[FoRK] Edmunds.com XLR Review

Rohit Khare khare at alumni.caltech.edu
Mon Jul 12 20:02:57 PDT 2004

Road Test: Full Test
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Full Test: 2004 Cadillac XLR
Cadillac's Concept Comes to Life


Road Test
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Specifications and Performance

Stereo Evaluation
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Second Opinions

Consumer Commentary
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By Ed Hellwig
Date posted: 07-08-2004

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  Video highlights of this vehicle
It takes a serious set of wheels to turn heads in Beverly Hills. The 
average valet attendant has seen more Ferraris than a Maranello gas 
station, and unless you just won an Oscar or were recently indicted by 
Elliot Spitzer, a Porsche or BMW isn't going to get you too many looks 

  So it was with great surprise, and a hint of patriotic satisfaction, 
that we observed the constant head swinging and finger pointing that 
accompanied the XLR as it rolled through some of L.A.'s most 
pretentious locales. Whether it was the gleaming ruby red color or the 
origamilike creases of its low-slung body, Cadillac's new flagship 
convertible drew the kind of attention typically reserved for the 
world's most exclusive roadsters.

  Of course, such fawning begs the question: Is the XLR worthy of the 
attention that its striking lines so easily attract? Our initial 
impressions were a resounding yes, but after spending the better part 
of a week behind the wheel, we realized that while the XLR has a look 
that sets it apart from the crowd, it still has a ways to go before it 
can match its European rivals when it comes to delivering a complete 
package of style, performance and refinement.

  The XLR is essentially a production version of the Evoq concept car 
that debuted in 1999 at the North American International Auto Show. For 
those who don't spend their post-holiday weekends in downtown Detroit, 
we'll refresh your memory. It was the Evoq that introduced the world to 
the look of the 21st-century Cadillac. Instead of big, broad and bland, 
the Evoq was long, low and seemingly chiseled out of a solid block of 
iron with its sharp edges and flat surfaces. In effect, it didn't look 
like a Cadillac, but it was daring and distinctive and a clear sign 
that GM's luxury brand was headed in a new direction.

  In its transformation from concept car to showroom centerpiece, the 
XLR incurred relatively minor styling and dimensional changes. Its body 
rides on a slightly shorter wheelbase, but its overall length of nearly 
178 inches has it stretching roughly 10 inches longer than the concept. 
Compared to the Mercedes-Benz SL and Lexus SC 430, the XLR is bigger in 
both its length and wheelbase. Lest you get the impression that it's 
just another oversized Cadillac cruiser, bear in mind that the XLR 
utilizes the same chassis that underpins the 2005 Corvette so its 
performance credentials are sound.

  Like the Corvette, the XLR requires a little ducking and sliding to 
get in, but most will find its ease of entry acceptable. The seat and 
steering wheel open up wide to smooth out the entry process, with both 
returning to your preset position once you're situated. A keyless entry 
and ignition system allows you to enter the car and fire it up without 
ever having to take the key fob out of your pocket. It takes some 
getting used to, but once you've gotten accustomed to the process, it 
becomes second nature and quite convenient. Most drivers will find 
plenty of room to stretch out, but if you're on the tall side, the 
limited seat travel may present a problem.

  A quick look around the cabin reveals a relatively simple design, but 
lavish materials throughout give it the upscale ambience of a true 
luxury roadster. A mix of Eucalyptus wood trim and anodized aluminum 
adorns the console, dash and door panels, while the gauge cluster bears 
the mark of world-renowned jeweler Bulgari who lent a hand in its 
design. A touchscreen navigation display sits front and center with a 
set of easily adjustable climate controls just below. Supple leather 
covers the seats, steering wheel and just about every other surface 
that isn't already adorned with wood or aluminum.

  Opinions were mixed on how well the look and feel of the interior 
reflects the car's $75,000 price tag. The rich color of the wood trim 
looks as good as anything you might find in a Lexus, but the aluminum 
accents aren't quite as convincing, as some of the metallic panels look 
more like snapped-on covers than integrated pieces of a cohesive 
design. Switchgear quality is good but not great, and even the 
conspicuously branded gauges failed to generate much enthusiasm. "The 
mere presence of the Bulgari branding isn't the problem," one editor 
wrote. "It's the fact that the name adorns a cluster so thoroughly 
unremarkable in its design that makes it look ridiculous."

  The debate continued as we settled in and became more familiar with 
the feel of the XLR on the road. Press the ignition button and GM's 
Northstar V8 rumbles to life with a familiar sound. At idle it 
registers a barely audible murmur, but a poke of the throttle generates 
a throatier rasp that hints at its considerable output. Now in its 
second-generation of development, the Northstar engine uses advanced 
engine technologies like variable valve timing and electronic throttle 
control to give it robust power while retaining the kind of refinement 
expected in a car of its caliber.

