The Cadillac Evolution

Cadillac is reaching for the sky, that being the English translation for Ciel, the concept car that the maker recently revealed. The striking convertible, which hints at products to come from the once-dominant U.S. luxury carmaker, stretches the boundaries of the Art & Science design language we’ve seen on models like the Caddy CTS in recent years.

Indeed, the General Motors brand has realized it will take as much art as science to regain its once-lofty position, Cadillac once being the dictionary definition of extreme luxury. But where it might have seemed unlikely that the brand could have challenged the likes of German giants BMW or Mercedes-Benz, just a few years ago, a Cadillac renaissance is beginning to look more realistic.

While the Ciel concept may not see production, Caddy is honing its chops and winning kudos for what’s already on tap. The CTS is a credible midrange line with a visually distinctive look that doesn’t get lost in the crowd—especially the new CTS Coupe. And the 556-horsepower CTS-V makes even BMW M5 owners nervous.

The next-generation CTS will move slightly up-market to challenge the 5-Series more directly, while its old slot will be filled by the all-new Cadillac ATS, which made its debut at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. Among the powertrain options for the sedan: a new four-cylinder turbo that puts out more horsepower per liter than a new Lamborghini Aventador.

The ATS will follow to market shortly after Cadillac launches production of its new flagship, dubbed XTS. Replacing two tired and unsuccessful models, the STS and DTS, the new sedan features a smoother, more fluidly elegant shape than the hard-edged CTS, with a coupe-like roofline reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz CLS without looking at all derivative. It will be a lavishly equipped offering, no surprise when you’re putting it up against the likes of a Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7-Series or Audi A8.

Among the features it will deliver as standard equipment: the new Cadillac CUE system, easily the most intuitive onboard infotainment system in the industry. It’s designed to listen for common speech rather than forcing a driver to learn precise—and typically frustrating—commands.

In recent years, the luxury segment has gone through rapid model proliferation. It’s almost impossible to list all the various German products. While it won’t necessarily need to keep pace, expect to see Cadillac  add still more models to its lineup, including a high-line version of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid it will call ELR. Might a version of the over-the-top Ciel follow? Stay tuned, but Cadillac clearly wants to regain its once-lofty position, when it could honestly boast of being “the standard of the world.”