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R.I.P. XLR-V

cadillac-xlr-v-automobiles-de-luxeThe Cadillac XLR-V at Lime Rock

By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG by Larry Henrikson for ADL

WHEN GM sent us an “Elektra Blue tintcoat[ed]” XLR-V last July, I thought we’d been the recipient of some kind of joke. We just had 10 days with two BMWs which at half the XLR-V’s absurd $108,000 price, seemed to do everything 10 times better. Asking a number of people to guess how much they thought the Cadillac cost…

Forty large was their highest estimate

Maybe it was the fact that the car’s front channeled too much Pontiac Firebird. Or perhaps it was that unshakeable rental car feeling about the materials plus fit ‘n finish. Whatever the case, the car never lived up to its MSRP. The Caddy looked, felt, and even smelled cheap.

But what I didn’t realize was that Cadillac’s poorly built halo car actually registered with people. Lots of people, in fact. There was a kind of visceral connection that the car made with onlookers; telegraphing its presence clearer than any Mercedes-Benz SL or BMW 6-Series.

A homeless person -no lie- put down his cardboard sign at an intersection to ask me how many horsepower the V8 made. By virtue of living shelterless in these United States he automatically knew what the car was and what kind of engine he could expect to find underneath the hood.

To answer his thoughtful question, the supercharged, Northstar V8 made 453 breathtaking horsepower. In true American muscle car form, it was the kind of power and delivery that when you planted the go pedal it was like pulling the trigger. As the bonnet’s bow rose and rocketed you towards the horizon, all you could do was hang on while scenery disolved into a warp whipped tunnel of light and supercharged fury.

You couldn’t help but laugh aloud from the sheer force. And it was fun. But you could never use it. Which was a shame, because the car was deadly dull to drive around town.

Even on track, the XLR-V was a blunt hammer when what you needed was a scalpel. Hopeless in turns, the Caddy’s body twisted with each bend and it understeered in the same doddering manner you’d expect from a Deville (DTS). Worse still, the 6-speed automatic wasn’t up to keeping up – downshifts came s l o w l y, robbing time from otherwise impressive accelartion numbers (0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds).

That the XLR-V has been replaced and roundly trumped by the CTS-V is a right indicator that Cadillac design is moving briskly forward. But what the XLR-V had in presence, as garish and gaudy as it appeared to me, received a the kind of widescale, democratic embrace from the public that so few cars enjoy.

In an effort to economize in the face of all doubts, Cadillac has elected to stop product of the XLR series this spring.

I didn’t like it. But I’m still sorry to see it go because it clearly had appeal to so many. It’s sad to think we won’t see its kind made again.

January 27, 2009
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About the Author: Gunnar Heinrich is publisher of Automobiles De Luxe online and is executive producer of the Automobiles De Luxe Television series on PBS member station CPTV.

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