Fun Stuff

Delving into Details with Cadillac XT4 Designer, Therese Pinazzo

TORONTO – The car’s target market is “achievers”, 30-ish to 50-ish. The advertising features women driving but this vehicle’s also for men. “They’re juggling a busy schedule,” says Natalie Nankil, Cadillac Canada’s Communications & Brand Activation Manager.

Cadillac Canada recently hosted a event to communicate to these customers through lifestyle media. The event featured Therese Pinazzo, the lead designer of the exterior of the all-new Cadillac XT4, and several entrepreneurs whose businesses aim to help you get more out of your day.

All crammed together into a small and tastefully laid out gallery, we’re encouraged to think of the event as speed-dating for self-organizing tips. My dates include brief mindfulness sessions with the Mindshift Ninja and Hoame. That’s is after a 15-minute interview with Pinazzo, who’s in town just for the day from Detroit (on the day after GM’s announcement to close the Oshawa manufacturing facility and four American plants). The other speed daters are Torontonians.

Yes, all-new Cadillac. This intro model is a 2019.

With the firehose of madness coming from non-lifestyle media, it’s hard to believe it was just September when Cadillac launched the XT4. And while that name would also be ideal for a K-pop boy band, the XT4 is Cadillac and GM’s latest hat thrown into an increasingly crowded ring. They’re fighting it out for this golden fleece of a customer who wants one car to do it all, rather than the two or three family vehicles of previous generations.

So, it needs to be big enough to comfortably transport, say, their aging parents to a nice dinner. But it also needs to be compact enough to park in the city. The one car needs to be sporty enough to dart through tight spots on choked suburban highways, yet arguably fuel-efficient enough to rationalize the purchase of a crossover. It also needs to be luxurious for this discerning customer, who poured those dollars that would’ve gone into another vehicle(s) into this loner.

And, just like its target customer, it needs to do more all the time. Hence, yesterday’s event.

The XT4 is positioned as the car that does more for this customer. “It allows them to stay connected,” says Nankil. When I call it a rolling office, she agrees with the metaphor. Except that it’s much nicer inside than the open-concept offices most of us work in these days, I notice. Mind, Therese Pinazzo’s expertise is the outside design. So, let’s stay out here for now.

“This is the compact SUV that doesn’t understand how small it is,” says Pinazzo.

How so? She points out its wide stance. “We pushed the wheels outward to imply power and strength.” Despite its height, the front and back seem anchored. The sense of width Pinazzo and her team designed in the XT4 contributes to that. Moreover, the sculpting of the hood is raised like a small platform in the centre to imply power “like the V Series,” Cadillac’s line of high-performance models.

Next, Pinazzo shows how the XT4 stretches Cadillac’s signature front running lamps to suggest an aggressive squinting eye. (Think Clint Eastwood in Pale Rider or Melania Trump in public.) On the driver’s side, the running lamp looks like an italic number 7; the passenger’s, a mirror thereof.

Typically almost perpendicular to the ground, those front running lamps are a Cadillac calling card. They’re stretched diagonally on the XT4. Pinazzo reports a safety feature that’s also really attractive. That entire elongated section “flashes to signal turns.”

Next, she notes how most the 7’s upper section (Pinazzo calls it “the wing”) curves around onto the side of the XT4. A charming design grace note, it’s unfortunately also a regulatory no-no. Rules of the road disallow regular (white) light to pour sideways from cars because drivers in nearby lanes just behind may falsely think the vehicle’s turning into their lane.

To solve that problem, the upper section of the 7 is fitted with fluted or serrated blinders that look cool but direct the light forward. Note the photo. It’s reminiscent of rappers’ eyebrows, precisely shaved into militant sections. The solution’s a legally necessary element of style. “An industrial design solution to a legal problem,” says Pinazzo.

We walk around to the rear of the vehicle. The tail lamps are not just the usual vertical format but given a horizontal addition to create an L which extends into tailgate. Like aforementioned 7, the L is on the driver’s side and mirrored on the passenger’s.

Combined, the effect is “like it’s holding the whole vehicle together,” says Pinazzo.

That effect is mirrored downwards in the sculpting of the lower tailgate (not itself a light but the shape is there when you bring your attention to it), “visually grounding the vehicle.”

While Pinazzo’s contributions to the XT4 are on the exterior, she’s been driving one lately and gladly reports some of her favourite features and, umm, “insider” scoops.

Technological innovation? A button below the HD rear vision camera flips up, switching into a regular mirror. “The camera eliminates blind spots,” she says (I’ve always preferred the shoulder check myself), “but not everyone loves the brightness of the screen.”

Pinazzo also likes the banks of the most used features accessible through the screen, redundantly laid out as buttons. She barely uses the touchscreen at all these days, comfortable as she’s become with the essential infotainment interface buttons and dial in front of the shifter, right by the steering wheel. “You don’t need to look down.”

Space? Her colleagues designing the interior were “aiming for best-in-class in back-seat spaciousness for the compact SUV segment.” There’s storage space for tablets to be tucked near your leg on the side. Up top and farther back, there’s a charge station for larger phones than her and my iPhone 5s. “Where you can see it charging.” Yes, this is clearly for busy tech-savvy people.

It’s always revelatory how much detail and deep thought these design specialists delve into.

One of her favourites? “Definitely the grille.”

I note its glossy blackness, adding to that sportiness. But only after co-delving with her do I see how the grille is shaped into scores of connected Cadillac logo outlines. It’s “one of the ideas I proposed that got approved,” she says, clearly chuffed.

Another of her favourites? “The cornering lamps!” As you may suspect, these are lamps that are noticeable when the vehicle’s cornering. Otherwise, they’re only noticeable if you’re looking for them at XT4’s bottom front corners.

Remember how white light from the side of the car could mislead those in other lanes to think you’re turning? The XT4’s computer senses when you actually are turning and shines the cornering lamp in that direction.

“It’s great for curbs,” says Nankil, “and underground garages.” City roads are so tight, I note. The feature would be a boon there. It would also be great for seeing animals on lonely country roads at night.

“I live in the suburbs,” adds Pinazzo. “And it illuminates pedestrians as much as anything.” We couldn’t take the XT4 Sport model on display during this event out for a tootle on the roads (or even ignite it without threat of carbon monoxide poisoning in this room full of mommy bloggers), but that’s something one can be mindful of, should these “achievers” find time in their busy schedules to book a test drive.