Cadillac's new XLR is essentially a Corvette in dress clothes. It is quick, but civilized and it is luxurious, as you would expect of a car costing upwards of $75K. The XLR has the added appeal of a folding hard top that turns it into an al fresco cruiser at the touch of a button.
After the Allante roadster back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it would be logical to assume that a sports car by Cadillac might seem like all icing and no cake. Well, that is not the case this time. Cadillac's new two-seater is built on the same frame as the next-generation Corvette, but with a personality all its own. One of the best descriptions might be a luxury touring car with sports-car performance.
I drove this new Caddy on rural Kansas back roads south and west of Topeka where the twisting, turning tarmac was a great place to discover the XLR's pedigree. This new roadster goes about its business discreetly yet it is capable of traveling quickly without getting flustered. The ride is supple and very well composed, the engine is strong without being a brute, and the brakes are excellent.
The XLR's ability to gallop where other cars would saunter surprised me. It swallowed bad pavement, sharp turns and flat straights with equal aplomb.
One key to its stability is a system called Magnetic Ride Control. This system consists of computer-controlled shock absorbers that contain a very special oil. This oil has tiny iron particles suspended in it that react to a magnetic field. When magnetized, these particles align themselves into fibrous structures that instantly change the damping rate of the shocks. A computer makes the adjustments electronically based on sensor input in as little as one millisecond to react to road conditions. The end result is a ride that is smooth over little bumps one instant and firm for bigger dips the next instant. Point the nose into a turn and the car takes a firm set with very little body lean.
The aluminum 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 is a huge part of the XLR's personality. This is one of the first rear-wheel-drive applications for this engine, which has been completely reengineered. It has an electronic throttle, variable valve timing on all four camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It pumps out a very willing 320 horsepower, and all the kings horses snap to attention with an enjoyable wail when you mash the throttle. Sixty miles per hour comes up in 5.9 seconds, according to Cadillac. This engine feels as smooth and energetic as the best V-8s from overseas.
The five-speed automatic transmission, which can be shifted manually, is mounted at the rear axle for 50/50 weight distribution. What this means is that all four tires share equally in the load for the best possible traction and control.
The Caddy's interior is elegant and understated, a combination that General Motors doesn't always do well. Soft leather and real wood are accented with touches of satin metallic trim. The seats are generally good but a long drive made it clear that they could profit from longer thigh cushions.
Dropping the top on this beauty is sure to gather a crowd as the Rube-Goldberg-like mechanism goes through its dance of motors, servos and flipping panels, all orchestrated by the press of a single button on the console. Putting the top down takes almost all of the trunk space, so you have to travel light if you want to enjoy the fresh air.
Along with a DVD based satellite navigation system, the XLR has an adaptive cruise control that uses radar to detect objects in front of the vehicle. When you begin to gain on a vehicle that is in front of you in your lane, the car automatically slows down and will even come to a stop if it is necessary in order to keep a set distance. The driver can select the distance between vehicles via a button on the steering wheel and a small graphic in the head-up display that also has a digital speed readout and directional indicators.
In spite of how much fun it is to drive Cadillac's XLR, I wasn't sure about the wisdom of a Cadillac sports car. But when John Lenway of tiny Skiddy, Kansas, immediately recognized it as a Caddy, that was a good sign. Back in the city, a fellow motorist at a gas station wanted a closer look. His enthusiasm was almost palpable. He loved the fact that it carried styling cues from Cadillac's sedan family, and that it was an American alternative to cars such as the Mercedes-Benz SL, Lexus SC 430 or Jaguar XK8. This car seems to turn heads everywhere you go.
So, what has Caddy wrought with the XLR? It is an intriguing automobile that I grew to like more each day. It was capable, confident and attractive. Build quality seemed to be on a par with other cars in the segment, and its roadworthiness may put it at the top of this lofty group. That's pretty good for a brand that hasn't really had a sports car before. Word is that next year Caddy will introduce an XLR-V with a supercharged Northstar that has its sights set on the Mercedes SL55. Stay tuned...