Racing toward autonomous future, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz reveal sultry, drive-it-yourself concept cars

  • 19-Aug-2016 04:42 EDT
2016 Cadillac Escala concept front 34.jpg

Cadillac Escala: rear-drive, based on GM Omega large-car platform, has grand proportions and showcases Cadillac's next thematic styling direction.

In the autonomous-vehicle future, will the ultimate luxury become driving for yourself?

That appears to be the suggestion from General Motors’ Cadillac premium-car unit and Germany’s Mercedes-Benz—both unveiled hulkingly-proportioned concept cars at August’s Monterey Car Week, where executives for both companies took pains to say the vehicles would be best enjoyed if, well, you actually drove them.

The Cadillac Escala (Spanish for “scale”) concept and the Mercedes-Benz Maybach 6 (named for its 6-meter overall length) mostly are intended to demonstrate the future direction both brands might pursue in interior design, not to mention grand proportion: the Cadillac Escala, at 210.5 in. (5437 mm) overall and with more than 10 feet between its front and rear axles, nearly matches the Maybach 6’s Industrial Revolution length.

Although Mercedes-Benz indicated the Maybach 6 has autonomous-driving functionality, “This is a car you want to drive yourself,” Bloomberg quoted Gorden Wagener, Daimler AG chief of design, as saying. Wagener didn’t stop there; in an apparent rejoinder the industry’s well-documented embrace of autonomous technology, he added: “Driving has been a pleasure for 130 years and will stay that way for another 130 years.”

Meanwhile, Cadillac’s media information for the Escala—while waxing effusively about the car’s luxuriously crafted interior with “intensely focused modern technology” and advanced connectivity—conspicuously avoided any mention of autonomous-driving capabilities. And like Mercedes, Cadillac overtly focused on the potential joy of manually driving a car like the Escala, its press release saying the concept is “designed to be both a driver’s car and an indulgent flagship sedan,” with Andrew Smith, executive director of Cadillac Global Design, adding, “My brief to the designers was to create a car you desperately want to drive, and also one in which you want to be driven.”

Johan de Nysschen, president of Global Cadillac, chimed in, telling Bloomberg: “you’ll desperately want to drive yourself,” in such a car.

V8 or battery?

The Escala is an Audi A7-esque 4-door sedan with a rear-sloping roofline leading to a liftgate rather than a traditional trunklid. “Escala is a concept with two clear objectives, said Johan de Nysschen. “First, Escala is a statement of intent for the next iteration of the Cadillac design language, and also technical concepts in development for future Cadillac models. Secondly, Escala builds Cadillac’s aspirational character, signaling the brand’s return to the pinnacle of premium.”

Cadillac, though definitively billing the Escala as a concept car, wouldn’t shut the door on a possible production variant: “Escala is a concept car, but one based upon the unrelenting rise of our product substance,” said de Nysschen. “Depending on the development of market segment for large luxury sedans, Escala is a potential addition to our existing product plan.”

Moreover, the Escala showcases some significant pending production-vehicle components, chiefly what Cadillac said is a new, twin-turbocharged 4.2-L V8 that is “a prototype of a new system in development for future Cadillac models.” The engine, with a smaller-than-typical displacement for a V8, incorporates GM’s Active Fuel Management cylinder-deactivation system to impart fuel-saving 4-cyl. operation. The Escala runs on the rear-drive-oriented Omega vehicle architecture and multi-materials body structure introduced for the Cadillac CT6 large car.

The Maybach 6 concept is a pure coupe design—it has just two doors and gullwing at that. The company explained the car’s intriguing retro-tech styling by saying: “The classic aesthetic proportions of the show car—an extremely long hood, low roof line and rearward positioning of the greenhouse—recall the aero coupes of days gone by. But this is not retro design—this is a reinterpretation of classic, aesthetic principles.”

Perhaps the most polarizing aspect of the Maybach 6 design is the raised central spine running the length of the car, but most noticeably bifurcating the decklid, including the back glass, in a fashion vaguely reminiscent of the 1963 Chevrolet Corvette.

There is no throwback insinuation in the Maybach 6’s driveline: the car is a pure-electric vehicle with a claimed total of 738 hp delivered by its four permanent-magnet electric motors, one for each wheel to impart all-wheel-drive. The batteries are carried low under the floor and have a capacity of 80 kWh. The company said the car can hit 62 mph (100 km/h) in less than four seconds and could have a driving range up to 200 mi (322 km).

A high-capacity DC quick-charge function could deliver 62 miles of driving range with just a five-minute charging session, Mercedes said. The car’s onboard charging system includes a wireless-charging capability.

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