2005 Cadillac XLR Review
CADILLAC XLR - EXPLORING MICHIGAN’S GOLD COAST
By Steve Purdy
Detroit BureauSEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Cadillac
The plan was simple. The sexy new 2-seat Cadillac XLR was to be delivered on Tuesday. At the crack of dawn Wednesday we’d pack a bag and head south, visit the factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky on Thursday then get half way home. Friday we’d take a few back roads the rest of the way and my pretty blonde could meet her Friday afternoon commitment. No such luck. It’s the first week in July and the factory is shut down for two weeks so all the GM folks can have a little vacation.
We revise the plan. We’ll head north instead. It’s been too long since we’ve visited the Mackinaw area and there is an out-of-the-way restaurant I’ve been dying to try.
Right on time Tuesday the shiny silver XLR appears in my driveway. Built alongside the Corvette in Bowling Green the XLR shares the front-engine, two-seat, rear-wheel-drive formula and some components and dimensions with the fabled Vette, but it has a style character all its own. The dramatic wedge shape is enhanced by sharp edges and angles that reflect the new Cadillac brand look derived directly from the Evoq concept car introduced about five years ago at the Detroit Auto Show. Cadillac calls it “art and science.” The Evoq and derivative XLR also represent the first rear-wheel-drive application of the respected Northstar V-8 engine.
She looks great in my driveway. A few minutes of familiarization reveals no receptacle for the ignition key inside the car - just a button that lights up when you’re in there with the key in your pocket. Push it. Nothing. Push again. Nothing. Press on the brake and push it. Varoom.
Next, look around for the ‘top-go-down’ button. There it is, clearly marked - engine running, foot on the brake, transmission in ‘park’, rock the switch and there she goes. Trunk opens wide, panels move, top releases and folds up sliding into the boot, flaps down and finally the trunk eases shut, ready for some al fresco cruising. Not as smooth or sophisticated as the Mercedes foldaway hard top but slick nonetheless.
With the top down there is little room for cargo - about 4.4 cubic feet. My pretty blonde has about twice as much stuff as I, but after all, I don’t need any tools or equipment to look this way. A small bag with a change of cloths and a camera bag is all need. With the top up there is an amazingly deep storage area totaling 11.6 cubic feet. I’m sure we could have easily packed for a week if we simply made up our minds that our open-air cruising would be reserved for post-destination driving.
Michigan’s Route 66, while not as famous as the Lincoln Highway, is a pretty important road historically. As a youngster I recall every time we went north - before the freeways, of course - we took M-66. North of Ionia the road is straight but scenic. Lots of orchards and consequent roadside fruit stands dot the route as do a remarkable number and variety of front-yard cars for sale - everything from a ‘68 Eldorado coupe to a ‘50 bullet-nose Studebaker and lots of shabby newer heaps. Traffic is intermittently slow so I have abundant opportunity to put my foot in it, testing its passing competence. The 4.6-litre Northstar V-8 with variable valve timing makes 320-hp and 310 lb.-ft. of torque – plenty of thrust to get around lines of traffic when needed. The five-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually for a little extra grunt and fun.
We turn northwest on M-115 (notorious for oppressive speed enforcement) the main route toward the beginning of what has become known as Michigan’s ‘Gold Coast’, starting just below Traverse City and ending at the Straits of Mackinaw. That entire 200 miles of coastline, formed by receding glaciers over 10,000 years ago, is rife with large, deep lakes, rolling hills, sand dunes curvy roads, golf courses and rich people. Our friends live on one of those lovely lakes so we take a break for a short visit. Bruce and I take the XLR for a spin while the girls explore the gardens. He’s impressed with its sophistication. No harsh sports-car-like ride, just smooth luxury. The suspension is softer than the Vette, as are the seats - less bolster to the seats, less bluster on acceleration and more relaxed in its entire ambiance.
Continuing north along M-31 through Traverse City, Charlevoix and Petosky we feel like we belong. The XLR is unusual enough to grab the attention of anyone paying attention even folks not attuned to cars. We only see one other XLR during the entire trip, a red one. At $75,000 it’s certainly not for everyone, but we’d rate it a good choice for car lovers in that market.
Harbor Springs, developed in large part by the Fisher families of Fisher Body fame, spreads across the north shore of Little Traverse Bay and could easily be mistaken for a little town on Cape Cod. Highway M-119 winds along the Lake Michigan coast north of Harbor Springs offering glimpses of the big lake and forming a tree tunnel for most of the 25 miles to the little settlement of Cross Village where our destination restaurant awaits. Anyone who has done a road rally in this part of Michigan has ooohed and aaahed their way through this fabulous piece of road. With the XLR’s top down we smell the fresh scents of the forest.
Legs Inn at Cross Village is on a high bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and is named for the inverted stove legs that adorn the second story ledge of the large field stone structure. Totems and odd drift wood sculptures decorate the grounds. Inside are more unusual wood, bone and stone creations by either Mother Nature herself or by old Stanley Smolak who founded the place in 1921. Quirky Mr. Smolak dedicated his life to the collection and enhancement of these “tormented and twisted tree forms, roots, polished rocks and driftwood” His goal was to leave a memorial to be admired by later generations. He succeeded admirably. His nephew George, tall and distinguished in a Hawaiian shirt, now runs the popular restaurant and features exceptional Polish and American food. I had “George’s Goulash,” which is a hearty stew indeed. For desert George packs for us a large piece of his Old Fashioned Polish Berry Szarlotka - a house specialty - Old World Polish crumble cake baked with a blend of fresh apples, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. Yum! (Check them out at www.legsinn.com.)
With still an hour until sunset we skitter along the coast past the Wilderness State Park and shortly see the tips of the legendary Mackinaw Bridge towers peeking over the dense mixed pine and deciduous forest. After securing a room at one of the dozens of Mom and Pop motels with views of the bridge we find a quiet spot to watch the impending sunset. While leaning on the XLR watching the richening colors of the waning day a slim and friendly fellow rides up on a bike wanting to know where we got the XLR. Turns out he is the service manager for a large suburban Cadillac dealer. I quiz him about any quality or servicing issues. None, he claims. It’s a trouble-free car.
And the sun sank into the Lake Michigan horizon with a rich red flash.
After a leisurely morning exploring the shops of Mackinaw City we head back south around lakes, through resort towns and back to Traverse City for a few hours at the annual Cherry Festival, one of Michigan’s premier summer events. As the afternoon light passes across the bow of the XLR I notice that the fender and hood lines don’t precisely match. I’m surprised at something less than perfection. Just goes to show how far automobiles have come, I suppose, when such a miniscule imperfection catches my eye.
We take our favorite roads home from Traverse City – Supply Road to Fife Lake Road to US 131 then east on M-42 winding eastward through a gentle Northern Michigan valley – finally getting to the freeway for the last hundred miles. I discover the adaptive cruise control while coming up behind a motor home going about 10 mph less than our XLR. We’re approaching at speed and just as I’m reaching for the ‘slow down’ button the XLR begins to slow in anticipation. I move into the passing lane and it slips right back to speed. Cool. The closing distance is adjustable as well.
The XLR is a fine luxury sports car for those to whom style and panache are important. While the Corvette is still the champion of American high-performance sports cars the XLR is its mighty sophisticated cousin – just the right choice to explore the Gold Coast on a summer day.