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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…

Barry’s New Ride Is Better Than Its Predecessor

Just is.cadillac-limos

By Gunnar Heinrich

LOOKING through today’s footage of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, the thought occurred (as it only could to someone truly obsessed with automobiles) that the new Cadillac limousine carries its weight in armor far better than its predecessor.

This is chiefly due to two factors.

One is that like any well constructed bespoke limo, there’s little space between the front and rear doors; this simple design feature showcases the vehicle more like a stretched sedan than a low riding van.

The second is that the new limo’s bonnet line starts higher (by four inches?) than the predecessor’s hood and slopes upward toward the windshield -this allows for a smoother more aerodynamic shape as opposed to giving the appearance that there’s a tall box separated by six feet of engine bay from the grille.

Like the presidency itself, the aims of the new limo remain the same  as the old- to preserve, protect, defend, and transport the nation’s interests. That the new tank does the same job with more grace speaks to the importance of appearance and perception in the land’s highest office.

Security is life’s insurance, not its virtue. The same can be said for presidential limos and adminstrative goals.

[Linked: Obama's Inauguration]

Obama’s New Cadillac

obama-cadillac

President Obama’s “Beast”

By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG via BBC

THIS is another reason why Cadillac cannot fail.

What would the world think if the president of the United States were to parade around in a limousine from a defunct marque? What would be the future alternative transport for POTUS, a Mercedes-Benz limo made in Alabama? Would that not project that USA, Inc. couldn’t keep up with the rest of the world? 

Anyway, the net was abuzz recently with the news that President Obama’s Cadillac limousine will make its grand debut at the inaugural parade in Washington. This is in keeping with tradition as the most recent presidential limo – again a Cadillac – made its entry onto the world stage for President Bush’s second victory parade.

The last presidential Caddy put security well ahead of beauty. Visually the limo came off like an armored truck on steroids with DTS styling cues. That said, all the heavy armor in the world didn’t keep the limo from breaking down in Rome. That’s why, owing to classic Jaguar tradition, it’s good to travel with two of the same car.

bush-cadillac

President Bush’s tank

The Bush tank’s predecessor, the Clinton-era stretch (which the Secret Service still widely employs for lesser higher-ups in D.C.) was far more graceful. Essentially that series limo was a heavily armored stretch Fleetwood Brougham from the mid-1990s. 

The latest Cadillac limo, expressly made for the new president, looks to be based more on the Escalade. Indeed, its chassis is that of a GM truck which explains the taller than usual stance.

There were some who suggested that due to armor’s heft, the new limo’s top speed would be limited to 60 mph and it would likely average 8 mpg.  The former point’s hard to believe considering that your average Mack can do 80 mph or better when trucking tons of cargo.

Berry doesn’t weigh tons.

Still, the truth is a national secret and the Secret Service is right to keep the car’s particulars under lock and key. Apparently such is the agency’s guarded nature that the out-of-use Fleetwood limo sitting at the Clinton Library in Arkansas is locked so that the library staff can’t even get inside to clean the interior.

clinton-cadillac

The party van

An aside: one sunny afternoon in Washington, yours happened upon one of the old navy blue Fleetwoods with a Secret Service man taking a moment to wash the windshield in front of the White House. I paused on my way to advise that the car needed a coat of wax as the finish showed spider lines. He smiled and nodded in agreement.

A smile from a Secret Service agent? It was an unusual moment to say the least.

GM’s Power of Four

Long live the G8 GT!pdown

By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG by Elizabeth Murphy for ADL

FOUR core marques, divisions, brands, what-have-ya; following a comprehensive, Federally mandated restructuring plan, that’s all that’s going to be left of the great and powerful Oz General Motors.  

They are: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC. 

 

Progress In Passive Cell Safety

gm-crash-test-circa-1968General Motors crash test circa 1968

By Gunnar Heinrich

BACK in the 1960s, General Motors conducted crash tests in much the same methodical manner as GM does today using cars (duh), full-scale anthropometric devices (crash test dummies), and cameras – mounted on, in, and around the test vehicles. 

The results in the following video serve as a chilling reminder in how far the industry has come in passive safety technology. It doesn’t matter that these 60′s Plymouths are the width of two Volkswagen Jettas or the length of a Chevy Suburban -they crumpled, crushed, and ejected their hapless occupants in most any impact.

