C&D Road Test - 2004 Cadillac XLR

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Jun 3, 2003.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Cadillac stakes a claim in the luxury-roadster arena.

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    BY CSABA CSERE
    June 2003

    Cadillac is undergoing a major transformation. It knows what it wants to be and actually has a plan for getting there.

    First came the CTS sport-luxury sedan, which debuted the division's creased-wedge styling theme as well as GM's modern rear-wheel-drive Sigma platform. Next, we drove the SRX (March 2003), which will extend this platform and the Cadillac look into the crossover-SUV-wagon realm when it goes on sale this summer. In 2004, we'll see a new STS, a big brother to the CTS, in a similarly styled vein. Looks like Cadillac intends to become a full-service luxury carmaker again.

    A key element in its strategy is a flagship car, which is the role assigned to the XLR on these pages. Sexy, powerful two-seat convertibles provide ideal showcases for advanced technology, and they draw enthusiast attention to boot. Besides, just about every design theme shows off better when it is applied to a body that is long, low, and topless.

    Stripped to its essence, this new XLR is a Chevrolet Corvette powered by a new 32-valve Northstar V-8 and dressed in Cadillac duds. But the details of that transformation give the XLR an ambience all its own.

    Take the bodywork, for example. Unlike the curvaceous, muscular panels fitted to the Corvette, the XLR is clothed in Cadillac's knife-sharp signature look that was presaged by the Kip Wasenko- designed 1999 Evoq concept car. Although we did not immediately warm to this look on the CTS, we find it far more comely on the XLR.

    One reason is the car's undeniably athletic proportions. Although the XLR is a couple inches shorter, narrower, and taller than the Corvette on which it's based, compared with its natural competitors—the Jaguar XK8, the Lexus SC430, and the Mercedes SL500—the Cadillac is lower and wider than any of those.

    With a folding hardtop that completely disappears at the touch of a button, the XLR presents a sleek and clean profile in top-down mode. But it's also elegant with the top up, thanks to a rear window that slopes unusually steeply for a convertible. The world seems to like the look. "Yo, sick dog!" exclaimed one apparently impressed young man who spied the XLR.

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    Inside, the XLR is a total departure from the Corvette's Rubbermaid furnishings. Almost every surface you touch or see is finished in premium cowhide, anodized aluminum, or eucalyptus wood. The driver is faced with a clean array of white-on-black gauges, supplemented by a head-up display projected onto the windshield.

    Unlike the orgy of technology force-fed to the occupants in some newer European luxury machines, the XLR sports simple and logical switchgear with all the electronic trickery confined to a centrally located seven-inch LCD display. In addition to the usual luxury accouterments, the XLR has seat coolers and the ability to play DVD movies—only in park, of course—and optional XM satellite radio. Thanks to the folding-hardtop mechanism, you even get a power opening and closing trunklid as part of the bargain.

    In addition to sumptuous comfort, machines of this category are also expected to deliver strong performance. Here, the XLR's Corvette-based chassis is a huge asset. The C5 structure, which has proven to be light, strong, and immensely rigid, is carried over with minimal changes. New aluminum subframes front and rear extend the wheelbase from 104.5 to 105.7 inches, mostly to accommodate the slightly bulkier engine and make room for the folding hardtop. There's also a solid bulkhead between the passenger and luggage compartments, eliminating a major noise path in the Corvette.

    In similar fashion, the suspension is also largely carried over from the C5. In front, caster has increased from 7.5 to 8.5 degrees, and wheel travel extends by half an inch. In the rear it grows by three-quarters of an inch. The XLR also gets magnetic-ride-control shock absorbers, which use trick magnetorheological fluid to adjust damping forces up to 1000 times per second.

    The brakes are also similar to the C5's, although the front rotors are cast with slightly thicker faces to improve fade resistance. Four-channel anti-lock brakes extract the maximum retardation from each tire, and the latest version of GM's StabiliTrak helps salvage control when you approach the car's limits.

    The biggest chassis difference is where the rubber meets the road. In place of the Corvette's wide and tenacious tires, the XLR wears more sensible shoes. Michelin ZP Pilot HX MXM4 P235/50ZR-18 tires on eight-inch-wide rims are fitted all around.

