The XLR, which starts at $75,835, is far different from the Allante roadster of the late 1980s and early 1990s. It competes with cars such as the Mercedes-Benz SL, Lexus SC 430 and Jaguar XK8, and it is priced accordingly.
Cadillac's new two-seater is built on the same frame as the next-generation Corvette, but its personality is geared more toward luxury touring than outright performance. The XLR is built alongside the Corvette at the plant in Bowling Green, Ky.
A folding hardtop turns the XLR into an al fresco cruiser at the touch of a button. The occupants sit fairly low in the vehicle, so wind buffeting is not severe at reasonable speeds. A windblocker behind the front seat would be welcome. The folded top consumes almost all of the trunk space, so you have to travel light if you're going to enjoy the fresh air.
The XLR goes about its business discreetly, yet it is capable of traveling quickly without getting flustered. The ride is supple and well-composed, the engine is strong without being a brute, and the brakes are excellent.
The suspension swallows bad pavement, sharp turns and flat roads. One key to its stability is the Magnetic Ride Control. This system electronically controls the magnetic fluid in the shock absorbers, making adjustments in one millisecond. The ride is smooth over little bumps one instant and firm for bigger dips the next instant. Point the nose into a turn and the car takes a firm set with very little body lean.
The aluminum 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 is a huge part of the XLR's personality. This is one of the first rear-wheel-drive applications for this engine, which has been completely re-engineered. It has an electronic throttle, variable valve timing on all four camshafts and four valves per cylinder. The engine pumps out a very willing 320 horsepower, and all of them snap to attention with an enjoyable wail when you mash the throttle. Sixty miles per hour comes up in 5.8 seconds, according to Cadillac. This engine feels as smooth and energetic as the best V-8s from overseas.
The five-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually is mounted at the rear axle to preserve a 50/50 weight distribution.
The Caddy's interior is modern and understated. Soft leather and real wood are accented with touches of satin metallic trim. The seats are generally good, but longer thigh cushions would offer better support.
The XLR has a radar-controlled adaptive cruise control that automatically slows the vehicle when you close in on a car in front. The distance it maintains between vehicles is adjustable.
In 2006, Cadillac will release a supercharged, 440-horsepower version of its roadster called the XLR-V. It should hit 60 miles per hour in less than five seconds. Larger brakes, a six-speed automatic transmission and a fancier interior will also be part of the package.
The XLR's base price is $75,835. Freight brought the test car's sticker price to $76,650.
Four years or 50,000 miles.
Engine: 4.6-liter, 320-hp V-8
Curb weight: 3,647 lbs.
Base price: $75,835
As driven: $76,650
Mpg rating: 17 city, 25 hwy.
At A Glance
Point: The XLR is a serious contender in the luxury sports car class. The Northstar V-8 is butter smooth, the ride is supple, and enjoying fresh air is easy with a folding hard top.
Counterpoint: The XLR's top consumes almost all of the trunk space when it is folded, and the seats could use longer thigh cushions.