What's New for 2009
For 2009, Cadillac reduces the XLR lineup to just the Platinum trim level. Other changes include new front and rear fascias, a new "power dome" hood (borrowed from the XLR-V), the adoption of Bluetooth and interior updates. The latter include new wood and metal accents, new instrument graphics and additional leather trim.
Like gourmet coffee from McDonald's, a pair of Christian Dior running shoes or Jack Black as a leading man, there are some things that at first blush just don't seem to go together. Cadillac is a carmaker synonymous with traditional land yachts and blinged-out SUVs, but few would associate it with a high-performance, dashingly styled two-seat luxury drop top. Yet the 2009 Cadillac XLR is just such an automobile, and this retractable-roof roadster is now in its sixth year in production.
Of course, the XLR is not the company's first attempt in this segment. Remember the Italian-bodied Allanté of the late '80s and early '90s? No? You're not alone, even though that flagship roadster boasted distinctive styling and robust V8 power. The challenge for Cadillac is to make sure that the similarly conceived XLR doesn't likewise fade into obscurity. That might be easier said than done, because while the XLR is a pretty nice car, its competitors are pretty nice and then some.
With a platform that borrows heavily from the Corvette, the XLR would seem to be a likable marriage of coddling luxury and sporting performance. Sadly, it seems that the sport genes are somewhat recessive in this case. Though swift and generally a respectable handler, the XLR is not exactly a Corvette in a tuxedo. Thanks to suspension tuning that prioritizes ride comfort, the XLR is more at home on boulevards than back roads.
Nor is the XLR strong enough against its chief rivals to contend for luxury roadster supremacy. Although its cabin is quite luxurious and includes even more leather trim for '09, upon closer inspection, the XLR's interior materials (particularly the plastics) fall short relative to the competition. The same can be said for its driving dynamics -- though capable of making time on a twisty road, the XLR doesn't give the driver the same interactive enjoyment that one might find in, say, a BMW 650i.
Unless the 2009 Cadillac XLR's handsome looks and all-American pedigree strike a strong chord with you, we'd advise taking a close look at other entrants in this rarefied class. In addition to the aforementioned Bimmer, the Jaguar XK, Mercedes-Benz SL550 and Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet are all worthy of consideration.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Cadillac XLR is a luxury roadster that features a retractable hardtop. It comes in a single Platinum trim level. The XLR Platinum comes with most any luxury feature you'd ever want, including 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon HID headlights, eight-way power and heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, Bose audio (with satellite radio and a CD changer), OnStar, Bluetooth connectivity, a navigation system, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless ignition, adaptive cruise control and a head-up display.
The few options include a Weather Veil Package that includes a car cover, a wind blocker with storage bag and unique split-spoke chrome wheels. The standard-style wheels are also available in a chrome finish.
Powertrains and Performance
A muscular yet refined 4.6-liter V8 powers the XLR. A six-speed automatic (that allows manual-style shifting) sends the V8's 320 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. EPA fuel mileage estimates stand at 15 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined.
The XLR is a fairly spirited performer, as the 0-60-mph dash takes less than 6 seconds, while high-speed running on the highway is hushed and effortless. Full-throttle shifts result in little hesitation, and the sound of the engine at full song is as good as or better than any V8 in its class.
Braking performance is equally impressive, with a stop from 60 mph taking just 118 feet and no fade evident after successive panic stops.
Antilock disc brakes, run-flat tires and stability control are all standard, as are side airbags that offer head as well as thorax protection. Rear parking sensors are also included.
Interior Design and Special Features
While packed with high-tech luxury features and sporting more leather trim within the cabin, the 2009 Cadillac XLR fails to match the interior quality of similarly priced competitors that wear the badges of BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. Its soothing blend of soft leather, real wood trim and aluminum accents is certainly inviting. But the plastics quality is below average for this lofty class, and its design reminds some of the polarizing first-generation CTS sedan.
As a hardtop convertible, the XLR is aimed at customers looking for a two-seater that can provide both a suntan and a quiet top-up highway ride. The slick folding roof is one of the XLR's strongest selling points -- the Mercedes is the only other car in this class that features a retractable hardtop. The trunk boasts a respectable 11.6 cubic feet of space when the top is up; top down, however, that number drops to just 4.4 cubic feet.
As fast as the 2009 Cadillac XLR is when pushed, those expecting a Corvette in formal wear will be disappointed. Acceleration is certainly quick, but the XLR's soft suspension tuning results in noticeable body roll during hard cornering and plenty of nose dive under heavy braking.
Magnetic Ride Control shocks are standard equipment, but even with their split-second adjustability, the XLR still feels less willing to tackle the turns than the more athletic Mercedes SL. On less serpentine roads, the XLR hits its stride, delivering an undisturbed ride with effortless, arrow-straight tracking afforded by the precise steering. At highway speeds, wind buffeting is somewhat intrusive with the top down, but not so much that it detracts from the XLR's otherwise enjoyable freeway ride.