Metro Weekly

Drop the Top

2005 Cadillac XLR

For those who can afford the best things in life, it’s easier to balance what’s wanted with what’s needed. Basically, if you can pay for it, what you want is what you need.

For others — oh, say, me and most everyone else — wants and needs remain forever unbalanced. Fortunately, wanting can be enjoyed without actually having — like looking at the biggest plasma screen TVs at Best Buy or browsing the high end at Neiman-Marcus.

Or drooling over luxury automobiles.

The 2005 Cadillac XLR falls firmly into the category of cars that are delightful to want. It’s a striking piece of automotive design, carrying the aggressive angular Cadillac ”art and science” design approach to some of its furthest extremes. While there is a hint of Corvette to the XLR — the two cars share the same underpinnings and are produced at the same plant — the convertible Caddy is a very different beast.

Where other luxury sports convertibles tend toward a curvilinear sensuality — the Lexus SC430 or even the new Mazda MX5 Miata — the XLR takes a more overtly masculine, testosterone-overload approach. It doesn’t suit everyone, but you have to admire the consistency of design vision — it doesn’t try to have its angles and eat its curves, too, like a BMW would. The Caddy’s look is well in keeping with its Led Zep marketing approach.

Hardtop convertibles face a considerable engineering challenge in getting the roof into the trunk. The XLR pulls the trick off rather niftily at the touch of a button, drawing appreciative stares from passers-by who happen by as the car’s top detaches, flips, folds and transforms itself — it’s like getting a chance to take Optimus Prime out for a spin. And the XLR looks best with its top down, so anyone behind the wheel should opt to drop it as often as possible.

The XLR sounds great with the top down as well, with a healthy roar from the big V8 engine under the hood. Unfortunately, the gas mileage leaves something to be desired in city driving, although it climbs to fairly acceptable levels when it sticks to highway cruising.

There’s plenty of power on hand, but I found it most responsive in the higher RPMs — and it takes awhile to adjust to how that power is applied. The XLR needs a fairly heavy push to the pedal to tap the acceleration, which comes quickly — quickly enough that I stopped fooling around with it until I could spend some quality time on a relatively open highway. One cool feature is the adaptive cruise control — once set, it uses radar to vary your speed according to the distance of other cars on the highway.

Low-slung and well-balanced, the XLR handles sweet at those higher speeds. But it’s still a fairly large car, with a long nose and wide rear-end, so spending lots of time in stop-and-go traffic or maneuvering for parking spaces isn’t quite the exhilarating experience you may be looking for. The all-inclusive option package features a parking assist to avoid banging the back bumper. The keyless entry and start system are nice touches as well.

I didn’t care much for the interior — too much fake carbon fiber accents mixed in with the black leather and wood inlays. Granted, the XLR isn’t what you would call a subtle car, but sometimes just one or two design cues are enough. Because it’s a two-seat roadster, you won’t find a wealth of space inside, and with the top up things can feel a bit cramped.

2005 Cadillac XLR
MSRP: $76,650 (incl. $815 destination charge)
EPA est. MPG: 17 city/25 highway
Highlights: A head-turning, power laden convertible perfect for cruising.
Lowlights: An insanely impractical luxury car that’s more easily coveted than owned.

And cramped doesn’t begin to describe the trunk when the top is down — you can shove a gym bag in there, but that’s about it. In fact, when you get down to it, the XLR is an insanely impractical car. No quick weekend trips with the top down (unless your partner is good enough to hold your luggage in his or her lap for the whole drive). No running errands. The XLR is purely for the fun of driving it. That is, if you can afford to spend more than $75K on a second car that you can drive just for fun (although you can knock off a few thousand on the 2005 model with the ever-extended employee discount program that’s scheduled to end on Sept. 30).

For the rest of us, the joy of an XLR is in the wanting, not the having.

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Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.