6 Years of Topless Fun: Cadillac XLR 2004-2009

Introduced in 2004, the Cadillac XLR Experimental Luxury Roadster was a new take on the personal luxury Cadillac in the tradition of the Cadillac Eldorado.   The Cadillac XLR was based on the Corvette C6 chassis, with a Cadillac Northstar engine making 320 hp.  The XLR was produced at the Corvette factory at Bowling Green, Kentucky on a dedicated assembly line.

2009 Cadillac XLR

A key feature of the XLR is that it came with a retractable hard top.  Compared to soft-top convertibles, a retractable hardtop is quieter with the top up, more secure and more visually pleasing.  Highly automated, the top folded up into the trunk.  Early owners experienced some difficulties with the operation of the roof, which depended on the ongoing alignment of the retraction mechanism and sensors.  Fewer reports were received for later years.  My impression is that with some attention this would be a non-issue.

In 2006, the XLR-V performance model joined the base model, sporting the LC3 Supercharged Northstar, making 443 hp.

In 2007 the XLR gained the new 6-speed automatic to replace the 5-speed automatic.

Cadillac offered several different types of special,  limited edition XLRs.  The limited edition 2004 Neiman Marcus Cadillac XLR retailed for $85,000 and was only available for purchase through the 2003 Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog. When Neiman Marcus opened bidding for this featured item on October 15, 2002 the XLR sold out in 14 minutes, setting a record for any fantasy gift vehicle Neiman Marcus ever showcased in its annual Christmas Book.  Cadillac produced 101 examples.  2 were raffled off, and 99 sold via the Neiman Marcus Catalog.

The Platinum Edition was available from 2007-2009.  The Alpine White Limited Edition was available in 2008. The Passion Red Special Edition was available in 2007.

By 2009 sales of the XLR had flagged, and the XLR quietly was discontinued beginning in 2010.

Overall the Cadillac XLR is a very interesting vehicle.  It offers excellent handling, and in the XLR-V form good acceleration.  It offers features not available in the Corvette in terms of luxury, but shares the same compromises as a 2-seater.

Changes by year:

New for 2009

  • XLR lineup devoted to ultra luxury and performance: XLR Platinum and XLR-V models only
  • New front fascia for all models, with specific upper and lower grilles for Platinum and V-Series
  • New rear fascia and fender vents for all models
  • New front fender vents
  • Three new regular-production exterior colors: Black Cherry, Gray Flannel and Radiant Silver
  • New 18-inch wheel design (Platinum only)
  • Alcantara™ headliner material now on XLR-V
  • Leather-wrapped upper instrument panel
  • Interior trim revisions
  • Next-generation OnStar 8.0 with Destination Download with eNav and Bluetooth connectivity

New for 2008

  • Alpine White Limited Edition Model with chrome grille and chrome 18-inch wheels
  • Improved Magnetic Ride Control system, revising shock damping for enhanced ride and handling traits
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Optional 18-inch chrome wheels on XLR
  • Optional 19-inch chrome wheels on XLR-V
  • Elektra Blue, Crystal Red and Goldstream exterior finishes replace Gold Mist, Xenon Blue and Infrared
  • Expanded color choices for Platinum Edition model
  • XLR-V adds Elektra Blue exterior finish

New for 2007

  • Ultra-luxury Platinum model
  • Passion Red Special Edition model
  • Six-speed automatic transmission replaces 5-speed
  • Redesigned key fob
  • Generation 7 OnStar
  • Red Passion exterior color replaces Blue Steel
  • Cashmere interior trim replaces Shale

New for 2006

  • Cadillac’s first application of Adaptive Forward Lighting
  • XM Satellite Radio with hidden antenna standard equipment
  • Redesigned wood treatment on center stack around CD opening and HVAC
  • Gold Mist and Infrared exterior paint colors replace Satin Nickel and Crimson Pearl
  • XLR-V arrives

XLR-V: The 2006 Cadillac XLR-V ultra-luxury, high-performance roadster sets new standards in power, performance and personal amenities, combining distinctive, bold styling with contemporary luxury, ingenious technology and rear-wheel drive performance.

At the heart of the XLR-V is the new, 4.4L version of the Northstar engine outfitted with a positive displacement intercooled supercharger. The Northstar V-8 SC (supercharged), which also powers the STS-V, produces 443 horsepower (330 kw) at 6400 rpm and 414 lb.-ft. (561 Nm) torque at 3900 rpm (SAE certified*). The engine’s power is underscored by its ability to deliver 90 percent of its peak torque between 2200 and 6000 rpm. The engine also features variable valve timing, enabling outstanding top-end performance while maintaining the refinement and quality associated with a luxury marque. The engine is mated to the all-new Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission.

