Thursday, May 22, 2014

Cadillac XTS: Form Versus Details

Although there has been and probably still is an automobile design school of thought that the form or shape of a car is essentially everything, I believe that styling details are also important.  In many cases, details outweigh shape when one evaluates a car's appearance.  For example, from the 1930s, two or three General Motors brands would share the same basic body, but their identity would be established via unique (to the marque) detail sets.  So if one preferred the looks of a 1951 Pontiac over those of a 1951 Chevrolet, it would be due to ornamentation and other detail differences rather than the general body shape, because that was essentially the same.  (However, some Pontiac models tended to have longer wheelbases and hoods, so this did alter body proportions a little and could easily affect evaluation of styling.)

A while ago I wrote a critique of the 2014 Chevrolet Impala's styling noting, among other things, that I thought the passenger compartment "greenhouse" occupied quite a large share of the car's length.  It turns out the the Impala shares the same body platform as the Cadillac XTS, introduced for the 2013 model year.  GM stylists did a good job of disguising the shared platform: the cars have different styling personalities aside from that inescapable long greenhouse and the proportional effects it introduced to both cars.


Here is the 2014 XTS in profile, showing the six-window passenger compartment.  Compared to a similar view in the above link, it seems to have a bit less front overhang, even though it and the Impala both feature overhang-friendly front wheel drive.  The XTS side sheet metal is less baroquely sculpted than the Impala's, as befits a dignified, up-market vehicle.

The XTS's two grille segments are better integrated than those on the Chevy, which were simply stacked.  I don't much like the headlamp assembly -- especially the part at the outer edge.  Here Cadillac is simply following the current organic-look styling fad.

The rear of the XTS is nicely done, in my opinion, with perhaps one exception.  I think the exhaust pipes and the clutter connecting them in the zone below the bumper are not integrated with the rest of the rear-end's styling.  A particularly nice touch I noticed when viewing an XTS in person is the subtle interstitial facet between the roof's side character line crease and the central roof / rear window form.  Note its transition to the spoiler shape atop the trunk.

So the Cadillac XTS has a lot of good detailing, I think.  Do these details make the overall design a success?  I think not.  Like its sister Chevrolet Impala, the XTS suffers from that long, long greenhouse that throws the design off-balance.  Worse, the comparatively simple side sheetmetal serves, along with the greenhouse, to create a large visual "dead-zone" between the wheel openings.  When I see an XTS in person, I usually get a sense that something is wrong.  In this instance, the details were unable to rescue the form.

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