Unbelievable excitement ensues as two Seattleites prepare for a baby!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Driving with Chris: Cadillac XLR

Cadillac's XLR - quick, refined, and $75,000.

Over the last several years, Cadillac has made a remarkable comeback from near-irrelevance to a position of making cars nearly, but not quite, as good as the stellar offerings from BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, and Infiniti.

That sounds like damning with faint praise, but of all of General Motors' divisions, Cadillacs are generally better-engineered and better-equipped to go head-to-head with their competition - a feat made even more impressive considering the caliber of that competition. The Cadillac SRX small SUV is arguably the best in its class, and the small sports-sedan CTS and mid-size sports-luxury sedan STS are at least competitive with some of the industry's heaviest hitters.

The XLR two-seat sports convertible is Cadillac's flagship car - its flashiest, most expensive, and most exotic offering, meant to go head-to-head with Mercedes' flagship SL two-seat convertible.
This is a task that was attempted in the 1980s by the Cadillac Allante, but the XLR has better ordinance with which to do the job.

Cadillac's engineers started with the stiff platform and excellent suspension of the previous generation Chevrolet Corvette and dropped in Cadillac's proprietary Northstar V-8 for motivation. In this setting, the smooth and torquey Northstar generates a smooth 320 horsepower.

In practice, the XLR's handling is as precise and immediate as one would expect from a Corvette chassis; the engine, while not as hard-edged as a Corvette, provides a level of power and refinement commensurate with the XLR's more patrician mission. The overall effect is one of calm but ever-present competency - a thoroughbred athleticism that is available when called upon without ever creating a scene.

A power folding hardtop allows the XLR owner to enjoy the delights of top-down motoring without having to compromise foul-weather protection, but the rest of the accomodations aren't quite as nice. The interior trim, switchgear, and navigation and entertainment system look a bit cheap in Cadillac's entry-level CTS sedan; they look dramatically out of place in a $75,000 luxury tourer.

Yes, $75,000 for a Cadillac - and in the end, despite a sweet-mannered vehicle, that price may be too much for skeptical customers to swallow. As a vehicle, the XLR blows away competitors such as the Lexus SC430 and Jaguar XK8, but it also costs more than either. It also costs significantly more than the new, more advanced Corvette or even the Corvette Z06 - a budget supercar that retails for less than the XLR while running with the fastest cars on earth.

The Cadillac undercuts the $91,000 Mercedes-Benz SL500 significantly, and, mechanically, is not embarrassed by the more expensive Teutonic juggernaut. However, it's hard to imagine a Mercedes buyer being swayed by the Cadillac nameplate or the cheap plastic surfaces that abound in the XLR.

The XLR is an excellent car, but like the rest of Cadillac's offerings, it might be lacking just enough to keep it from superstardom.

The XLR's power retractable hardtop provides top-down fun without the hassles of a soft convertible top.


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