Monday, November 07, 2005

XLR is Cadillac's First-Ever Two-Seat Flagship Worthy of the Title

You know the world has changed when Cadillac’s flagship is the XLR, a two-seat roadster based on the Chevrolet Corvette and not a rolling chaise lounge with four-doors, a big lazy motor and way too much chrome.

That sentence spans the distance the luxury division of General Motors has come in a relatively short period and provides more proof that desperation borne of life-and-death competition in the marketplace can have tremendously healthy consequences.

In this case, healthy consequences for anybody who wants to drive an American-bred and built luxury two-seater that can hold its own against the likes of Mercedes Benz, BMW and Jaguar.

The XLR is based on the previous generation Corvette but is a little smaller, narrower and taller than the Chevy sports car. Another difference is under the hood where the XLR gets a 320 horsepower 4.6 liter Northstar V-8 and a five-speed automatic transmission.

The Northstar is a superb powerplant, producing gobs of torque and motion right now, but with more of a turbine-like feel than the ripping racer scream of the Corvette’s LS2. Despite weighing roughly 400 pounds more than the Corvette, however, the XLR still managed a very respectable 0-60 mph romp of 5.78 seconds.

That performance comes with silky smoothness, a very high level of handling prowess and a severely creased and exquisitely finished exterior. Inside the XLR, Cadillac has done a tremendous job of matching cowhides, eucalyptus wood and aluminum panels to create the look and feel of a genuine high quality product.

It’s also a form-fitting and comfortable interior that cossets two in a manner likely to make both think quite highly of the prospect of a long weekend drive to, say, Greenbrier. The couple can’t take much more than a weekend’s worth of stuff, however, because the XLR’s one glaring flaw is a trunk that offers quite limited storage.

My Light Platinum exterior and ebony leather interior tester stickered at $76,650, which makes it a very competitive alternative to the Mercedes SL500. Considering the high level of performance, impressive fit and finish and striking style, I’d say Caddy has a winner.