The 6L80 is one of the most technologically advanced automatic transmissions in the industry, using clutch-to-clutch operation and an advanced integrated 32-bit transmission controller to deliver smooth, precise shifts. In addition, a wide 6.04:1 overall ratio spread enhances performance and fuel economy.

The 6L80 also incorporates a host of advanced driving enhancement features, including advanced Performance Algorithm Shifting (PAS), Performance Algorithm Liftfoot (PAL), and Driver Shift Control (DSC).

Chassis modifications on the XLR-V include larger brakes; recalibrated Magnetic Ride Control (MR); larger front stabilizer bar and the addition of a rear stabilizer bar; stiffer rear lower control arm bushings; larger wheels and tires; a power steering fluid cooler; and a higher-capacity fuel pump.

XLR-V styling modifications impart a bolder character in keeping with its performance capabilities, yet retain an aura of refined elegance. Design refinements include:

    • Polished wire mesh upper and lower front grilles, a V-Series signature
    • Aggressively sculpted hood that makes room for the supercharger
    • New 10-spoke aluminum wheel design with sterling silver finish
    • Unique V-Series and Supercharged badging
    • Four polished stainless steel exhaust tips
    • Black finish brake calipers with machined V-Series logo
    • Three exterior color offerings: Infra Red, Black Raven and Light Platinum
    • Zingana Wood on the shifter knob, cup holder area, steering wheel, and on portions of the door and center console
    • Ebony leather with French stitching on interior components
    • Soft, supple leather seats with French stitching and matching perforated suede fabric inserts
    • Aluminum accent pieces throughout the interior

Like XLR, the XLR-V will be built at GM’s state-of-the-art, award-winning Bowling Green assembly center.

New for 2005

  • Light or Dark Eucalyptus wood interior
  • Blue Steel exterior paint replaces Thunder Gray


Replete with a dynamic design, advanced technology and a unique blend of luxury and performance, the Cadillac XLR brings a striking new presence to the elite luxury roadster class. The vehicle underscores its vibrant visual statement with a performance-oriented chassis and structure, and an all-new 4.6L Northstar V-8 VVT (variable valve timing) rear-wheel-drive engine. This combination makes it the lightest, most powerful vehicle in its class.

“XLR is a luxury roadster with performance car roots,” said Jay Spenchian, XLR marketing director. “Beneath its stunning exterior style, XLR has a patented performance car architecture that is ideal for a roadster and serves as a strong foundation for a car designed for great agility and bona fide luxury.”

Under its skin, the XLR offers a harmonious blend of technologies and materials meant to add pleasure, not complexity, to the driving experience. Innovative features include a head-up display, adaptive cruise control, Magnetic Ride Control, StabiliTrak, heated and cooled seats, keyless access with push-button start and DVD navigation and entertainment. XLR appears at dealerships in summer 2003.

Edgy design
The XLR is a contemporary expression of Cadillac’s heritage of landmark design and advanced technology. Inspired by stealth fighter design, XLR takes the ongoing product-driven resurgence of Cadillac – led by the Escalade SUV and CTS sedan – to an entirely new level.

Bold and edgy, yet elegant and refined, the XLR’s linear, crisp design creates a dramatic presence and modern icon for luxury and performance. Yet it still pays tribute to the marque’s rich history. The XLR’s strong grille, for example, harkens back to Cadillac’s heritage but expresses itself in a new way. The vertical headlamps, on the other hand, express the division’s current design philosophy.

The XLR offers the ultimate convenience of a retractable hard top. Compared to soft-top convertibles, a retractable hardtop is quieter with the top up, more secure and more visually pleasing. Car Top Systems (CTS) GmbH of Germany, the renowned designer of many of the world’s top-rated convertibles, developed the XLR top. By pushing and holding a single button, the XLR can convert from coupe to open roadster in less than 30 seconds.

The top assembly for the XLR is installed as a complete module, and contributes to the car’s overall structural rigidity. The top structure is made of aluminum and magnesium with composite exterior panels, a heated glass backlight and glass rear-quarter windows.

The XLR’s interior design epitomizes contemporary luxury. Unique eucalyptus wood and striking aluminum accents combine to provide a luxurious and inviting environment. The gauges are designed in conjunction with Italian luxury brand Bvlgari.

