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New Car Review: 2005 Cadillac XLR

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MODEL: Cadillac XLR
ENGINE: 4.6-liter DOHC V8
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 320 hp @ 6,400 rpm/310 lb.-ft. @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 5-speed automatic with manual shift gate
WHEELBASE: 105.7in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 177.7 x 72.3 x 50.4 in.
TIRES: P235/50R18 run-flat
ECONOMY: 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway
PRICE: $76,200

General Motors has two two-seater sports cars, the Chevrolet Corvette and the Cadillac XLR. Comparisons are invited.

The Corvette is smooth and curvy; the XLR is edgy, looking almost like an "origami car" that has been made from folded paper. The Corvette is powerful and loud, with neck-snapping performance; the XLR is also powerful, but in a more refined manner that can snap your neck if you try hard enough, but it isn't meant to do that.

Both are super vehicles that will appeal to different groups of people. The XLR is for a more refined clientele while the Corvette is still going for the sports car crowd. Both are valid.

The XLR's edgy styling is magnetic. It attracts attention wherever the car goes or is parked. There are some round lines on the surface, but it's the edginess that is the attraction.

XLR also has a refined interior that allegedly had contributions from Italian jeweler Nicola Bulgari in its design. In fact, there's a "BVLGARI" logo around the speedometer that makes it look like a Bulgari watch. The instrument panel is complete, with six white-on-black instruments. Despite the Bulgari connection, the instruments are not watch-like, nor is there an analog clock, which would have made a perfect tie-in. In the center of the dash is a standard issue navigation screen with audio and HVAC readouts, as well as time and exterior temperature. You tilt the screen to reach the in-dash CD player behind it.

I liked the tasteful eucalyptus wood trim in the cockpit.

No two-seater worth its salt these days is complete without a fully automatic top. The XLR's hard top converts to a roadster in approximately 30 seconds. I'm always amazed by how the engineers can accomplish this feat, but I guess that's why I'm not an automotive engineer.

The XLR's trunk is rated at 11.6 cubic feet, enough for two golf bags. But in order to lower the top, an interior panel must be correctly installed in the trunk (I say correctly because I tried to do it incorrectly). This reduces trunk capacity to just 4.4 cubic feet. So you have to make your choices and plan well ahead before taking the XLR on a long (or even weekend) trip. Is it golf or clothes? I know what my choice would be but my wife would complain.

The trunk has a power up and power down mode.

The 4.6-liter engine under the hood is a Northstar DOHC version. It delivers 320 horsepower and reaches the rear wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode. We tried the XLR with the manual mode a few times but it didn't offer that much of an increase in performance to warrant its excessive use.

We spent some time on Interstates and enjoyed the adaptive cruise control. This works like a standard cruise control (the turn signal-installed switch is identical to those on other GM vehicles) with the added bonus that there's a radar sensor in the grille that keeps you a safe distance behind the vehicle in front. For example, if you've set the cruise at 65 mph and you come up on a vehicle that's doing 60, the cruise control automatically brakes the car to keep a preset distance behind. There's an indication on the heads-up display telling you that the adaptive feature has keyed in. You can change lanes and the car will speed up back to your original choice of speed.

The XLR's seats are comfortable and offer good side support. They could be deeper, but that would not be in keeping with the rest of the character of the car. The seats are heated and cooled. Remember when they were just seats? The memory feature on the driver's side was a pain until I figured it out. The previous driver was much taller than I am and preferred driving in a more reclining position.

Another key feature about the XLR is the lack of a key. You keep the fob in your pocket and as you near the car it unlocks for you. It locks when you walk away. There's a very nice outside "door handle" that's a pushbutton located behind a recess in the door. To exit, there's a matching pushbutton on the armrest.

Starting the car requires you to push the green-lit button on the dash. To stop it, you push the red-lit button (actually, it's the bottom of the formerly green button - you'll understand). The audio stays on until you open the door, or push the red part twice.

All these buttons are very modern and very tastefully done. It took a while for my intellectually challenged brain to figure it out, but once I did I was pushing buttons all over the place.

Cadillac's last attempt at building a two-seater was the unfortunate Allanté, which just didn't cut it. The Allanté was too big, didn't have enough power, didn't have a power top, and flexed way too much.

The XLR is no Allanté. It's solidly built with great styling and excellent power. Our tester was priced at $76,200, which came from a base price of $75,385 and a $815 delivery charge. The only option is XM Satellite radio, which was not installed on our tester.

© 2004 The Auto Page Syndicate