Milan, Michigan -- I'm convinced that simply getting behind the wheel of the Cadillac XLR and zigzagging the narrow and twisty two-lanes of rural Michigan has taken ten years off my life. As such, I imagine that this new model will become the "gold chain" for ageing Baby Boomers, though it's clear that the XLR will also appeal to the young as well as the young at heart. Just be prepared to open up the bank vault.
Almost half a decade since Cadillac unveiled its Evoq two-seater convertible at the 1999 Detroit Auto Show, the original American luxury carmaker brings XLR, a hot little roadster, to dealer showrooms this summer.
The XLR has been a long time coming, and it carries heavy hopes for the Cadillac brand, whose strongest seller in recent years has been the Escalade SUV series. While Escalade provided a badly needed adrenaline shot (not to mention street credibility) to GM's lethargic luxury division, its roadster roots had yet to be successfully tapped.
The XLR could change all that. With a V8 motor and a price tag in the $70,000 range, XLR is unabashedly a posh performance car. Its lines are lean, its footing is sure and its hardtop - and this is key - retracts in less than 30 seconds. Overall, Caddy's newest offering shows far more promise than its late-80s predecessor, an infamous flop called the Allante - and enough guts to go toe-to-toe with the segment-leading Mercedes SL.
One glance tells you this is not your grandparent's Cadillac. Dominated by angles and squared-off edges, this new model has just enough curve to keep its sex appeal. The brand's new-signature grille, with its horizontal slats, grins from the front end, which holds oversized wraparound diamond-shaped headlamps, an open-mouthed scoop and big, rectangular fog lights. The hood is a broad, flat plane accented by a subtle spine running through its center.
Wheel wells are at all four corners of the vehicle, and they are large enough to nearly meet the hood, with only a sliver of side body panel between the bonnet and the top of the styled curve. The sides stretch back, defined by an almost invisible beltline, to a squared-off rear end that features large, rectangular taillights, a narrow horizontal trunk-mounted brake light and a chubby body-color bumper. Standard 18-inch wheels are spun-cast aluminum.
The powerplant in the new Cadillac roadster is an updated version of the 4.6-liter V8 Northstar engine that GM also uses in the Cadillac SRV sport ute. Producing 320 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque, the DOHC motor is matched to a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, with manual shift capability. This engine marks the first longitudinal application of the Northstar model, with a rear-mounted transmission layout that helps evenly distribute weight and increase legroom in the cabin. Zero-to-sixty mph time is a snappy 5.8 seconds.
A sophisticated high-speed local area network (LAN) controls communication within and between the engine and transmission. Variable Valve Timing (VVT) and electronic throttle control are other technologies that boost the engine's efficiency.
Inside, the XLR is a major step up the luxury ladder for Cadillac, whose GM-derived fit-and-finish has lagged behind that of German and Asian makers in the past. The driver's space feels like a pilot's cockpit, with a center console that stretches continuously into the dash and holds a joystick-style shift lever. Eucalyptus wood trim adds an unexpected note of distinction in a segment awash with bird's eye maple.
Luxury amenities abound in this roadster, with keyless entry standing out as a key technological feature. Drivers use only a fob that communicates with the computer system via antennae under the body of the car; the fob opens doors, unlatches the trunk and operates the ignition. As long as the fob is within a close radius, doors are opened by touching a pad on the door and the ignition is controlled through a button on the dash.