    Like the Goodyear Eagle F1 GS EMTs found on most Corvettes, these Michelin ZPs are also run-flat tires. They do not employ Michelin's new PAX System, which would have added cost and weight to the car. Instead, like the Corvette's Goodyears, they rely on reinforced sidewalls to provide up to 125 miles of airless running. However, they promise better ride and noise isolation than the Corvette tires deliver.

    Under the XLR's hood lies its most significant major mechanical distinction—the 4.6-liter Northstar V-8. It's suitably modified for longitudinal use and upgraded in a variety of ways for improved performance, emissions, and fuel economy. With 320 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 310 pound-feet of torque at 4400 revs, it's up 20 horses and 15 pound-feet over the most powerful current Northstar.

    In keeping with the luxury-roadster tradition, this engine is offered only with an automatic transmission—the new Hydra-Matic 5L50-E with five speeds. Coupled to the differential and mounted in the rear on a new subframe with two mounts rather than the Corvette's one, this transaxle also has a subgate for manumatic control and a variety of algorithms to recognize banzai driving and provide the most beneficial gear selection even when the shifter is left in the drive position.

    Despite this extensive Corvette heritage, the XLR comes across as very much its own car. Apart from its unique styling, the Cadillac's surface finish and panel fits are also a cut above. Part of the improvement comes from holding the body panels in a largely horizontal position as the paint is sprayed on. More comes from sheet-molding-compound panels that are three millimeters thick, 20 percent thicker than the Corvette's.

    Inside, the luxurious ambience is more pronounced. There isn't a rough edge or uneven seam to be seen or felt. The eucalyptus wood trim is particularly rich-looking. One awkward touch is the too-large black box glued inside the windshield to the right of the rearview mirror that houses the OnStar and GPS antennas.

    An excellent seat combined with a power tilting and telescoping steering column and a properly positioned dead pedal make for a superb driving position. Visibility is excellent, although you can't exactly see the XLR's rear corners from the driver's seat. Then again, you also feel fairly buried inside a Mercedes SL.

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    In the current fashion, the engine starts with the push of a button on the dash, but in the XLR this system is coupled to a "keyless access" system. As long as you have the system's transmitter in your pocket, you need not fumble with any keys to start the car or even unlock a door. In fact, since there are no key slots on the vehicle, there are no keys for them. When you walk away from the car with the pod in your pocket, the XLR locks itself automatically.

    The Northstar V-8 fires immediately and settles into a smooth idle that's every bit as refined as the XLR's competitors deliver. The engine maintains its upper-crust demeanor as you slip it into drive and accelerate up to a cruising pace. When the revs climb beyond 5000 with your foot to the floor, the Northstar produces a lovely patrician growl that lets you know it's working hard but still not breaking a sweat.

    The five-speed transmission shifts intelligently and seamlessly. When you want personal control of gear selection, it's easy to flick the shifter toward the left from drive and toggle through the gears manually. In this mode, the transmission only rarely overrides your commands with its own notions.

    Flatfoot the throttle, and the XLR doesn't rocket away like a Corvette does. After all, it has 30 fewer horsepower and weighs 400 more pounds (about 200 for the power-operated hardtop, 75 pounds for the Northstar, and the rest for the thicker skin and luxury amenities).

    Our early example accelerated to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 14.4 seconds at 100 mph. Those figures are within a 10th of the times produced by the Mercedes SL500 and much quicker than the SC430 or the last XK8 convertible we tested (shy a few ponies and one gear compared with the current one).

    More important, the XLR always feels responsive and plenty strong. Toe into the throttle at 100 mph, and you're rewarded with a strong surge forward.

    This surge, however, is not accompanied by the usual nose-up, tail-down pitching motion. Instead, the magnetic-ride-control system keeps the car on a remarkably even keel, and there are no floating motions at any time. Its ride motions feel as locked down as those of a taut race car's, except that this control comes with no jolts or bumps.

    Whether the pavement confronted the car with a large swell, a sharp bump, or a quick dip, the XLR absorbed it all with sublime control. Our California test route did not include many of the sharp-edged cracks and bumps we find in the Midwest, but on the variety of roads we encountered, the XLR's ride was superb.

