Is there a more remarkable story in the automobile business than Cadillac's phoenix-like ascent from deflated and defeated brand to the hottest thing on four wheels today?Not likely.
Just a few years back, Cadillac was the vehicle of choice for the white-patent-leather-shoes-and-matching-belt crowd; today it's de rigueur with the Shaqs and Shakiras of the world. Cadillac is hot again not because of marketing and hype, but because it is once more building great machines, including its big Escalades and the superb SRX midsize SUV. Even more surprising is the XLR, a two-seat roadster with a retractable hardtop, built on the same platform as the next-generation Corvette.
Yes, you read that right: The all-new XLR shares its subcutaneous structure with the world-class Corvette.
This structure is comprised of steel hydroformed perimeter frame rails, an enclosed structural tunnel, aluminum cockpit and balsa-cored composite floors. The result is a lightweight car with exceptional rigidity.
At 3,650 pounds, the XLR is lighter than the Mercedes SL500, Jaguar XK8 or Lexus SC430—its three prime competitors. Yet it has a longer wheelbase, wider track, lower height and more horsepower than any of them.
The result is the most agile Cadillac ever, one that combines near-sports car levels of grip with a comfortable—albeit firm—ride. If you haven't driven a Cadillac in the past five years or so, you'll find the XLR to be a revelation. Simply put, it's a much better effort than Cadillac has ever made before.
Along with the good grip on the road comes Cadillac's Northstar V-8 with variable valve timing and a refined 4.6-liter motor that produces 320 horsepower—enough to take the XLR from a standstill to 60 m.p.h. in 5.8 seconds.
The rear-mounted five-speed automatic transmission shifts more of the car's weight to the back, which makes the handling more balanced and precise. Even under hard driving, there are no rough edges to the XLR's road manners. It adds up to a compelling blend of performance, comfort and fun. The car's handling, braking and acceleration will be more than adequate to satisfy all but the most demanding drivers.
Of course, even if it had a multitude of sins, the XLR might be forgiven most of them because of the pleasure it brings during al fresco motoring. The hardtop is an engineering marvel made of aluminum and magnesium with composite exterior panels, a heated glass rear window and glass rear quarter panels—and it retracts in less than thirty seconds. Going topless never felt so free and easy.
Another noteworthy feature is the key fob, which allows keyless operation of the doors, trunk and ignition via radio antennae under the car's bodywork. You open the doors by touching a pad at their rearward edge; the doors unlock and open if the fob is within a one-meter radius, and the ignition turns on and off by pressing a button on the dash.
Luxury fans will also appreciate the refined interior design, with Bulgari instrumentation, a heads-up display, seats with built-in cooling and heating, and a great Bose audio system and XM satellite radio—one feature no car should be without. With the top up, the XLR easily swallows two golf bags.
All told, the XLR is a tremendous leap forward: excellent build quality, more-than-acceptable performance and a list of features that makes it truly world-class. Some may find the angular lines to be a bit much, but the design is growing on me. So, too, is the belief that Cadillac's darkest days are a speck in the rearview mirror.
Scorecard CADILLAC XLR
TYPE: Two-seat roadster
PRICE/AS TESTED: $75,385/$75,710
ENGINE: 4.6-liter V-8
TORQUE: 310 foot-pounds
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic
ZERO TO 60 MPH: 5.8 seconds
TOP SPEED: 155 m.p.h.