Fellow TTAC scribe Alex Dykes put a somewhat innocent enough post on our Facebook Wall, suggesting the BMW 3-series has a reputation for homogenous design, while the new Cadillac ATS suffers from…well, what so many modern GM products suffer from: a new release that’s only “almost” there. The ATS gauge cluster was his proof.
This cluster spurred a commotion from our FB readers that merited a chat window popping up from the Esteemed Mr. Dykes, suggesting this is a good Vellum Venom. Agreed.
The ATS’ cluster, much like a 94-96 Impala SS’ body in midnight black, is fine at night. The two half circles at each side with the speedo resting atop a multifunction display like a side view of eggs sunny-side up is different: and that’s not a bad idea in a sea of straightforward circles from BMW and Mercedes. A previous foray into this territory by Detroit, the Lincoln LS, was horribly boring and bland.
So let’s wait ’till dawn, shall we?
Oh dear. This is just far too much like the charcoal Tupperware designed Pontiacs of yesteryear. While the Cadillac SRX’s jeweled signal lights are cool and ballsy like tail fins on a DeVille, the ATS has…beveled black plastic accented lights. And that’s the nicest part of the whole cluster.
The flat plane gauge housing, draped in a dull wall of flat black, with cheap needles (again, see the SRX cluster) is so decidedly downmarket that the Kia Optima wouldn’t have it. The multifunction screen’s shape, size and location makes it poorly integrated into the circular theme. And heck, even my Ford Ranger doesn’t have those bizarre indentations for the idiot lights. Where did it all go wrong?
Honestly I don’t know…but the last Buick LeSabre (2005) was probably a low point for GM gauge design. The lumpy gauge receptacles made of cold/brittle looking (yet surprisingly color keyed!) plastic look more like the cute mushroom-thingies from Super Mario Brothers. It’s purely unrefined, and a lack of refinement is the main problem with the ATS’ cluster.
Compare it to what we saw a few decades ago.
Here’s a 1983 LeSabre dash. Note how the warm and inviting looking (if fake) wood trim surrounds the round gauges in a non-mushroom like fashion. There’s also a nice chrome ring frenched in for a decidely upscale look, even with the famous Malaise-era plastic quality. The last rear wheel drive LeSabre, Electra, Park Avenues from the early 1980s had a very upscale quality about them.
It was like a traditional Cadillac, but cleaner and far less ostentatious. It, chassis dynamics aside, was a proto ATS in this regard. I can’t believe I just said that. But here we are.
Perhaps the next photo is better ATS historical reference fodder.
I wish I grew up with the first-gen Pontiac Grand Prix. Reading the history and seeing them at car shows leads a youngblood to think these GM products were the high point of entry level luxury for Detroit.
No, for the world.
A fantastic car? Probably. A fantastic gauge cluster with real walnut trim and timeless mid-century design in the chrome gauge bezels? Wow, that’s the stuff right there, son.