2008 Cadillac XLR Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
The Corvette of Cadillacs.
This is not your father's Cadillac; although it could be your grandfather's, and that's not a put-down. A couple of generations ago, a Cadillac badge meant world-class performance. Cadillacs finished 10th and 11th at Le Mans in 1950. They competed in the early days of NASCAR. Go back further, to the early 1930s, and Cadillac made a 16-cylinder open two-seater that could scare a Duesenberg costing double its price.Beneath its edgy, ultra-modern styling the XLR represents a return to those glory days.
The Cadillac XLR is a hardtop convertible. Press a button and the top goes up or down in 30 seconds. With the top up, the XLR looks like an edgy, powerful coupe, and it acts like one. Its styling is powerful and distinctive and its interior is luxurious and attractive. It's smooth, quiet and pleasant when cruising, top up or top down.
The XLR offers tenacious grip and excellent handling. The Cadillac XLR is based on a modified version of the Chevrolet Corvette chassis and is rear-wheel drive. It is lighter and more powerful than the Lexus SC430 or Jaguar XK.
The XLR sounds sexy and delivers brilliant acceleration performance. Its Northstar V8 is a modern, 32-valve, double overhead cam unit with variable-valve technology. At 320 horsepower, it's nearly twice as powerful as the old Cadillac V16. For 2007, the standard XLR benefits from the same six-speed automatic transmission as the XLR-V.
The supercharged XLR-V ups the ante to 443 hp. That was serious race-car power just a few years ago.
The XLR ($75,335) comes with a 4.6-liter V8 that produces 320 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The list of standard equipment is long and includes a nine-speaker Bose sound system with XM Satellite radio, DVD navigation and video, Magnetic Ride Control, radar-controlled adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and push-button start, a head-up display, and Gen 7 OnStar, the latest highway assistance service featuring the helpful voices of genuine human beings beamed to the car by satellite.
The Passion Red ($2,575) and Platinum ($6,080) packages add special wheels, colors, upholstery and trim.
The XLR-V ($97,460) features a supercharged 4.4-liter V8 that produces 443 horsepower and 414 pound-feet of torque. Chassis modifications include larger brakes; recalibrated Magnetic Ride Control; a larger front stabilizer bar; the addition of a rear stabilizer bar; stiffer rear lower control arm bushings; larger wheels and tires; a power steering fluid cooler; and a higher-capacity fuel pump. Inside, the V-model features aluminum accents and French-stitched leather seats. Wire-mesh grilles, a hood bulge, and other exterior filips make sure the neighbors notice. No options are available.
Safety features that come standard include side-impact airbags, StabiliTrak electronic stability control, and OnStar.
The styling of the Cadillac XLR is distinctive and controversial. Some people like the sharp styling, some people don't. Most people like it. We like it. It's unique with a cause, which is difficult to achieve and reason enough to like it. It's an in-your-face kind of grace.
We especially like how the XLR looks when the hard top is up. Very cool, chopped and suggesting a hot rod, with a steeply raked rear window and lots of angles like the rest of the car. The top is made of aluminum and magnesium with composite panels and contributes to the structural rigidity of the car. The Mercedes SL roadster has a similar top but it's rounded at the edges and doesn't do for the Benz what this top does for the XLR. It adds power to the aura of the car, erases the top-down gentrification.
Four wide exhaust tips, pointing out from under the center of the rear bumper like the tips of two big double-barreled shotguns, add to the statement of power. We think Cadillac could and should have done something different with the wheels, though: The 18-inch, mirror-polished alloy, a seven-spoke wagon-wheel design looks spindly under the aggressively solid XLR.
The shape and silhouette of the XLR works, but if you take it apart the elements suggest it was designed by two people with clashing ideas. The details seem incongruous if you study the shapes for a while. The bright and bold egg-crate grille announces the flow of the styling, and the headlamps wrap around the corners; they touch front, top and sides. The front bumper/air dam is massive, and extends like an underbite but not conspicuously. The rectangular foglights don't seem to take part in the styling, and the long horizontal opening in the air dam is just big and just there.
