Today a certain homogeneity has swept over automotive design, both inside and out.
For a long time before this it was routine to mock the over-wrought interiors favoured by US luxury makers and here we have an example of what the target of this derision looked like. These days, while recognising that the 1991 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham d’Elegance is most likeable as an ironic statement, it is true to say one could miss the diversity in automotive design that was available then. For some people this was precisely what they wanted.
Looking at the 1991 W126 Mercedes S-class and indeed the very similarly flavoured 1976 W123, the gulf between European and American tastes yawned wide. You can see
the tremendous consistency of Mercedes by comparing their 1976 and 1991 cars (remember they are from different classes). And this too has been called boring and staid. However, their vision of the dashboard won out. The 1989 Lexus LS400, inspired by
European design values, is as restrained as the Mercedes though it lacks the kind of obvious deep sheen of quality that the Mercedes possessed. In a way, the Lexus is very watery compared to the Cadillac. You might not like either, but they do represent choice.
To see how things have changed, take a look at the 2013 Mercedes S-Class, the 2015 Cadillac XTS and 2015 Lexus LS. As a side comment, the Cadillac model range is made
up of a bewildering and meaningless set of three initial names e.g. ATS, CTS, and XTS. And note that these days Cadillac’s top car starts at $33,000 and the Mercedes at $94,000. The LS can be yours for a quite modest $72,520. Another point to note is that Cadillac’s top car is not a car, but an SUV, the ESV, which runs from $73,000. Interesting that.
That small point of cost aside, not so much separates the aesthetic sensibility of the cars (or indeed the truck), at least when one views the photographs. However, the Lexus is now the outlier. If the ’91 Cadillac presented an excess of ornamentation, the Lexus is offering an excess of technology. It also seems to offer an excess of sloppily resolved junctions and joins.
Overall, the passage of time has flattened the differences in the approaches to the dashboard. Whether you climb aboard the Lexus, the Cadillac or the Mercedes those things you will not like or will love are not a function of the national characteristics of the companies but the individual values of the design teams involved.
Though it is true these dashboards function quantitatively better than their 90s forebears, qualitatively something interesting has been lost. It is like turning up at a resort on another continent and finding nothing to surprise you except the temperature. Having jeered at the Americans and the Japanese and the Germans, commentators and customers now have what they want, seven types of the same. Was it really worth it?