Do you remember the… Cadillac XLR?

When it was launched, Cadillac explained that the XLR would be an icon for generations to come and sincerely hoped to give the Mercedes-Benz SL a hard time. After all, it is based on the excellent basis of the Chevrolet Corvette. Nothing can go wrong…

By the end of the 1990s, Cadillac had some problems: its production had been falling steadily since the peak of the mid-1980s (185,372 examples in 1999 compared to 394,840 in 1985), its image had become outdated because of quality rather than aging. of its average consumer (67 years old in 2000) and finally the intense competition from the Germans and Japanese. We are starting to talk about losing the brand. John F. Smith, the division’s general manager, had other ideas.

The right mix

Smith was able to convince General Motors management to begin an ambitious plan to rebuild Cadillac. For this, the corporation issues an envelope of 4.3 billion US dollars. Smith intends to mix “Art and Science” because it’s not just about creating another advertising campaign. New products are needed using new platforms and a new style direction. Cadillac needs to restore the brand’s innovative status and stop tapping into the past. The development of the CTS, based on the Sigma propulsion platform, began in 1998. The first, very angular drawings, presented by Wayne Cherry, vice-president responsible for design, made management uncomfortable. However, Smith pushed in that direction and continues.

Photo: Cadillac

Evoke the future

The CTS will only be launched in 2002 for the 2003 vintage. In the meantime, we have to show that things are moving at Cadillac. So the brand’s design studio, run by Kip Wasenko, created a coupe that seems to be directly inspired by the F-117 stealth fighter plane. The Evoq concept, named as a sign of things to come, was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in January 1999. Much to the relief of GM executives, the reception was largely positive. So Cadillac officially confirmed in August 2000, at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, that a production version of the concept would indeed be built.

Its aesthetics will undergo a slight change at the request of Bob Lutz, who was promoted to head of product development at GM on September 1, 2001. He will be looking for slightly softer lines. Wasenko will follow and, in the end, the differences will be subtle but very real. For the chassis, Cadillac chose not to use the Sigma platform but the future Corvette C6, then in development and which was manufactured from June 2004 for the 2005 model year.

Photo: Cadillac

A close cousin… but distant

The final version was presented in January 2002, at the Detroit Auto Show. The XLR sits on two 4.30 meter long hydroformed main rails and uses an aluminum windshield frame, magnesium front structural reinforcements and an aluminum/balsa sandwich floor. Cadillac advertises that the chassis is nearly as torsionally rigid as that of the Mercedes SL. The body is in composite material (read fiberglass), like the Corvette.

No Corvette engine under the hood though. Instead, we see the V8 Northstar, introduced in 1993 in the Allanté. Here it is in “Gen II” configuration (code LH2), modified for rear-wheel or four-wheel drive applications (the original L37 was only designed for front-wheel drive). It features a reinforced aluminum block and crankshaft, continuously variable intake and exhaust valve timing, new heads, low-friction pistons and a 10.5:1 compression ratio. With a displacement of 4.6 liters, it generates 320 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to a rear-mounted 5L50-E 5-speed automatic transaxle for better weight distribution (almost 50/50). The four-wheel independent suspension uses “Magnetic Ride Control” shock absorbers. They use a magnetorheological fluid whose circulation is controlled by magnets, allowing their stiffness to be adjusted up to 1,000 times per second depending on road conditions.

Photo: Cadillac

The chassis part is completed by four disc brakes with ABS, 18-inch Michelin tires and Magnasteer variable-assist steering. Compared to a 2005 Corvette C6 convertible, the XLR is longer (4.51 meters vs. 4.43). It’s also heavier (1,654 kilograms compared to 1,451) and has a smaller cargo volume (125 liters with the roof down compared to 144). This is obviously due to the presence of the retractable hardtop and its kinematic complex. Developed by the German company Car Top System Gmbh, it can be folded in less than 30 seconds at the touch of a button. The XLR is built at the same plant as the Corvette, in Bowling Green, Kentucky. On the other hand, it ultimately shares the paint line and the construction of the frames. Everything else is done on a dedicated line, to ensure the best possible quality.

