Design Notes Lite: 2013 Cadillac ATSPenciled possibilities

Cadillac launched one of their most strategically important models with its compact 2013 ATS. Their passion and determination are apparent, and its successful launch is likely to open the door to new breeds of buyers (that is to say enthusiasts, as well those from the lower end of the age curve).

More often than not all-new models have look-at-me styling. Not so with ATS. In fact, I think it’s a tad bland, like a fresh order of fries that didn’t get salted quite enough. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though as salt reduction can have benefits. So too understated styling. Strange coincidence that the increasingly-stylized BMW 3-Series, Mercedes C Class and Lexus IS originals also were low sodium. (Did I take that analogy too far?) In any event, Cadillac avoided polarized reactions and volatile praise by saying no to styling gimmicks. And that helped journalists stay focused on driving impressions, a very good thing.

So where did the design start? GM sent me several sketches to help answer that.

2013 Cadillac ATS early pencil sketchThese are some images my pal at the GM Heritage Center graciously provided, courtesy GM Design. I’ll note that I can’t state positively they’re all from the ATS’ development, though. Prior to receiving the files, we’d been discussing both the ATS and new CTS, and the original file names don’t have any allusions to a model (i.e., early pencil sketch, early front, early theme, final sketch). They do, however, imply an association. Unfortunately, I didn’t get back to him for clarity before he had left for vacation. So, despite the continuity of the sketches, there’s enough essence of CTS to make me question if it’s a mixed set.

These first three (black and white) sketches were titled “early pencil sketches” and initially on one sheet.

2013 Cadillac ATS early pencil sketch

These are clearly more dramatic than the final product but, even so, do not appear fussy. Check out the continuity of the rocker panel as it aligns through the rear wheel well. And the way the trunk notches just above the bumper, emphasized by horizontal creases that sweep across the base of the C-pillar, resulting in a pinched trunk lid. The notch under the rear window completes the cut-jewel allusion.

Perhaps the rational, logical tail lights subdue some of the rear’s emotion. While not unattractive, Cadillac’s new go-to lens shape seems uninspired. That’s unfortunate considering the rich, identifiable heritage they have to draw from.

2013 Cadillac ATS early pencil sketchCadillacs have often been highly recognizable from the rear. But their design branding seems most focused now on the fronts. I think the front end in this drawing at right is absolutely stunning, there is a cohesive look to it. The headlight setback is masterful; it even appears some type of vent was integrated at the trailing edge of the lens. Add to that Cadillac’s new beveled hood treatment, which can actually make taller hoods look cool, and I find myself longing to see one of these on the road.

2013 Cadillac ATS early frontThe image to the left was titled, “early front” and appears to have been a screen grab.

This is the shot that really made me stop and think, “is this related to the ATS or new CTS?” Feel free to sound off your opinion in the comments section, particularly if you were involved with the project. I’ll update this post if anything is confirmed.

So what do you think of this early front end? I’m seeing a good dose of Ciel, their 2011 concept. Very aggressive, very serious, very good. The lower intakes square up nicely with the headlights. Front lighting gets an A+, I’ll take blacked-out lenses over glitzy extreme-shine backings any day. I’m really loving how the heat extractors are integrated into the hood, and their alignment with the A-pillars is pleasing to the eye.

The only thing not doing it for me are the peculiar outer columns of the grille. They appear unnecessary and curiously misaligned, even blocking out the uppermost openings.

2013 Cadillac ATS early theme

The sketch above was titled, “early theme” and I initially thought, cool a coupe! It bears a striking resemblance to the current CTS coupe but, if you look closely, there is a third vertical hairline indicating a rear set of doors.

That’s one mean looking grille though, and it appears the superfluous outer columns from the previous sketch were shed. While somewhat cartoonish, the overall proportions of this car look elegantly balanced.

Last, there was an image titled, “final sketch” which is shown below.

2013 Cadillac ATS final sketch

I’m not completely familiar with automotive designer jargon but I’m fairly certain “sketch” can imply more than a canvas and colored pencils these days. That’s a beautiful drawing above and I don’t intend to diminish the work and talent it required but I have to believe it was drawn digitally.

Regardless how it was accomplished, it virtually mirrors the final product we see on our roads.