The Germans, keen to impress on home ground, typically steal the Frankfurt motorshow limelight. But this year everyone was betting big and General Motors’ brands proved no exception. The Cadillac Elminaj concept, first shown at the Concours d’Elegance event at Pebble Beach in August, was the General’s most impressive car at the show. A concept, it promotes a glorious slice of old-school Americana, rendered modern by its use of materials and technologies.
Most people we spoke to simply thought it looked gorgeous. It’s a large, four-seat coupe, one that’s over 5 meters long and features traditional coupe cues such as a long bonnet, arcing roofline which does away with the B-pillar, and a generally long, low, wide profile.
The concept is part of a plan by Cadillac to re-establish itself as a truly leading, luxury brand – an image it’s just about managed to attain in the US, but which the rest of the world still takes a cynical view on. Yes, we know, a massive, twin-turbo V8 coupe that’s over 5 metres long hardly seems like the car to make your brand appeal to Europeans raised on tiny, frugal hatchbacks. But the German premium brands have all shown that, if you really want your brand to be perceived as high end, you’ve got to offer the halo, "want one" flagships at the top of your range. The R8 being part of the reason people by diesel A4s in S-Line trim, apparently.
And, concept though it might be, the Elminaj certainly has a "want one" quality. Beautifully proportioned, it’s wrought with fine details. Check out the novel way the door shutline kinks down to tie in with the side air vents, which allows that socking V8 to expel its excess heat. And the chrome strip that runs off the grille, up the bonnet and right around the window line. Or the Cadillac signature upright strip lamps, which turn on to the bonnet surface at the front and the boot deck at the back.
Inside, you’re treated to what on the face of it looks like a very traditional luxury interior, with lashings of wood and leather. But look closer, or talk to the designers, and it’s only then that you’ll learn about how they did things like hand-picked fallen Brazilian Rosewood for the veneers. Then cut it with a 3D machine to control the grain. Or that there’s a 10-inch centre screen concealed in the centre of the dash, which most of the time stays tucked away because they’ve paired down and really thought about the infotainment and displays so you simply don’t need it.
The main gauge pack is a design and tech feast in its own right. The main gauges are analogue, but they’re made from a see-through laser-cut plastic and sit above a full-width HD display screen. This isn’t the usual square affair but rather shaped into the space created by the eight-sided instrument surround. On it, you can display various information, but in the car’s show stand display mode, it was running through a navigation based display, which showed beautifully detailed terrain maps in 3D, and live view imagery from the front view camera, augmented with POI and safety information.
We know what you’re thinking: what’s the point of this if it’s never going to be made reality? Well, while we’re not expecting to see this concept hit the road any time soon, it and its sister car – the Ciel – do tell us that a large, rear-wheel drive, Mercedes S-Class coupe rivalling coupe is on the way from Cadillac.
The interior design tells us to expect a real uptick in materials quality as the company chases the idea of "real luxury" too. Meanwhile the technology interface and displays show where Cadillac is going with its "Cue" system and also give us some idea of what the proliferations of cameras and sensors that new cars are increasingly equipped with, provides in design possibilities when you marry it to connectivity and increasingly affordable touch, LED and AMOLED screens.
Finally, the powertrain and the ‘V” insignia that’s subtly attached to this concept tells us Cadillac has every intent to make good on its promise of providing Mercedes AMG, BMW M and Audi RS something to think about with its performance sub-brand. In space-pressured and fuel price-exorbitant Europe, it’s still going to be a niche interest. But it’s a niche we’re interested in nonetheless. Particularly if Cadillac can actually start making road cars that look as good as this.