[FoRK] Motor Trend XLR first peek (Aug 2002)

Rohit Khare rohit at ics.uci.edu
Thu Jul 22 01:07:23 PDT 2004

2004 Cadillac XLR
Good enough to make a place in the premium roadster pecking order?

By Jack Keebler
Photography by Winston Goodfellow
Motor Trend, August 2002

David Leone, chief engineer for the Cadillac XLR, wants us to clearly  
understand that his 330-hp luxury/sport roadster is not a  
Corvette-neither in content nor in purpose. It's been conceived as a  
polished, smooth-riding two-seater flagship aimed at Mercedes-Benz'  
SL500, Jaguar's XKR, and Lexus' SC 430. The design and engineering goal  
was to create a car that's cozy curbside on Park Avenue and equally  
happy making tracks on the Interstate.

"It's a luxury car with performance-car roots," explains the affable  
Leone, "and it's also the first vehicle off the next-generation  
performance architecture." But he knows that ignoring the car's  
Corvette connection is impossible. When production cranks up next May,  
the XLR will be built in the same Bowling Green, Kentucky, plant that  
assembled the 33,655 Corvettes sold last (calendar) year. It has  
essentially the same hydroformed frame-rail construction as the Vette.  
The two will share body and paint shops, but will be assembled on  
different lines. He also acknowledges that many of the same  
electronics, suspension, body structure, braking,  
heater/ventilation/air-conditioning, and even some driveline components  
will serve in the next-generation C6 Corvette (the current car is  
internally dubbed C5). Many industry critics jokingly refer to the XLR,  
which will carry a considerable $30,000 premium above the C5, as the  
"Vette Version 5.5."

Leone tells us that using this Corvette-derived rear-drive platform was  
not a certainty from the start. GM's new Sigma chassis, currently used  
under the '03 CTS sedan and later to be offered under the '04 SRX  
crossover and '05 Seville, was considered for the XLR. But because the  
Corvette's underpinnings were conceived from the start for convertible  
duty, it seemed a more natural match.

Due to this relationship, there's a slight resemblance between the XLR  
and the Corvette. But a side-by-side comparison reveals the Cadillac is  
about 2 in. shorter overall than the Chevy, although it rolls on a  
longer wheelbase. Another important dimensional difference that makes  
entry and exit friendlier is the XLR's 2-in.-higher hip point.

With its 50/50 weight balance, the XLR is intended to set the handling  
standard among its competitive set. But Leone says it won't beat a  
Corvette around a racetrack. "It's a bona fide performance roadster,"  
he says, "but it's not a 1.0g car on a skidpad. We're not going for  
Lexus quiet either. There'll be more feedback, and what's there will be  

Contributing greatly to the XLR's suppleness goal is real-time shock  
damping afforded by the use of the GM/Delphi-developed Magnetic Ride  
Control system. Like the '03 Corvette, it uses magneto-rheological  
shock fluid to provide new levels of body and wheel control. Leone also  
specified smaller-diameter anti-roll bars for the XLR, trading a  
measure of increased body-roll for less abrupt handling. It'll be  
interesting to see where Cadillac actually fixes the XLR's  
ride/handling balance, as the luxo/sport roadster buyers' taste varies  
considerably in this area.

The XLR is motivated by a 4.6L DOHC Northstar V-8 making about 330 hp,  
up from a 300-hp rating in DeVille DTS trim. This compares favorably  
with the power ratings offered by Lexus and Mercedes. Tweaks for XLR  
duty include a forged crank, direct-mount accessories, a drive-by-wire  
throttle, and the additional breathing capability afforded by variable  
valve timing. In the beginning, there will be one transmission: a  
five-speed automatic with sequential up- and downshifting. Leone  
wouldn't discuss the notion of a much-rumored manual.

You can have the XLR's plastic body panels finished in black, silver,  
shale, medium red, deep blue, or gray metallic. What happened to the  
aluminum bodywork originally considered? Leone says the low weight and  
corrosion and dent resistance of composite body panels won the day.  
Certainly, aluminum's generally higher initial and potential repair  
costs must have also worked against it. Yet Leone says the XLR's  
body-quality standards are set to match those of its aforementioned  
steel-bodied rivals.

The XLR's retractable hardtop is a tour-de-force bit of technical  
origami that folds and stows itself in the trunk at the push of a  
single button. The supplier, interestingly, is a joint venture between  
Mercedes-Benz and Porsche called Car-Top Systems. Leone assures us  
that, unlike the Allanté's, this too will be wind/watertight and squeak  

A finely crafted cabin is critical in this class of automobile; the  
market will not accept less, and the standards out there are high.  
Warm-toned Eucalyptus wood covers the XLR's door handles, shifter,  
steering wheel, and center console. Anodized aluminum panels with a  
fine lithographed finish cool and modernize the look; the metal bits  
are splashed on the center stack, steering wheel, sill plate, and door  

Jeweler Bulgari designed the watch-like analog instrumentation, which  
consists of a 160-mph speedo, a 7000-rpm tach with 6500-rpm redline,  
and smaller coolant and fuel gauges; the graphics on these smaller  
gauges seems a bit too fine for a quick read. The XLR carries a GM  
first: radar-based adaptive cruise control. There's also a head-up  
display on the windshield showing speed, adaptive-cruise-control  
operation, gear selection, and priority messages about things like low  
voltage or overheating.

Other goodies include a GPS-based navigation system, hands-free phone,  
XM radio, a six-CD in-dash unit, park assist, heated and cooled bucket  
seats, front- and side-impact airbags, and a stability-control system.  
Nostalgia (and in-car romance) freaks, rejoice: The drive-in movie  
lives. You can play DVDs on the dash nav screen-as long as the  
transmission is in Park. Interestingly, there will be no Night Vision  
system: Leone tells us demand for this gadget has fallen off. Instead,  
the XLR packs seriously bright high-intensity-discharge high and low  

This isn't a traditional-looking car, so it's no surprise it doesn't  
have a traditional ignition key. Instead, a fob-like transmitter  
communicates with a hidden antenna. With the transmitter in your  
pocket, takeoff involves stepping on the brake, pressing a starter  
button on the dash, engaging a gear, and hitting the gas-something  
we'll look forward to doing in just a few months' time.

 	State of the Art	 
Cadillac's upcoming XLR needs to be good. The last time GM's  
wreath-and-crest division took the luxo/roadster path, it failed on  
both content and execution. The Allanté of '88-'93 was a nice enough  
looking piece, courtesy of design and body construction by Italy's  
Pininfarina. But it suffered from an old-tech front-drive powertrain (a  
Northstar V-8 came along in time for its final year), a manual top  
(unthinkable in this class), and a substandard interior. A new Mercedes  
SL came out in '90 and blew the underconceived and underdelivered  
Allanté off the map. Now, there's another new SL-and an exceptional one  
at that. The new Maserati Spyder packs both Italian style and serious  
performance. And there's the Porsche Carrera Cabriolet. And the Lexus  
SC 430. The ever-beautiful XK8 gets a substantive update for '03. So  
the Caddy is diving into shark-infested seas in seeking  
style-conscious, demanding, and well-to-do clientele. We doubt if many  
of the XLR's potential customers will care that it stems from Corvette  
beginnings. Some may have no interest if a car's body panels are made  
of composite plastics, aluminum, or Silly Putty. But everything they  
see, touch, and experience better say "quality and class," or the XLR  
will go the way of the dodo bird-and the Allanté. We'll know for sure  
when we see its final pricing and experience that all-important first  
test. Make no mistake, however: The challenge Cadillac has undertaken  
is huge. Matt Stone


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