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    Some credit for this ride comfort belongs to the Michelin ZP tires, which are notably more absorbent than any other run-flat tires we've encountered. Their narrow width also gives the XLR excellent straight-line stability, with plenty of resistance to road grooves and worn pavement.

    When the road gets twisty, the car maintains its excellent and confidence-inspiring body control. There's plenty of grip for rapid driving, and the XLR feels neutral even when pushed hard. It felt so secure we were surprised that ultimate grip was only 0.83 g. Blame the relatively narrow tires and the StabiliTrak system that cannot be disabled. At least this handling proctor intruded only when we were pressing to the limit.

    The XLR's brakes also inspired confidence with a firm pedal, consistent retardation, and an absence of disturbing grinding noises no matter how hard we used them. But once more, we were surprised by a less-than-stellar 70-to-0-mph stopping distance of 183 feet, which we suspect wasn't helped by the narrow tires. Conversely, the XLR's steering performs better than it feels. A recalibrated version of the Corvette's MagnaSteer, it is precise, accurate, and linear. But you have to muscle it even when threading through a parking lot. In a mild 80-mph bend, the heavy effort suggests the tires are working much harder than they actually are. The steering doesn't get much heavier when you really hammer the car, and that's when its high effort feels most appropriate.Otherwise, there's much to like and little to criticize about the XLR. The radar-based adaptive cruise control effectively holds your specified following interval (between one and two seconds). The head-up display provides a useful presentation of your speed, gear selection, and other data. The folding top works well, and when erected offers coupelike peace and quiet.

    Trunk space, however, is severely limited when the top is folded—about half of what the Mercedes SL provides
    . We also wish the HVAC controls, which are at the bottom of the central console, were angled more toward the occupants' heads than toward their hips. Touch-screen buttons have never been our favorite choice, either, but we'll withhold judgment on these until we've lived with an XLR a little longer.

    Final pricing was not revealed at press time, but we guess the XLR described here would be about $76,500. Volume will be modest, with the factory at Bowling Green, Kentucky (where Corvettes are built), producing only three cars per hour, or no more than 6000 per year.

    Can the XLR knock the SL500 off its class-leading perch? We aren't willing to say until we compare the cars head-to-head. But there is no question that the XLR is a strong entry in the prestigious roadster class. Cadillac's march toward luxury credibility has reached another important milestone.

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    Highs: Unique styling, excellent performance, solid structure, superb suspension.

    Lows: Artificial steering feel, tight luggage capacity, surprisingly narrow tires.

    The Verdict: A luxury roadster to be reckoned with

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    C/D TEST RESULTS

    ACCELERATION / Seconds
    Zero to 30 mph / 2.3
    40 mph / 3.3
    50 mph / 4.5
    60 mph / 5.9
    70 mph / 7.5
    80 mph / 9.5
    90 mph / 11.8
    100 mph / 14.4
    110 mph / 18.2
    120 mph / 24.0
    130 mph / 30.6
    140 mph / 40.0
    150 mph / 52.8
    Street start, 5-60 mph / 6.3
    Top-gear acceleration, 30-50 mph / 2.9
    50-70 mph / 3.7
    Standing 1/4-mile / 14.4 sec @ 100 mph
    Top speed (governor limited): 155 mph


    BRAKING
    70-0 mph @ impending lockup :183 ft
    Fade: light


    HANDLING
    Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.83 g
    Understeer: minimal


    PROJECTED FUEL ECONOMY
    EPA city driving: 17 mpg
    EPA highway driving: 24 mpg

    INTERIOR SOUND LEVEL
    Idle: 45 dBA Full-throttle acceleration: 76 dBA
    70-mph cruising: 67 dBA

    Vehicle type: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door roadster
    Estimated price as tested: $76,500
    Options on test car: XM satellite radio
    Major standard accessories: power steering, windows, seats, and locks; A/C; cruise control; tilting and telescoping steering wheel; rear defroster
    Sound system: Delco/Bose AM/FM-stereo radio/cassette/CD changer, 9 speakers

