[FoRK] AutoByTel XLR Review
rohit at ics.uci.edu
Thu Jul 22 01:08:33 PDT 2004
2004 Cadillac XLR
Bona fide roadster legs and a lap of luxury.
by Sue Mead
Milan, Michigan -- I'm convinced that simply getting behind the wheel
of the Cadillac XLR and zigzagging the narrow and twisty two-lanes of
rural Michigan has taken ten years off my life. As such, I imagine that
this new model will become the "gold chain" for ageing Baby Boomers,
though it's clear that the XLR will also appeal to the young as well as
the young at heart. Just be prepared to open up the bank vault.
Almost half a decade since Cadillac unveiled its Evoq two-seater
convertible at the 1999 Detroit Auto Show, the original American luxury
carmaker brings XLR, a hot little roadster, to dealer showrooms this
The XLR has been a long time coming, and it carries heavy hopes for the
Cadillac brand, whose strongest seller in recent years has been the
Escalade SUV series. While Escalade provided a badly needed adrenaline
shot (not to mention street credibility) to GM's lethargic luxury
division, its roadster roots had yet to be successfully tapped.
The XLR could change all that. With a V8 motor and a price tag in the
$70,000 range, XLR is unabashedly a posh performance car. Its lines are
lean, its footing is sure and its hardtop - and this is key - retracts
in less than 30 seconds. Overall, Caddy's newest offering shows far
more promise than its late-80s predecessor, an infamous flop called the
Allante - and enough guts to go toe-to-toe with the segment-leading
One glance tells you this is not your grandparent's Cadillac. Dominated
by angles and squared-off edges, this new model has just enough curve
to keep its sex appeal. The brand's new-signature grille, with its
horizontal slats, grins from the front end, which holds oversized
wraparound diamond-shaped headlamps, an open-mouthed scoop and big,
rectangular fog lights. The hood is a broad, flat plane accented by a
subtle spine running through its center.
Double wishbone suspension front and rear helps provide support enough
for a lateral G-force rating of 0.9.
The XLR's roof is a retractable hard top that looks good- both in place
and tucked away in the compartment behind the seats. A button inside
the cabin raises, lowers and stows the top.
Wheel wells are at all four corners of the vehicle, and they are large
enough to nearly meet the hood, with only a sliver of side body panel
between the bonnet and the top of the styled curve. The sides stretch
back, defined by an almost invisible beltline, to a squared-off rear
end that features large, rectangular taillights, a narrow horizontal
trunk-mounted brake light and a chubby body-color bumper. Standard
18-inch wheels are spun-cast aluminum.
The powerplant in the new Cadillac roadster is an updated version of
the 4.6-liter V8 Northstar engine that GM also uses in the Cadillac SRV
sport ute. Producing 320 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque, the DOHC
motor is matched to a five-speed electronically controlled automatic
transmission, with manual shift capability. This engine marks the first
longitudinal application of the Northstar model, with a rear-mounted
transmission layout that helps evenly distribute weight and increase
legroom in the cabin. Zero-to-sixty mph time is a snappy 5.8 seconds.
A sophisticated high-speed local area network (LAN) controls
communication within and between the engine and transmission. Variable
Valve Timing (VVT) and electronic throttle control are other
technologies that boost the engine's efficiency.
Inside, the XLR is a major step up the luxury ladder for Cadillac,
whose GM-derived fit-and-finish has lagged behind that of German and
Asian makers in the past. The driver's space feels like a pilot's
cockpit, with a center console that stretches continuously into the
dash and holds a joystick-style shift lever. Eucalyptus wood trim adds
an unexpected note of distinction in a segment awash with bird's eye
Luxury amenities abound in this roadster, with keyless entry standing
out as a key technological feature. Drivers use only a fob that
communicates with the computer system via antennae under the body of
the car; the fob opens doors, unlatches the trunk and operates the
ignition. As long as the fob is within a close radius, doors are opened
by touching a pad on the door and the ignition is controlled through a
button on the dash.
Seats are heated, cooled and upholstered in leather. A 6-disc in-dash
Bose audio system is standard and a 7-inch color touch screen mounted
in the center dash controls DVD navigation. Another high-tech
convenience/safety feature is radar-guided adaptive cruise control,
which tracks the speed of the vehicle (or object) ahead of the car. An
audio and visual alert is sent to the driver through the screen when
the car is getting too close to what's ahead. OnStar is standard on the
XLR; the only factory option is an XM satellite radio.
XLR is built for a confident, performance-oriented ride. The
hydroformed steel frame helps form an aluminum cockpit structure with
balsa-cored floors (similar to the construction of GM's 'other' sports
car, the Corvette). Double wishbone suspension front and rear helps
provide support enough for a lateral G-force rating of 0.9.