While the industry has further to go in protecting vehicle occupants, the enormous progress that’s been made in vehicle safety is laudable. 

ADL’s “A List” For 2008

mercedes-s320-cdi1Mercedes-Benz S320 cdi

Last winter yours visited London to watch 2007 turn into 2008. Like New York, London possesses a true magic around Christmastime. That said, I wanted to get out of the West End’s cozy confines and explore the nether regions of the city’s outskirts – like the Isle of Dogs and Hampstead. To do this, you could spend all day wearing out your Oyster card submerged in the Tube or, if you’re lucky as I was, you could have a chauffeur take you to points near and far.

But when the Uzbek man, clad in petty coat and driving gloves, stepped from the silver Sonderklasse to greet me, I couldn’t resist asking if he’d let me drive. Taken aback from never having been asked the question, he looked at me quizzically. Then after a brief moment of contemplation and with all the militant vigilance of a Russian solider manning a Soviet-era missile silo, he said yes.

From behind the wheel you stare down into an analog display that appears from what’s essentially a flat screen monitor. Select the nightvision feature and the speedometer yields the stage to a black and white view of what’s further ahead than your Xenon lit sightlines. The S-Class is a technical wonder and yet, unlike its predecessor, it doesn’t wear it on its sleeve.

The ergonomics are simplified and thanks to Mercedes’ own version of iDrive (which works better if only for the rotating dial having an adjustable stopping point to match each menu so that you don’t continue to spin after the last menu option’s been reached) many specific buttons have been replaced to leave room for basic controls. That said, the column shifter and the dual screened dash are clear copies from BMW’s old 7er. Time will prove this unwise…

The big Benz feels like an S-Class again. Those who think that Mercedes stopped producing grand sedans in 1999 or quality cars, in general, in 1996, will be relieved somewhat by this latest generation’s attention to detail and use of materials. And that this diesel model, which in its refinement didn’t clatter like an oil burner, was able to propel us both to 60 in a little more than seven seconds stands as a new accomplishment for Benz’s best. This latest iteration wears the “S” badge proudly.

[Linked: MBUSA]

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BMW 128i Convertiblebmw-128i-convertible
BMW needs the 1-Series. It’s right to remind us that before the days of 16-way power comfort seats and Bluetooth enabled integrated communication systems (to say nothing of iDrive), BMW was about building sedans, coupes, and convertibles that went down the road better and often faster than something half its size, weight, ground clearance and at least twice its sticker. The original 2002, the 80’s 3er, even the Z roadster show us Bavarian engineering at its least serious and most playful.

The 128i convertible that BMW gave us over the summer brought all that back. It’s a tight, balanced 2+2 droptop that’s really, really fun to drive. There’s such joy in the mere act of turning the wheel, shifting, and braking. The straight six makes all the right noises and revs freely and, despite being the less powerful option, finds 60 mph in the mid sixes.

The 1er’s only detraction is that it’s expensive. For a deliberately simplified car (there’s a fixed plastic antenna in the rear panel, for instance) and one that’s a little cheaper in the details (the wood trim’s plastic) even in convertible form, the 1-Series should start in the low 20s. Trouble is, with packages, you’re looking at a high $40K car in low $30K car clothes. And that reeks of profiteering in a bad car market.

BMW should drop the MSRP on this exemplary ragtop and let more people enjoy the drive.

[Linked: BMW]

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Pontiac G8 GTpontiac-g8-gt

If Pontiac weren’t such a beaten marque, the G8 GT would be a no brainer on anyone’s performance sedan list. That it turns the heads of so many BMW drivers is testament to GM’s Australian division, Holden, which has put together one incredible American muscle car and included all the refinement you wouldn’t expect from a Pontiac.

Make no mistake, this car has grin inducing bravado. Defeat the traction control and plant your foot and the rear happily steps out. The V8 makes such beautiful music and pulls heroically. To be sure the G8 GT runs fast, brakes fast, turns fast, and charms fast. It’s neutral handling gives you self assurance to really press hard. But put away the driving gloves and the menacing intent and the G8 GT backs off to become a truly civilized sedan. That said, too much tyre noise gets into the cabin and passengers in the rear complain of a harsh ride.

They can deal with it. The G8 GT rocks. It has so much built-in character that you forget the fact that it’s a Pontiac. If this car came with a set of clover keys and an Alfa Romeo badge, there’d be dealer markups and waiting lists even in this nasty market. But it’s a Pontiac and that stops too many people from appreciating one of the best performance sedans on the road. Did I mention that this exemplary car starts at under $30K?