The sides are blessedly smooth, and the wheel cutouts are full with the fenders flared just enough. The XLR is low and wide, and the wheels are big, so it looks hot. The rocker-panel extension, a composite plastic, like the rest of the body, is sharp but tidy, while the mirrors are bulky.
The high angularity of the tail perfectly complements the shape, but the big pseudo carbon-fiber box around the license plate, also containing the backup lights, mostly messes it up. But the four cool exhaust pipes almost redeem it. They draw the eye, at least.
There are no door handles; instead a small release button hides inside a deep notch behind the top trailing edge of the door. You don't need the key to unlock or start the XLR. With the key fob in your pocket or purse, the door will unlock as you stand before it, and you can fire or kill the engine with the push of a button on the instrument panel. When you walk away from the car it locks itself. If the key fob transmitter fails, there's a little hole in the rear bumper with a plug covering a slot for the key.
On the ultra-performance XLR-V, the upper and lower front air openings at least match; both are filled with a polished fine wire mesh calculated to look custom. The V-model's engine hood bulges in the center, somewhat like a third-generation Corvette's, providing clearance for the supercharger but also adding some visual strength to an area where the base model seems a bit reticent.
The XLR-V's 10-spoke alloy wheels are more three-dimensional in design and contour than the standard model's flattish seven-spokers; unquestionably an improvement, they help showcase black-finished brake calipers machined with the V-series logo. XLR-V comes in only three exterior colors: Infra Red, Black Raven, and Light Platinum.
The Cadillac XLR has an attractive interior, as tastefully done as a Lexus, though it still feels like a Cadillac inside. The interior is awash in beige or black leather. Customers can choose light or dark eucalyptus at no extra charge. Equally tasteful use of anodized aluminum trim brightens the atmosphere. Dash and other trim materials appear to be of high quality. It's as nice as anything from Lexus, Mercedes-Benz or BMW.
The XLR-V has Zingana wood on the shifter knob, cup holder area, steering wheel, and on portions of the door and center console. Its seats feature French stitching and matching perforated suede fabric inserts.
From behind the wheel the view is swoopy. Between the fender bulge and a peaked center line on the hood, a subtle but sharp trough runs away from the driver down his or her line of sight. A head-up display projected onto the windshield indicates speed and the selected gear, the latter convenient when using the manual shifting mode. The HUD also displays the radio station for a moment after switching stations; and does some neat scoreboard-type effects for your amusement.
The instrument panel is by Bvlgari, an Italian design company known primarily for its jewelry. The gauges are clear, with white numbers on a black background, surrounded by unnecessary but seemingly obligatory chrome rings.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel has burled wood between 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock, which has drawn mixed opinions.
The XLR seats feel relatively soft and are heated and cooled. There's decent bolstering. More support could be used in a car that corners this well, though that would make getting in and out harder.
Thankfully, Cadillac hasn't tried to compete in the flawed technology chase that BMW and Audi send their luxury drivers on to control simple things. Most of the functions in the XLR are controlled by simple switchgear with finger-sized buttons. The HVAC (heating and air conditioning) controls are blissfully separate, elegantly designed and easy to use. The navigation system is displayed on a seven-inch LCD screen located in the center console, under neat rectangular heating and cooling vents. The system will also play DVD movies when the transmission is in Park, treating the driver and passenger to virtual surround sound, like a drive-in movie theater without the wailing babies. The screen can be difficult to read in bright sunlight, however.
Setting up the radio is tedious until you know how. Once set up, however, buttons on the steering wheel make switching among your favorite stations easy. Turning off the radio is as easy as pressing the volume knob, aesthetically more appealing than the Mercedes system which cannot be turned off without turning off the navigation. XM Satellite Radio is standard on XLR, providing 24-hour news channels, sports stations, and near-CD quality music anywhere you travel.
It's even easy to reach the dual cup holders on the center console next to the shifter. The XLR is a two-seater, though, so there's not much room to store so much as a briefcase or tote bag without cooperation from your passenger. Places to stash stuff are provided in the doors, center console and glove box, though none of them are large.
The retractable hard top consumes three-fourths of the trunk space when it's down. And because the trunk raises and opens at the back to swallow it, rainwater will drain down in the trunk instead of dropping on the ground behind the bumper. Cadillac says owners should be able to fit a small golf bag in the trunk (or passenger seat), but recommend keeping the clubs at the club.