In addition, this roadster uses magnetic ride control, a newish
technology that provides real time damping through an electronically
controlled magnetic fluid. The system uses wheel-to-body displacement
sensors to measure wheel motion and adjust shock damping. This helps
maintain tire contact with the road surface and to keep the body on an
even keel under intense driving conditions.
Overall, the XLR seems to deliver what Cadillac has always promised:
bona fide roadster legs and a lap of luxury.
--Story by Sue Mead
Sue Mead works as a photojournalist and features writer for more than
two dozen publications. She has written for Parade, Popular Science,
Open Road, the Road & Track Buyers Guide, Men's Journal, Popular
Mechanics and Diversion and she has worked as an auto editor for
CNN/fn. Sue has co-driven in two of the world's toughest off-road
races, the Baja 1000 and the Paris-Dakar Raid. She attended four Camel
Trophy adventures for Land Rover North America and has participated in
several long-distance adventure drives. She recently completed her
first book, "Monster Trucks and Tractors" published by Chelsea House.
Sue lives in New England.
5 questions about the 2004 Cadillac XLR
What chassis is the Cadillac XLR built on and who are its chief
competitors? The rear-drive XLR is based on the C5 Corvette chassis,
along with some of the suspension components of the next-generation C6.
It comes with an updated version of the highly-regarded Northstar V-8,
XLR is expected to compete with those also considering the
Mercedes-Benz SL roadster and the Lexus SC430.
What is "keyless technology"? The keyless technology found in the XLR
is the first application for The General. This new roadster has no door
handles, but, if your key fob is in your pocket, purse or nearby, you
can just push buttons on the door. Once inside, you also press the
Start button, and shift into gear.
How does it handle? Thanks to Cadillac's MagneRide computer-controlled
suspension system, the XLR has a great road feel. This system reads the
road as well as driver input. Power sounds good and moves the Caddy in
ample fashion, with a competent transmission and great brakes. Steering
has a very good on-center feel, but requires a bit of manipulating in
the corners (some "numbness".)
How is the interior? The interior is well-appointed and charmingly
attractive. Leather seats are comfortable and the eucalyptus wood trim
is appealing. The Heads-up Display (HUD), shows a number of key
functions, including active (radar-guided) cruise control. The
navigation system has a large screen and gauges and controls are easy
to read and reach.
Any complaints? The only transmission available at the present is a
5-speed automatic. A 6-speed manual would appeal to many, including our
testers at Autobytel.
> Driving Impressions
> The Cadillac XLR boats the latest and best version of the 4.6-liter
> Northstar V8. It's smooth and quiet, and powerful. With double
> overhead-cams, variable valve timing and electronic throttle control,
> it produces 320 horsepower and 310 pounds-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 its main opponents, because it's
> lighter and more powerful. The XLR's 320 horses only have to drag 3647
> pounds; the Mercedes SL500 is 302 hp and 4220 lbs.; Lexus SC430 is 300
> hp and 3893 lbs.; and the Jaguar XK8 is 294 hp and 3991 lbs.
> Its big torque numbers aside, the engine is very thrilling when it
> comes on strong at higher revs, all the way to redline at 6500 rpm.
> Once, when we floored it in second gear, we had to ask ourselves,
> "Where's the torque?" because the car didn't accelerate quickly. The
> torque is mostly up there at 4400 rpm. The transmission was in manual
> mode, and it didn't kick down because we hadn't shifted it. One
> especially pleasant feature is that the manual mode (called Driver
> Shift Control) for the new five-speed automatic transmission is true,
> and doesn't override the driver; again, this is refreshing and unlike
> German thought. When the electronic transmission is left to its own
> algorithmic designs, it sometimes shifts back and forth in the
> leisurely 40-mph range.
> 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 at the Corvette plant in
> Kentucky. New aluminum subframes were built 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 car in the direction of great handling. The
> XLR has a longer wheelbase and wider track than the SL500, SC430 and
> The electronic active suspension is unique, and works exceptionally
> well. It's rocket science: 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.
> If there are any hard edges to the ride we haven't felt them. It feels
> big, somewhat like the Corvette, but tighter, fast and quick.
> 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. Recently we tested
> a V12 Mercedes SL600 roadster ($125,950), and the XLR's anti-lock
> brakes seem smoother.
> 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 the Mercedes SL600 and
> If (when) the keyfob transmitter technology is KO'd by sunspots or
> reluctant space-traveling electrons, there's a little hole in the rear
> bumper with a plug covering a slot for the keyfob. So you'll be
> granted entrance to your $76,000 car if you get down on your hands and
> knees in the dirt. Play Indiana Jones entering a protected temple.
> Don't look over your shoulder; the ghost of Henry Ford will be
> laughing at you
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