  With 320 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, the 4.6-liter V8 
measures up favorably with its peers. A five-speed automatic 
transmission is the only gearbox available, but there is a manual-shift 
gate that allows you to manipulate the gears yourself. Measured against 
the clock at the test track, the XLR turned in a 0-to-60-mph run of 5.9 
seconds, a time that placed it a tick faster than the last SL 500 we 
timed. It leaves the line with a tame lunge forward (it proved unable 
to break the tires loose), but builds speed quickly once the Northstar 
hits its stride. Full throttle shifts result in little hesitation and 
the sound of the engine at full song is as good or better than any V8 
in its class.

  As fast as the XLR is when pushed, those expecting a Corvette in 
Cadillac clothing will be disappointed. Not only does the XLR return 
less enthusiastic responses to the throttle than its corporate cousin, 
its soft suspension tuning results in considerable body roll during 
hard cornering and plenty of nose dive under heavy braking. Magnetic 
Ride control (MR) shocks are standard equipment, but even with their 
split-second adjustability, the XLR still feels less willing to tackle 
the turns than an SL. An overly large steering wheel makes it feel all 
the more ponderous, but at least the level of steering assist isn't 
overly aggressive. Regardless, whether we were threading through the 
slalom at the test track or knifing through our favorite canyons, the 
XLR seemed out of its element.

  In order to truly appreciate the XLR's best qualities, one only has to 
seek out roads that are long, straight and preferably drenched in 
sunshine. For it's in these types of conditions that the XLR shines, as 
its pliable suspension, willing motor and convertible hardtop coalesce 
to deliver a formidable grand touring car that devours miles at a 
furious pace.

  The suspension that's overly forgiving in the turns makes for an 
undisturbed ride on the highway and the precise steering tracks well at 
all speeds. Smooth downshifts and an abundance of available power allow 
effortless passing that takes the drama out of making time on two-lane 
roads. Dropping the convertible hardtop takes just 20 seconds, and 
given the fact that it was designed by the same company that built the 
folding roof for Mercedes' SL, it's no surprise that it opens and 
closes with similar precision.

  With the hardtop in place, the XLR is dashing in its profile and 
whisper-quiet inside. Road and wind noise is minimal, although one 
passenger complained of feeling claustrophobic with the roof closed. 
Dropping the top solved that problem in a hurry, but introduced another 
one in the form of excessive wind buffeting. Refreshing at best and 
annoying at worst, swirling cabin winds are one of the XLR's few faults 
when it comes to long-distance cruising.

  Gusty winds aside, the XLR's supportive seats, powerful audio system 
and extensive array of standard features keep you comfortable and well 
entertained. Unlike some of its competitors, the XLR comes fully 
loaded, with satellite radio being the only option. Among the many 
features are an adaptive cruise control system, a DVD-based navigation 
system and a head-up display that projects vehicle information onto the 
windshield to help keep your eyes on the road.

  While some luxury cars often overdo it with overly technical systems 
that are confusing to use, the XLR's various technologies are easy to 
master. The touchscreen navigation controls are laid out in an easily 
recognizable manner, and even the head-up display was considered useful 
by most. The adaptive cruise control system worked as advertised, 
keeping a consistent distance (easily adjustable with a button on the 
steering wheel) between the XLR and the car in front of it without 
feeling like it was in the way. A few of the radio controls are 
confusing and the main screen washes out in direct sunlight, but for 
the most part we considered the XLR's numerous luxury features 
desirable enhancements instead of frustrating distractions.

  The ease with which the XLR goes about its purpose results in a luxury 
roadster that will put a smile on the face of any Cadillac fan. It 
looks fast, goes fast and turns heads everywhere it goes, faithfully 
delivering on the promise of the long-forgotten Evoq. As impressive as 
it is, however, the XLR is not quite the world standard just yet. The 
performance is there, the technology is there, but next to an SL, it's 
still the runner-up. If you're looking for nothing more than a little 
attention, the XLR will do the trick, but if you want the best luxury 
roadster, you won't find it at a Cadillac dealer just yet

System Score: 8.0

Components: Wedging high-end components into a two-seat roadster is 
never an easy task, but the Bose system in the XLR still manages to 
cram nine speakers into its tight interior. All audio controls are 
accessed via the touchscreen interface or the steering wheel satellite 
controls. Definitely not our preferred setup, but we did find the 
system relatively easy to configure and simple to use on a day-to-day 
basis. The small hard buttons around the perimeter of the screen are a 
little on the small side.

Performance: Designed to sound equally impressive whether the top is up 
or down, the XLR's full-range system provides an enjoyable listening 
experience in either configuration. Obviously, with the top in place, 
you get a much better taste of the system's excellent separation and 
well-defined soundstage. With tweeters placed on each side of the 
headrests, you're never at a loss for sizzling highs, but given that 
the main drivers are buried low and deep in the doors, midrange 
production is not surprisingly a little weak. Bass levels are solid, 
but we did notice a tendency for it to loosen up at higher volume 
levels. With the top down, there's plenty of power to cut through the 
wind noise, but ultimately, excessive wind buffeting limits the 
system's effectiveness.