The equipment is worthy of a luxury car: instrument cluster designed by the Italian house Bulgari, adaptive cruise control, keyless access, head-up display, satellite navigation with a 7-inch screen, Bose hi-fi system in 9 high -speaker with disc changer, heated and ventilated seats, OnStar… But all that comes at a price: 110,000 Canadian dollars. For comparison, a 2005 Corvette C6 Convertible costs $79,495. The competition is part of the world’s production gratin: Jaguar XK8 convertible ($105,000), Lexus SC430 ($86,800), Mercedes Benz SL ($127,500), Porsche 911 convertible ($114,650). The XLR arrived at dealerships in the summer of 2003 for the 2004 vintage. At that time, Cadillac expected to sell between 5 and 7,000 per year in North America. It was a finalist for the title of American Car of the Year but in the end the Toyota Prius won.

The first 101 examples will be “ultraviolet” in color with a coordinated two-tone interior. Two will be auctioned for charity and the remaining 99 will be offered in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog. Priced at $85,000, they all sold out in 14 minutes on their release day, October 15, 2002.

Photo: Cadillac

With a V as in speed

XLR has been pretty well received by the press. It appreciates its handling, its equipment, its comfort, but the volume of the boot, the roominess and the absence of a manual gearbox are seen as weak points. Magnasteer management, on the other hand, is united against it. On the performance side, the magazine Car and Driver achieves 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds, quarter mile in 14.4 seconds, which is considered good, and 0.83 g of lateral acceleration, which is considered a bit tight. In its 2004 edition, the Car guide concludes: “Walking so closely in the footsteps of Mercedes-Benz is no small feat for a brand that was considered outdated not so long ago. Unless the customer decides otherwise, the XLR is no sword in the water” .

Photo: Cadillac

The first major evolution came in 2006 with the launch of the XLR-V, which featured a supercharged 4.4-liter Northstar V8 that produced 443 horsepower (oddly, the same block in the STS-V put out 469 horsepower ) and 414 lbs. – ft of torque. This block, code LC3, was mated to the new 6L80-E automatic gearbox. The XLR-V also benefits from a new grille, a recalibrated Magnetic Ride Control suspension, a larger front anti-roll bar, a rear anti-roll bar, new 19-inch wheels with Pirelli tires, a zebrano interior finish with aluminum accents and leather seats with suede inserts. For performance, Car and Driver reaching 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and the quarter mile in 13.0 seconds while top speed is still limited to 250 km/h. Big improvement… but at a price of 112,995 CAD (the 2006 XLR was on the $97,645 label at the time).

Another important technical change is the installation from 2007 of the 6L80-E box on the “normal” XLR. On the other hand, there will be some more changes in the range: adaptive lighting in 2006, ultra-equipped Platinum version in 2007, revised Magnetic Ride Control suspension and heated steering wheel in 2008, new grille and revised interior with leather upper dashboard in 2009 .Of course, almost every year the color offer will change. Two limited editions will be offered: Alpine White Limited Edition in 2008 and Passion Red Special Edition in 2009.

Photo: Cadillac


The slope was steep and we had to start somewhere to fill the gap in Cadillac’s image, but the market’s response was clear: the XLR couldn’t find its place. Sales (by calendar year) are established as follows:

US sales

Sales in Canada































For comparison, the Mercedes SL sold 12,885 units in the United States in 2004 and 10,080 in 2005. Even the Jaguar XK, although at the end of its career, sold 2,806 units in the United States in 2004 and 2282 in 2005. The economic crisis of 2008/2009 only accelerated the decline of XLR. The last copy left the Bowling Green factory on March 31, 2009. GM, then in dire straits and about to be placed under bankruptcy protection, had other fish to fry…

In video: Antoine Joubert shows off the 2022 Cadillac Escalade-V

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