- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

At Detroit’s 1999 auto show, Cadillac introduced its Evoq concept car. With its knife-edge styling and dazzling technology, the two-seater was the show’s star. More importantly, it heralded a new era at Cadillac.

At the time, General Motors said it would pump $4 billion into its sagging flagship division for new vehicles that would combine two Cadillac hallmarks: technology — Cadillac had often been first to introduce new technologies — and avant-garde styling, epitomized by the ostentatious tail fins of the 1959 Eldorado. The Evoq embodied both in Cadillac’s new direction, dubbed “Art & Science.”

The Evoq-inspired XLR, on sale this summer as one of five new Cadillacs in 18 months, is a perfect example of that new philosophy.

In terms of art, the 2004 XLR captures the essence of the Evoq’s boldly all-American styling with its sharp, edgy lines. Its design strikes a stunning silhouette and sets it apart from the sleek Mercedes-Benz SL500 and Jaguar XK8 and the bulbous Lexus SC 430.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Cadillac’s edgy style in general, but I like the way it is evolving on the XLR and the Sixteen concept, which is the darling of this year’s auto shows. No question, the XLR turns heads. It particularly catches the eye of obviously affluent middle-aged men — Cadillac’s target market.

Inside the two-seat cockpit, the occupants are welcomed by leather upholstery, wood trim — a light-colored eucalyptus in the test model — and a high-tech-looking “anodized aluminum” around the center stack. The instrument cluster looks as if it is suspended in space. The cluster, as well as the watchlike clock, sport the signature of Bulgari, the famed Italian jeweler.

Behind the wheel, one experiences the science of the XLR. The XLR has no door handles. Instead, one pushes a rubber keypad inside the door gap.

It also has keyless starting. The key must be within a meter radius of the car — in a pocket or purse — to operate the doors, trunk and ignition. To start the car, the driver depresses the brake and presses a button on the instrument panel.

Even the seats are high-tech. Both heated and cooled, they are equipped with side air bags for head and chest. Memory settings remember not only seating positions but settings for outside mirrors, interior climate and radio settings as well. It has a heads-up display unit that projects such things as speed onto the windshield. It also has a television/DVD player that operates when the car is parked.

But the most dazzling high-tech feature is the XLR’s retractable top, which is similar to the Evoq’s. It is an engineering marvel. It performs an intricate, 30-second ballet of moving parts folding here and there when it opens and closes.

The XLR’s rigid body structure is based on a new generation of architecture GM has developed for performance, open-air cars, including the next Chevrolet Corvette. The XLR is built alongside the current Corvette at GM’s assembly plant in Bowling Green, Ky. The XLR is the first Cadillac to use the famous Northstar V-8 engine in a rear-wheel-drive format; the SRX also will offer the Northstar in rear- and all-wheel drive. The revised Northstar delivers more horsepower (320) and torque (310 foot-pounds), which required some engine upgrades. The Northstar is paired with a five-speed automatic transmission, the same one used in the CTS but upgraded to manage the increased horsepower and torque. It allows manual shifting of the automatic.

In total, the XLR has 22 computer modules. In addition to traction control and anti-lock brakes, it comes with StabiliTrak, which helps the vehicle remain stable and maintains directional control when the car is in a skid or slide. It is among the first vehicles equipped with Magnetic Ride Control — Corvette is the other — that adjusts the suspension about every millisecond for enhanced handling and ride. It has adaptive cruise control, a GM first, that maintains a set distance between the XLR and the car ahead. It uses GM’s Magnasteer, which varies the steering effort; more at low speeds and less at high speeds.

The XLR costs $76,000 — more than the Lexus SC 430 but less than the Mercedes-Benz SL — and includes everything except XM Satellite Radio, the only option available.

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