Best Feature: Enough power to sound balanced even with the top down.

Worst Feature: Touchscreen interface isn't always on the same page you 

Conclusion: A solid overall system brought down by a moderately 
frustrating interface. — Ed Hellwig

"In a simple word this car is amazing! I have just purchased mine in a 
black on black base. It's a lot of fun to drive; prior to the XLR I had 
the SC 430 Lexus and it was stolen. So I went for this car and I am 
completely grateful for this car — it has the looks, the power and the 
performance. Overall, the car is a pure joy to wake up to every 
morning; I have an '03 Range Rover as well and I haven't driven it 
since I bought this car." — (949)Motoring, Jan. 9, 2004

  "This car is a work of art. I was driving down the Las Vegas Strip 
last week and a young man, who was walking around arm in arm with his 
girlfriend sightseeing, left her standing on the sidewalk, stepped out 
into the street, took out his phone and snapped 3 photos of my Xenon 
Blue XLR. The fit and finish of this car is excellent, the engine 
powerful yet somehow quiet, the handling is precise and lightning 
quick, the ride is amazing. This car signals a rebirth of Cadillac's 
proud past." — JimHarnish, Nov. 29, 2003

  "Car arrived last week. It is black on black. It has the same ride 
feel as my Audi A4. Love all the gizmos, especially the HUD or head-up 
display, power-retractable hardtop, very good sound system, adaptive 
cruise control, etc. They should have more interior color options. 
Overall I am pleased." — arcuby, Nov. 5, 2003

Editor in Chief Karl Brauer says:
  The XLR is proof that Cadillac can build a world-class automobile…if 
it wants to. The modern automotive consumer will no longer put up with 
obvious cost-cutting measures, and in general it has taken the domestic 
manufacturers longer to realize this than the Asian or European brands. 
But within minutes of sitting in the XLR, it was clear that Cadillac 
now gets it. Probably the biggest hurdle this car faces is from 
potential customers who expect it to be a Corvette with a wood trim 
interior. It is based on the next Corvette's platform, and it does have 
a wood-trimmed interior (some of the best interior wood I have 
seen/felt), but the XLR uses a Cadillac drivetrain and Cadillac 
philosophy in terms of suspension tuning.

  What this means is that the XLR drives like, well, a Cadillac, not a 
Corvette. Smoky burnouts are not part of the equation here. In fact, we 
couldn't even break the rear tires loose. And handling, while better 
than any other vehicle to wear the wreath and crest on its grille, is 
still not Corvette-like. But trying to smoke the rear tires or power 
slide the car around a twisty mountain road is not what most Cadillac 
buyers do, even the younger, hipper ones Cadillac is now courting. 
Drive the XLR like the luxury convertible it is, and you'll be 
hard-pressed to find anything to complain about. It's not quite a 
Mercedes SL, but it doesn't cost quite as much, either. The BMW 645Ci 
convertible is closer on price, but the aggravation of manually tuning 
a radio station offsets any driving dynamic advantage held by that car. 
Yup, I can say it without a qualifier: I like this car, and could see 
myself buying one under the right circumstances. To paraphrase the 
company's own marketing theme, it's been a long time since I could say 
that about a Cadillac.

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
  Although Cadillac has been down the luxury roadster road before with 
the Pininfarina-designed Allante (1987-1993), the company didn't 
exactly enjoy resounding success. Even though the handsome Allante's 
chief competition initially was the outdated Mercedes 560SL, problems 
with the Caddy's soft top and digital dash got the expensive two-seater 
off on the wrong tire. Of course, by the Allante's final year of 
production Cadillac had worked out the bugs and fitted the powerful 
Northstar V8 under the hood, but it was too late to save the expensive 
drop top.

  Seventeen years later, Cadillac has once again aimed the wreath and 
crest at the three-pointed star, and this time it nailed it right off 
the bat. For me, this is the best expression of Caddy's new design 
direction — apart from the oversized taillights that extend halfway 
over the rear quarters — it's sleek and crisp at the same time. The 
cockpit proves that, yes, GM can craft an elegant, well-finished 
interior. And even though it has all the latest techno-marvels, such as 
adaptive cruise control, a head-up display and a DVD-based navigation 
system, the XLR doesn't overwhelm the driver with a Starship 
Enterprise-like flight deck.

  In terms of performance, the XLR should satisfy most if not all of the 
intended demographic. Most folks interested in this type of car want 
high style, a luxurious cabin, powerful acceleration, a nice ride and 
precise handling. And the XLR more than delivers on all fronts. Those 
looking for a full-on sports car's level of handling may find the XLR 
too soft, but they should be shopping the Corvette if that's what 
they're looking for. Sure, at $76 grand the XLR is a lot of coin, but a 
comparably equipped Benz SL500 is $20,000 more. The SL500 is still one 
of my favorite cars, but the XLR is a lot closer to it than a 
26-percent advantage in price would suggest.

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