Perhaps the first genuine indication that General Motors executives were serious when they said they were going to revive Cadillac arrived with the 2004 Cadillac XLR, a pricey but undeniably premium luxury roadster built on the same platform as the sixth-generation Chevrolet Corvette.
So if the XLR suggested GM was dedicated to a Cadillac makeover, the arrival of the 2006 Cadillac XLR-V is an indication that the commitment isn't over. Although the XLR has a 320-horsepower engine, the XLR-V has 443 horsepower, plus plenty of other performance equipment. The regular XLR remains interesting, but the XLR-V is downright compelling.
Again, the easiest and cheapest way for Cadillac to pump up the XLR would be to just bolt a supercharger onto the 4.6-liter Northstar V-8. A supercharger is essentially a pump, usually driven by a belt, that blows fuel and air into the engine under pressure. But Cadillac reworked that 4.6-liter V-8, reducing it to 4.4 liters, and as a result made it stronger. Engineers also worked hard to properly package the supercharger; when superchargers kick in, they make a rather loud, and sometimes annoying, whine. On the XLR-V, you can barely hear it. There is also a six-speed automatic transmission -- one gear more than the XLR's five-speed.
Cadillac also beefed up the XLR's suspension and disc brakes to handle the extra power. It did not, however, sacrifice much in ride quality, correctly assuming that XLR-V buyers were still Cadillac customers and would not care to swap a comfortable ride for the ultimate handling prowess you get with a genuinely stiff suspension. For those folks, there's the Corvette Z06.
Interestingly enough, the XLR-V's ride is compliant despite the 19-inch Pirelli "run-flat" tires, which precludes the need to find a place to put a conventional spare tire and jack. Even punctured, run-flat tires hold their shape well enough to get to a repair facility. But they are typically built stiffer than regular tires, thus stiffening the ride. But not so much in the XLR-V. Again, credit the XLR-V's electronically controlled suspension -- also used in the regular XLR -- a system so sophisticated that Ferrari is using some of the same hardware on its newest model.
Inside, the XLR-V is a Cadillac too. Leather, suede and wood trim are everywhere, and electronics abound, including a navigation system, a superb Bose stereo and pretty much everything you can imagine. The XLR-V, like the XLR, has a two-piece retractable hardtop that, at the touch of a button, lowers itself into the trunk. Top up, there's plenty of trunk space, but you pretty well have to empty the trunk if you want a top-down ride. Really, that's the only drawback: You have the safety, security and body rigidity of a hardtop when you want it, but the option of lowering the top too. The XLR is strictly a two-seater, though, and there isn't much storage room inside the cockpit.
Cadillac priced the XLR-V at a flat $100,000, including shipping and a federal "gas guzzler" tax of $1,700. That's about $23,000 more than a regular XLR. If you're willing to pay that price for a sports roadster, the XLR-V should be on your list of cars to consider.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith's video road tests can be viewed online at OrlandoSentinel.com/classified/automotive.