A closer look — Cadillac Ciel no pie in the 'sky'

By Al Vinikour

(August 30, 2011) For over a decade GM’s Cadillac Motor Division has been reinventing itself from a vehicle that those who aspired to owning one, but never did, still wind up taking their final ride in one — to a cutting-edge manufacturer of luxury performance cars. After all, they do produce the much-coveted CTS-V, a 556-horsepower rocket ship that’s America’s highest-horsepower factory offering.

The division recently debuted its all-new Ciel (pronounced C-L) concept at the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, Calif., to rousing cheers. This week vehicle was shown to a selected group of journalists in the setting of the magnificent Meadow Brook Hall, in Rochester, Mich. It will be shown at specific venues through the next year and then parts of it will begin appearing on production vehicles for years to come.

The Ciel is a luxurious open-air grand touring car — in other words, a four-door convertible. Ciel’s Detroit-area viewing was done under a cloudless blue sky in 80-degree weather. Speaking of “sky,” Ciel is the French translation for “sky.” It’s a good thing its namesake cooperated because as of now it has no top.

It’s almost a cult like experience when listening to a vehicle designer describing what things inspired him and his staff in developing a concept. Ciel is no exception. Chief designer Clay Dean described Ciel as “the romance of the drive, emulating the great touring cars seen on the greens at Pebble Beach, but with a modern flair that projects Cadillac’s vision for the future.”

The doors are French-style — that is, they’re hinged at the rear, with no B-pillar. This look is often referred to as “suicide doors,“ a rather unflattering term. It seats four full-size adults in great comfort.

The interior is right out of Architectural Digest with Italian Olive wood on the doors, instrument panel, console and the front seatbacks. Material for Ciel came from a single fallen and recycled tree from a west coast producer of premium olive oil. Its painstaking preparation included drying in a kiln before it was cut. Its numerous pieces were then photographed so that the grain could be matched precisely. Each component was hand-milled and finished by expert woodworking craftsmen.

Rear seat passengers can pull a leather tab which reveals a cashmere blanket that stretches across the seating area to ward off the chill; as noted earlier, Ciel is sans top. Furthermore, the wood trim in the rear center console opens to reveal a small humidor, stocked with a few cigars. The Cabernet paint color was developed specifically for Ciel and was inspired by the translucence of a glass of red wine that’s held up to the sunlight.

Transparent gauges deliver their information within a detailed, brushed-aluminum housing that has the intricate depth of a high-quality chronograph. They offer dual readouts — analog and digital. Other interior features include: sloping bolsters on the seats allowing passengers to slide in them more comfortably; a power-assisted transmission shifter that deploys as soon as the engine is started; lighting in the armrests that combine natural light for daytime driving and ambient lighting for nighttime; and door storage areas that open with high-quality zippers.

There are no visible heating and air-conditioning vents. Rather, they’re mostly hidden and airflow is distributed indirectly.

A really neat feature is Cadillac’s vertical lighting elements. The headlamps and taillamps have LED lighting elements that include a unique daytime running light graphic on the front of the vehicle that is generated with gradated LED lighting. These definitely are not your father’s rounded headlights! The taillamps are an ode to the Eldorado.

Ciel sits on some nifty 22-inch brushed nickel plating over milled billet aluminum wheels. It sports a wheelbase of 125-inches – about 12 inches longer than a CTS sedan. Overall length is 203.7 inches so it’s not on the small side. It’s powered by a 3.6L DOHC, CVVT V-6 with twin turbochargers that puts out an impressive 425 horsepower and 430 pound-feet of torque. Transmission is a hybrid with low-speed all-electric drive. Ciel is all-wheel drive.

It’s no industry secret that awhile back Cadillac lost its way. It produced more dogs than a breeding kennel.

But through the last decade it has found itself in a big way and concepts such as Ciel bode well for the Division to reaffirm its “Standard of Excellence throughout the world” slogan. As Don Butler, General Motors Vice President for Cadillac Marketing stated, “One never hears of ‘the Chrysler of’ when discussing the quality of something…it’s always ‘the Cadillac of.’” By that standard, Ciel is “the Cadillac of concept vehicles.”