The XLR’s Northstar V-8 VVT is a 90-degree, DOHC, four-valves-per-cylinder engine featuring an aluminum block and cylinder heads, and a valvetrain configuration with roller finger followers. The engine has been extensively re-engineered for the luxury roadster, and it marks the Northstar’s first adaptation to rear-wheel-drive (RWD) and all-wheel-drive (AWD) configurations.
Other Northstar firsts on the XLR include four-cam continuously variable valve timing (VVT); electronically controlled, hydraulically actuated intake and exhaust cam phasers on all four camshafts for extra control; electronic throttle control (ETC); low restriction intake and exhaust manifolds and cylinder head ports; close coupled catalytic converters mounted directly adjacent to the exhaust manifolds; and a new air induction system, redesigned for enhanced capacity and noise attenuation. It also has a more powerful engine control module (ECM) and high-speed local area network (LAN) communication system dedicated to engine and transmission control, a new engine-mounting system and more rigid block structure for outstanding operating smoothness and quietness.

The V-8 offers smooth, refined performance throughout its entire operating range. It is quiet, yet tuned to give the driver feedback from the environment. It operates even more cleanly and efficiently than its predecessors, with excellent reliability and durability. The XLR features the first longitudinal application of the 4.6L Northstar V-8.

The V-8 is mated to the Hydra-Matic 5L50-E five-speed automatic transmission. Developed to manage the high torque and horsepower of the engine, it is one of the most technologically advanced transmissions on any highway or autobahn in the industry. The 5L50-E transmission is a modification of the Hydra-Matic 5L40-E transmission used in Cadillac CTS. It offers three performance features normally found individually on various high-performance American and European luxury sport sedans: driver shift control, performance algorithm shifting and performance algorithm liftfoot.

Another advantage of Cadillac’s roadster not shared by the competition is its rear-mounted transmission. This helps give the XLR a virtual 50/50 front-to-rear weight distribution for superior balance, as well as providing occupants unusually roomy footwell space.
Compared to the Mercedes-Benz SL500, Jaguar XK8 and Lexus SC430, the XLR is not only the lightest vehicle at approximately 3,650 pounds (1,656 kg), but it also boasts the longest wheelbase, widest track, lowest height and most horsepower.

Architecture and suspension
The story starts with the XLR’s backbone, upon which the car’s dynamic capabilities depend. Based on GM’s new performance car architecture, this unique and patented structure comprises steel hydroformed perimeter frame rails, enclosed structural “tunnel,” aluminum cockpit structure and balsa-cored composite floors. Providing rigidity without bulk, and with exceptional resistance to torsional and bending forces, this architecture is the basis for the XLR’s outstanding ride and handling characteristics.

The suspension system makes the XLR a true luxury roadster with the handling qualities of a performance car. To this end, the design uses double wishbones at each corner, combined with transverse-mounted, composite leaf springs front and rear. The system is designed to maintain firm control over wheel motion, while delivering a composed and compliant ride quality. During normal driving, the chassis exhibits comfortable and confident handling characteristics; when pushed harder, the car remains stable and secure with outstanding road holding. The XLR achieves a maximum lateral G-force of more than 0.9. The XLR runs on Michelin ZP tires with advanced “run flat” technology that eliminates the need for a spare and provides outstanding overall tire performance.

Magnetic Ride Control
The XLR also is one of the world’s first vehicles to be equipped with Magnetic Ride Control – electronically controlled, magnetic-fluid based real-time damping. The system uses four wheel-to-body displacement sensors to measure wheel motion over the road surface and responds by adjusting the shock damping at speeds approaching one millisecond. That’s five times faster than previous “real time” damping systems. The secret is the magneto-rheological fluid contained in its dampers, replacing traditional mechanical valves. Suspended in this fluid are tiny iron particles that respond to an electromagnetic charge.

In the presence of a charge, the iron particles align themselves into fibrous structures that almost instantaneously create precise and wide-ranging damping characteristics. With sensors reading the road surface at a rate of 1 inch at 60 mph (25.4 mm at 97 km/h), the system responds by commanding constant changes in damping force at all four corners. The goal is to maintain tire contact with the road surface and to keep the body on an even plane, with smooth, well-controlled body motions even during aggressive maneuvers or on uneven road surfaces.

Adaptive cruise control
The XLR will be among the first vehicles with adaptive cruise control (ACC). While not a substitute for full driver attention, this system greatly expands the convenience of cruise control. ACC uses a radar sensor mounted at the front of the car to detect objects in its path. If the lane ahead is clear, the system will maintain the set speed, just like conventional cruise control. When a vehicle is detected in the same lane in front of the car, the system will adjust vehicle speed to help maintain a constant following distance, set by the driver.