The 2007 Cadillac XLR boasts the latest and best version of the 4.6-liter Northstar V8. It's smooth, quiet, and powerful. With double overhead-cams, variable valve timing and electronic throttle control, it produces 320 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque.
The XLR can go from 0 to 60 in 5.8 seconds and do the quarter-mile in 14.2 seconds, making it faster than most of its competition because it's lighter and more powerful. The XLR's 320 horses only have to drag 3,647 pounds.
By comparison, the Lexus SC430 has just 288 horsepower to propel 3,840 pounds; the Jaguar XK has just 300 horsepower for 3,759 pounds. The Mercedes-Benz SL550 has 382 horsepower, but at 4,220 pounds, that's 11.0 pounds per pony; the base XLR isn't so far behind at 11.4. And at $94,800, the Benz is priced closer to the 443-horsepower XLR-V.
Big torque numbers aside, the base XLR engine is thrilling when it comes on strong at higher revs, all the way to redline at 6500 rpm. Much of the torque seems to start at about 4400 rpm.
In the handling department, the XLR was halfway home when it was mounted on the superb Corvette chassis, which is very strong and light. In fact, the XLR is assembled in the Corvette plant at Bowling Green, Kentucky. New aluminum subframes were designed to accommodate the XLR body, lengthening the wheelbase by one inch. Along with the low stance, good weight distribution and lightweight aluminum suspension components, this edges the XLR in the direction of great handling. The XLR has a longer wheelbase and wider track than the SL550, SC430 and XK8.
The electronic active suspension is unique, and works exceptionally well. Like the Corvette, it uses transversely mounted composite leaf springs front and rear with wishbone control arms. The monotube shock absorbers contain fluid with magnetic particles whose alignment controls the stiffness. Sensors read the road 1000 times per second and vary those magnetic fields. In short, the XLR offers tenacious grip and excellent handling. It charges down rippled curvy roads and takes smooth sweepers flat out.
Cruising in the XLR, which is what most of us do most of the time, is pleasant. There's little wind noise. If there are any hard edges to the ride we haven't felt them. It feels big, somewhat like the Corvette, but tight, fast and quick.
The faster the car went the better the speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion power steering felt. The high-speed chassis balance was impressively neutral. The StabiliTrak electronic stability control made corrections to regain traction, but wasn't as intrusive as in the Mercedes-Benz SL.
The Michelin Z-rated run-flat tires measure 235/50ZR18 on 8-inch rims, not particularly wide for 320 horsepower. That helps the ride but not the braking distance. We gave the brakes a good panic stop and, as with all Cadillacs, the ABS worked especially well. Not long ago we tested a V12 Mercedes SL600 roadster ($132,000), and the XLR's anti-lock brakes seem smoother.
XLR is the first Cadillac to come with an adaptive forward lighting system, which automatically adjusts headlamp direction up to 15 degrees. Vehicle speed and steering wheel angle input determine how fast and how far the headlamps turn.
Powering the XLR-V is a 4.4-liter version of the same Northstar V8, outfitted with a positive displacement supercharger and intercooler. That boosts its output to 443 horsepower at 6400 rpm, and 414 pound-feet of torque at 3900 rpm. The engine's power is underscored by its ability to deliver 90 percent of its peak torque between 2200 and 6000 rpm. Pirelli Run-Flat tires (P235/45 in front, P255/40 in the rear) on 19 by 8.5-inch wheels help the V-model's modified suspension grip the road.
For 2007, both engines are now mated to the new-for-last-year Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission, which uses an integrated 32-bit controller and offers a wide, 6.04:1 overall ratio spread for performance with fu.
The 2007 Cadillac XLR is faster than its competitors from Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Jaguar; and offers fresh, distinctive styling. It holds its own in other important categories such as ride, cornering, comfort and electronics. The XLR simply succeeds as a luxury performance roadster, as well as in its mission to be an admirable flagship for General Motors.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed the original report from the Columbia River Gorge in Washington, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles.
Cadillac XLR ($75,335); XLR-V ($97,460).
Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Options As Tested
Cadillac XLR ($78,335).
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