Cadillac XLR Review

Cadillac XLR Review

For six years, the two-seat Cadillac XLR roadster was Cadillac's flagship vehicle. Though it shared the same platform as the contemporary Corvette, the XLR variant was not a simple case of corporate badge engineering. It was more of a grand touring machine than a hard-edged sports car, as the Caddy's responses were softer and comfortably refined. It also used a more subdued 4.6-liter 320-horsepower V8 engine rather than the Vette's bigger and edgier V8 power plant.

The use of lightweight components such as aluminum suspension pieces and composite body panels kept the Cadillac XLR from being a bloated luxury two-seater. In addition, the standard Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension system automatically firmed up or softened the suspension based on driving conditions, ensuring generally smooth and responsive maneuvers. The combination of bold, angular styling outside and distinctive eucalyptus-wood cockpit accents gave the XLR a sophisticated presence. Further, the XLR's power-retractable hardtop roof allowed the comfort and security of a coupe when the top was raised.

However, the Cadillac XLR roadster was not quite the "standard of the world" -- far from it. Though its styling and Cadillac badge might've appealed to those looking to roll up to the valet in something different from the status quo, the XLR came up short in terms of maximum performance and interior detailing when compared to its similarly priced rivals from Germany and Great Britain. Furthermore, the XLR didn't really offer that much more than a fully loaded Corvette, which was about $20,000 cheaper when new and packed 110 horsepower more.

Most Recent Cadillac XLR
The Cadillac XLR was a two-seat luxury roadster offered from 2004-'09 that featured a retractable hardtop roof. (A higher-performance XLR-V model, sold from 2006-'09, is reviewed separately.) The XLR came with just about all of the luxury features you'd expect, including 18-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires, adaptive xenon HID headlights, adaptive cruise control, heated leather seats with plenty of power adjustments, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless startup, a head-up display, Bluetooth, a navigation system and a Bose audio system with satellite radio and a CD changer. Changes throughout the model's run were minimal, the most notable being an upgrade from a five-speed-automatic transmission to a six-speed for '07, and the offering of color-themed (Passion Red, Platinum) special editions in its latter few years.

A refined yet muscular 4.6-liter V8 powered the XLR. Initially, a five-speed automatic transmission sent the Northstar V8's 320 hp and 310 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. In 2007 a six-speed automatic became standard. Regardless of transmission, the XLR was a spirited enough performer, with 0-60-mph sprints taking less than 6 seconds and high-speed cruising that was effortless and hushed. Full-throttle shifts were very quick, and the sound of the engine at speed was as good as or better than any V8 in its class. Antilock disc brakes, run-flat tires, a tire-pressure monitor, stability control, head/torso side-impact airbags and rear parking sensors were all standard.

Inside, the Cadillac XLR had rich wood trim and aluminum accents in addition to comfortable leather seating. Altogether it was a clean-looking, modern and warm cabin. However, it was cramped even for this class and compared to its European rivals, the XLR didn't come close to matching materials quality and overall design. It did have its fair share of state-of-the-art technologies such as a head-up display (which showed speed, fuel level and audio status on the windshield), adaptive cruise control and a large touchscreen mounted high in the center stack (which kept the dash free of numerous single-use buttons).

As fast as the XLR was when pushed, it was still not a sports car. Acceleration, though certainly quick, was not as forceful as its Corvette cousin, and the XLR's softer suspension tuning resulted in noticeable body roll during hard cornering and plenty of nosedive under heavy braking. Even with its adaptive suspension's split-second response, the Cadillac XLR still felt less willing to tackle turns than the more athletic European contenders. On the open highway, the roadster hit its stride, delivering an undisturbed ride with effortless tracking.

There was a higher-performance model known as the XLR-V covered in a separate review.