Driving Cadillac's Sixteen Concept Page 2

April 15, 2003

With an awe-inspiring 13.6 liters of displacement, Sixteen is rated for 1000 horsepower and roughly the same amount of torque. On paper, notes Smith, that should launch the sedan from 0-60 in barely 3.6 seconds.

It’s still pretty early in the development phase to say if the engine can meet its target, and we weren’t about to test the limits on this particular New York morning. Something about having responsibility for a one-of-a-kind, million-dollar prototype tends to promote a sense of caution. But even while driving like we had an egg under our accelerator foot, the car shot out of the box as if it were an Olympic sprinter.

That immediately elicited a serious of creaks, groans and crackles from various corners. It was hard to tell whether the driveline was complaining, or the suspension. With barely two inches of travel, the prototype wasn’t exactly designed for maneuvering around NY City potholes.

The fact that it could maneuver at all was impressive enough. And to help handle the narrow streets and tight corners around Wave Hill, the development team had wisely installed a four-wheel-steering system. Even so, they admitted the Sixteen prototype’s turning circle was a lumbering 42 feet.

2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept

2003 Cadillac Sixteen concept

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The instrument panel is as much a work of art as the car’s exterior, with elegant aluminum bezels surrounding cut crystal lenses magnifying digital gauges.

The high-tech touches are consciously subtle. Smith and his fellow designers didn’t want to turn Sixteen into a clone of DaimlerChrysler’s Maybach, which seemingly incorporates every possible bit of gadgetry, from multiple video screens to an electroluminescent sunroof that can turn opaque – or light up – at the touch of  a button.

Opulent, unabashedly, but the emphasis with Sixteen is on elegance, and even in its rough form, you can’t escape a feeling of grandeur as you tool around, staring across the car’s impossibly long hood.

The sedan is part of a four-phase process aimed at reviving a brand that once could rightly claim itself “the standard of the world.” Smith and his colleagues certainly had plenty to work with, but they wisely chose not to spend all their time looking at Cadillac past. “We wanted the car to drip heritage, not reek retro,” he says with a smile. That’s one reason he chose to use vertical lighting but to stay away from fins.

Since its Detroit debut, Sixteen has generated an overwhelmingly positive response. Lutz’s desk is covered with letters from potential buyers – as well as a few unsolicited down-payments.

For the moment, though, GM is still unsure what to do next. Coming up with an effective business case isn’t easy. Nor is it clear that the time is right to launch a vehicle like this one, which would have to come to market at nearly four times the price of today’s most expensive Cadillac.

But it’s pretty obvious that Caddy’s general manager, Mark LaNeve, wouldn’t mind having the car in his line-up. “It’s in our history, those one-off, highly-stylized, almost unattainable vehicles.”

With the brand showing unexpected signs of life, senior management is starting to listen, though the current economic climate is making it difficult to commit the necessary capital.

So while we can hope to one day test drive a production version of this over-the-top sedan, for now we’re happy to accept a few minutes behind the wheel of a concept few others will ever get to see off its pedestal.

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