[Linked: Pontiac]

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Cadillac CTS-Vcadillac-cts-v1

The CTS-V represents one huge leap for GM. This monstrously powerful car demonstrates, irrefutably, that the General still has the capacity to do great and noble things.

In this case, GM has given the world the gift of one of the best high-performance sedans ever made – a true rival to the usual suspects. Adding to this package of technical brilliance is an aggressive exterior coupled with a refined, yet sporting interior that features black piano wood trim.

Where the standard CTS fell down in performance and execution, the CTS-V more than rises to the occasion. Your best bet is to buy two; one for you and one to let neighbors, friends, and family borrow. Or better yet, rent out in your own pay-to-play scheme. Think of it as your own noble act in community service or as a money making venture. Because they’re sure to come knockin’.

[Linked: Cadillac]

ADL’s Picks For 2008

mercedes-s320-cdi

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class made one of the lists…

By Gunnar Heinrich

IN a blogosphere filled with year-end automotive “Best” lists, it’s ADL’s turn to contribute its vibrato to the chorus. That having been said, and as is our M.O., we’re going to do things a little differently…

 

 

ADL’s “F” List

 

cadillac-xlr-v-front

Might have sold well in 1999. 

“F”for “Awful, Frankly”

Cadillac XLR-V

My co-producer Neil Rogers, my uncle; former NHRA dragster Joe Ficca, the ADL production crew, and half the city of New Haven, Connecticut will disagree with me when I write that the XLR-V is a terrible car. They loved the XLR-V for all the wrong? right? reasons; the Cadillac name, the angular looks, and its chrome street cred.

Neil lovingly called it the “Batmobile” and his eyes welled up a little when GM came to take it back.  I said good riddance.

Driving through the Elm City, the homeless and collegiate alike would offer enthusiastic thumbs up. The XLR-V drew attention. One kind old gentleman, was so astonished with the car and my willingness to demonstrate various features like the electrically retractable hardtop that he thanked me with a “God Bless You!”  And of all the BMWs we tested on camera, the Caddy and the camera were the fastest of friends.

That said, the XLR-V is Cadillac’s Allante for 2008-09. Cheers to GM for being gracious enough to send us a $60K Vette in heavily clad $100K + Caddy garb to review before anyone else on the east coast.

The test car came to us half-baked from GM design circa 2004. It stems from an old Detroit business plan: you take a cheaper car’s platform put a badge on it and slap a steep premium on the MSRP. Let’s be clear, the XLR-V cannot either by performance or in gadgets substantively compete with a BMW M6 convertible or a Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG.

Why? Because it has all the quiet dignity of an 80s Firebird, the haphazard build quality of a 90s Peugeot, and is bedeviled in the details; rotten interior materials, mushy brakes, small cabin space, smaller trunk space, on and on… The XLR-V also offers the dullest driving manners round town this side of a Toyota Sequoia.

On track it went like hell-for-leather, but it did so only after wasting precious time waiting for the automatic to do its thang. After it it did, good luck holding that corner. The warmer they got, the more the car’s Pirellis lost their grip.

Cutting back to brass tax, I asked six people to give me their best guess as to how much the XLR-V cost. The highest figure given was $45,000. Bottom line: you’re better off buying an ’07 Corvette for similar money. 

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Cadillac CTS-4 Direct Injection

This is the most disappointing Cadillac ever made despite being the most handsome executive sedan on the market.  And that’s a hard reality to cope with, because on looks alone the mid-price luxury field with its 5er, E-Class, XF, MKS, and GS rivalry – is duller than dishwater, as the man says. It needs a handsome entry like the CTS.

True, GM’s put Caddy badges on worse cars (the XLR-V for instance) but because so much depends upon the marque’s newest and sharpest, everything should be perfect- which, sadly, it ain’t.

It’s like managing to do 95% of the job and then not bothering with the remaining 5% when your competition is operating at 99.5% on up. Even though that’s 16% better than your previous effort, landing fifth or sixth place doesn’t get it off the dealer’s lot. 

Where the CTS-V performs magnificently, the standard CTS falls, stupidly.  