    ENGINE
    Type: V-8, aluminum block and heads Bore x stroke: 3.66 x 3.31 in, 93.0 x 84.0mm
    Displacement: 279 cu in, 4565cc Compression ratio: 10.5:1
    Engine-control system: GM with port fuel injection Emissions controls 3-way catalytic converter, feedback air-fuel-ratio control Valve gear chain-driven double overhead cams, 4 valves per cylinder, hydraulic lifters, variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing Power (SAE net) 320 bhp @ 6400 rpm Torque (SAE net) 310 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm Redline 6500 rpm

    DRIVETRAIN
    Transmission: 5-speed automatic with lockup torque converter
    Final-drive ratio: 2.93:1
    Gear ... Ratio ... Mph/1000 rpm ... Max. test speed
    I ... 3.42 ... 7.8 ... 51 mph (6500 rpm)
    II ... 2.21 ... 12.1 ... 79 mph (6500 rpm)
    III ... 1.60 ... 16.8 ... 109 mph (6500 rpm)
    IV ... 1.00 ... 26.8 ... 155 mph (5800 rpm)
    V ... 0.76 ... 35.3 ... 155 mph (4400 rpm)

    DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
    Wheelbase: 105.7 in Track, F/R: 62.2/62.2 in
    Length: 177.7 in
    Width: 72.3 in
    Height: 50.4 in
    Frontal area: 22.5 sq ft
    Ground clearance: 6.6 in
    Curb weight: 3660 lb
    Weight distribution, F/R: 48.1/51.9 %

    Fuel capacity: 18.0 gal
    Oil capacity: 10.0 qt
    Water capacity: 11.6 qt

    CHASSIS/BODY
    Type full-length frame integral with body Body material fiberglass-reinforced plastic

    INTERIOR SAE
    volume, front seat: 50 cu ft
    luggage space, top down/up: 4/12 cu ft
    Front seats: bucket
    Seat adjustments: fore and aft, seatback angle, front height, rear height, lumbar support
    Restraint systems, front: manual 3-point belts, driver and passenger front and side airbags
    General comfort: poor fair good excellent
    Fore-and-aft support: poor fair good excellent
    Lateral support: poor fair good excellent

    SUSPENSION
    F: ind, unequal-length control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
    R: ind, unequal-length control arms, transverse plastic leaf spring, anti-roll bar

    STEERING
    Type: rack-and-pinion, power-assisted
    Turns lock-to-lock: 3.0
    Turning circle curb-to-curb: 39.0 ft

    BRAKES
    F: 12.8 x 1.3-in vented disc
    R: 12.0 x 1.0-in vented disc
    Power assist: vacuum with anti-lock control

    WHEELS AND TIRES
    Wheel size: 8.0 x 18 in
    Wheel type: cast aluminum Tires Michelin ZP Pilot HX MXM4, P235/50ZR-18 97W Test inflation pressures, F/R 30/30 psi

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  2. Mountain Dude

    Mountain Dude Here it comes, and there it goes, another day in d

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    Thats pretty sweet.
     
  3. kaldurak

    kaldurak Gimme some sugar baby.

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    Cadillac is making HUGE steps in the right direction. :bravo: !

    Driving past the caddy dealership nowadays is becoming more and more impressive :bigthumb:
     
  4. Supreme Allah

    Supreme Allah The terrorists won.

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    i'd pimp it
     
  5. Rev. Johnny Vegas

    Rev. Johnny Vegas Rectal Ventriloquist

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    :cool: fucking car. :bigthumb: to GM.
     
  6. Pospodo

    Pospodo came for the pron but stayed for teh lulz

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    nice styling.
    whoever the MVP for the superbowl was picked that car to take home. nice choice
     
  7. SenenCito

    SenenCito OT Supporter

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    as sweet as it gets
     
  8. mucky

    mucky .

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    Not bad, but still is a hard to convince $75k for a Cadillac.
     
  9. Nismo4090

    Nismo4090 Back in Black

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    i love it
     
  10. UCFGavin

    UCFGavin Active Member

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  11. glide

    glide primer

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    Pimp.
     
  12. Ben

    Ben Guest

    The SRT-4 will destroy it for 56k less
     
  13. Coma Black

    Coma Black Guest

    American luxury - the best of it all.
    Simplicity + elegance= American.

    Northstar owns.
     
  14. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    I believe AutoWeek mentioned Cadillac is busy on a V model of the XLR as well, and it features a supercharged Northstar.

    We can only hope. :x:
     

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