet.
    Credit to them for keeping on trying.

    I have been disenchanted with jelly bean car styling for the past decades. This “Cadillac” does not particularly move me as much of an improvement is style. For the record, I am an “old school” man who preferred high seats and head and legroom without tiring restraints of seatbelts.

    Mr. Moore,
    You are speaking as a retired Naval service member, and you have expressed your dislike of seat belts. We’re you equally as dismayed with life preservers or life boats on naval vessels? Did you not care for hearing protection around naval gunnery? Shall we even examine “seat belts” in naval aviation? Your vehicular operation experience aside, the danger that we all face as drivers is the danger posed by others to whom life is cheap. Those that feel that the road is theirs, and your safety is secondary to their need to flout the rules of the road and drive with abandon. This is America and you are entitled to your opinion, but I wouldn’t feel safe riding with you. I’m still involved with motorsports, and driver (and crew) safety is paramount in all forms that I am around.

    My car budget is less than 1% of this but even so I think they’re going about it from the wrong direction. Instead of designing the best car money can buy they’re spending the most money possible on a design. Leather carpeting? Grillework machined from a 400 pound billet of aluminum?? You’re right Grace, not for me.

    3 years or so years ago they at Cadillac tried to sell the ELR model which they failed. They will fail this time

    What a joke. Taking a brand that once-upon-a-time meant innovation mixed with quality which for decades now has been made cheap by beancounters who just wanted stockholder profits is such a shell game. This must be something that Madamn Barra thought would improve their standing in the EV world. Actions speak louder than words, if GM had kept us quality alive in the brand it might be of interest.

    I’m an MGA owner and lover, so obviously I see nothing remotely attractive here. Still, I’m pleased to see GM at least making an overture towards climate change. It’s not a hoax, and the sooner we start to take it seriously the better. Having said that; I’m still not convinced that electric is the answer; at least not until I can be convinced there’s a significant reduction in the carbon footprint.

    Well, I’m with the rest of the crowd. I think they have missed the mark. The front is barely ok, and the rear is a disappointment beyond words. I’m not a GM person just because I’ve had no luck in them, but one would think they could do better blindfolded.

    Can’t say I’m that impressed considering the price tag. What exactly makes this worth $300k? This does look like it might have an interior with build quality on par with or exceeding a 10 year old Lexus but I fail to see what makes this worth the expense. Side effects of Celestiq may include broke wallet, lack of taste and frequent long trips to the battery charger.

    Oh my. The front end is okay -standard current Cadillac look. However, the backend looks like it was beaten with the Ugly stick by a deranged French designer from the 80’s -astonishing lack of proportion. After that they started tossing lights at it to reel it back in. The idea of a $300k car is that someone would actually want to be seen in it. Harley Earl and Bill Mitchell are laughing, or weeping, in their graves.

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