The D.I. model’s anemic V6 pumps the tamest (and lamest) 300 horses I’ve ever whipped. There’s no bite, no bark, no pull, no thrill. It did manage a so-so 20 mpg, though. Propulsion starts to happen at 4,000 rpm and that’s after the automatic gets its okay  from Congress to downshift.

Meanwhile, that angry semi’s looming larger in those oddly shaped rearviews…

Our particular test car neither rode well nor cornered. I tested the CTS on the same right hand corner and over the same bumps back to back with a Mercedes-Benz E350 4-Matic and BMW 528xi.

The BMW carved through the corner at 40 mph; quickest and flattest of the three; while managing to ride comfortably over raw surfaces. The Mercedes rolled a little when negotiating the right hand sweeper, but it tracked true, all while snuffing out potholes. Tyres howling, the Caddy understeered cross the road while riding roughshod over bad surfaces. Painful.

And despite having all-wheel drive, chasing an Audi A6 would’ve sent the midsize porkchop (all 4,000+lbs of car) off road when following in curvy pursuit. 

Interior materials also lagged despite the advertised effort to match Mercedes-Benz grade. But then again, Mercedes’ quality hasn’t been up to snuff for a while, either.

Best advice: spend more for the CTS-V or save on a Pontiac G8 GT, instead. Or, if you must, an Audi A6.

[Linked: Cadillac]

An American Psycho: Cadillac CTS-V

Completely psychotic.

By Gunnar Heinrich | IMG by GM via CadillacFaq

CADILLAC’S CTS-V is pure road going violence.

It’s as though a certain fear and loathing drove the designers, the tuners, the machinists, the suppliers, the engineers, the writers, and the executives all to the same point of critical mass. The result is a savage machine of extreme brutality and exacting finesse- an American psycho.

The CTS-V, meine Herren, is Cadillac’s Manhattan Project; it’s 6.2 Liter V8, the de-tuned Little Boy to the Corvette ZR1’s Big Boy.

But with the launch of this new flagship (of sorts) Cadillac’s future is placed on hold along with everyone else’s. There’s nothing in the immediate pipeline that harnesses the same capacity to upset the balance of (horse)power. Not the next SRX. Not the CTS coupe or wagon.

As if America’s luxury market needed upsetting.

Until the smoke of public inquiry clears, there can be no progress beyond CTS-V for Cadillac. Not one cubic inch.

There’s nothing more to be done until whatever new day finds them. And even then, there are no promises.

And that brings us to that nasty thing about fear. There’s no safe. It holds no sanctity for Christmas. Doesn’t guarantee expiration with the New Year. It’s omnipresent so long as there’s cause.

At this point in the marque’s history, does too much depend on the success and recognition of one car?

Wall Street Trembles But Car Dealers Were Already Quaking

IMG by Robert Madeira

By Gunnar Heinrich

IT’S one of those funny constant that we can come to expect.

Such is this tidal nature that when there are boom periods – the economy is up; life’s good and people are well catered to by material amenities.

Like de luxe automobiles.

The tide recedes, as it must, and it goes without saying that the converse proves to be quite true.

Wall Street has been having weeks so rough that it’s insular turmoils have spilled over like acrid battery acid onto Main Streets this world round.

And while business folk and the idle rich in Shanghai or Dubai are less apt to feel the pain as those in New York or London, it’ll be interesting to note just what kind of hit luxury and exotic car makers and their dealer networks take in their global earnings in the wake of this financial meltdown.

Consider the following snippet from an explanatory article CNBC’s Jim Cramer wrote for New York Magazine as food for heartburn.

“For two-plus decades, New Yorkers have been living in a Wall Street–dominated world. Ushered in by Michael Milken and Henry Kravis, popularized by Oliver Stone and Tom Wolfe, and carried to its decadent extreme by hedge-funders with 32,000-square-foot Greenwich mansions and Gulfstreams at every airstrip, it was an era that dramatically changed New York.

I don’t care what the stock market did late last week or what it does in the next few days. That age, the Master of the Universe Era, is over. Too many people were too badly burned by taking too much risk to repeat that trick again. That has practical implications for everything from private schools, Range Rover dealerships, and Sotheby’s auctions to SAT tutors, newsstand operators, and shoeshine guys.”

Trouble is, the Range Rover (and BMW and Cadillac and Lexus and…) dealers were already feeling the pain before the $#!& hit the fan.

[The New York Article In Full: The Great Shakeout]