If a vehicle or object in the path of the car is stationary or moving at significantly slower speed, the system provides visible and audible alerts to the driver. ACC is set by a conventional stalk-mounted control but is monitored through a graphic representation in the head-up display.

Comfort and convenience
One of the XLR’s foremost convenience features is Keyless Access. Keyless Access makes XLR a truly “keyless” car. A driver can simply keep the fob in a pocket or purse to operate the doors, trunk and ignition. The fob communicates with the XLR’s computer control system via radio antennas under the car’s bodywork. The system is intuitive and hassle free.

The doors are opened by touching a pad located in openings at the rearward edges of each door. Once the pad is pressed, the doors unlock and open if the fob is within a 1-meter radius. To operate the ignition the driver presses a button on the instrument panel. The same button is pressed to stop the engine. As a safety feature the engine will not start unless the fob is in the car and the brake pedal is depressed.

The XLR’s seats are both heated and cooled in the back and the cushion. A 7-inch color touch screen mounted in the upper center console gives driver and passenger access to DVD navigation; a nine-speaker world-class Bose audio system with a six-CD in-dash changer and digital signal processing modes; XM Satellite Radio (continental U.S. only) and DVD entertainment (available in Park position only). The XLR also is equipped with OnStar and a head-up display that projects key driver information onto the windshield. The XLR traces its roots to the Evoq concept car. Cadillac stunned the automotive world with the audacious Evoq, unveiled at the 1999 North American International Auto Show. The XLR began production in spring 2003 on a dedicated assembly line at General Motors’ Bowling Green Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, Ky. Shipments to Cadillac dealers are slated to begin by mid-year 2003.

Overview2009 Models:

Model: Cadillac XLR Platinum and XLR-V luxury roadsters
Body style / driveline: XLR Platinum: 2-door hardtop convertible with rear-wheel drive
XLR-V: 2-door high-performance hardtop convertible with rear-wheel drive
Construction: hydroformed perimeter frame, structural center tunnel, aluminum cockpit frame
Manufacturing location: Bowling Green, Ky.
Key competitors: XLR Platinum: Mercedes-Benz SL500, Lexus SC 430, Jaguar Xk8
XLR-V: Mercedes Benz SL 55 AMG Roadster, Lexus SC Convertible, Jaguar XKR Convertible


Type: Northstar 4.6L V-8 VVT (variable valve timing) Northstar V-8 SC
(supercharged 4.4L DOHC V-8)
Application: XLR Platinum XLR-V
Displacement 279 / 4565 267 / 4371
Bore & stroke (in / mm): 3.66 x 3.31 / 93 x 84 3.58 x 3.31 / 91 x 84
Block material: cast aluminum upper – sand-cast 319 T7 aluminum
lower – die-cast aluminum
Cylinder head material: cast aluminum 319 T7 semi-permanent mold cast aluminum alloy
Crankshaft material: forged steel cast nodular iron
Valvetrain: DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, four-cam continuously variable valve timing roller follower DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder, variable valve timing
Ignition system: coil-on-plug ignition, with extended-life dual platinum-tipped spark plugs coil-on-plug with extended-life dual platinum-tipped spark plugs
Fuel system: sequential electronic fuel injection returnless, electronic sequential fuel injection
Compression ratio: 10.5:1 9.0:1
Horsepower (hp / kW @ rpm): 320 / 239 @ 6400 443 / 330 @ 6400 rpm (SAE certified)*
Torque (lb-ft / Nm @ rpm): 310 / 420 @ 4400 414 / 561 @ 3900 rpm (SAE certified)* 90 percent of peak torque available between 2200 and 6000 rpm
Recommended fuel: premium recommended but not required premium required
Max. engine speed (rpm): 6750 6700
EPA estimated fuel economy
(city / hwy):
15 / 24 14 / 21


Type: Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed, electronically controlled automatic
Application: XLR, XLR-V
Gear ratios:
First: 4.03:1
Second: 2.36
Third: 1.53
Fourth: 1.15
Fifth: 0.85
Sixth: 0.67
Reverse: 3.06
Final drive: 2.56
Max. shift speed (rpm): 6500


Front: short/long arm ( SLA) double wishbone, cast aluminum upper and lower control arms, transverse-mounted composite leaf spring, Magnetic Ride Control
Rear: short/long arm ( SLA) double wishbone, cast aluminum upper and lower control arms, transverse-mounted composite leaf spring, Magnetic Ride Control
Traction control system: full-range
Stabilizer bar: front: hollow, 28.6 mm x 4.5 mm wall thickness

rear: hollow, 23.6 mm x 3.5 mm wall thickness

Steering ratio: 17.2:1
Steering type: Magnasteer power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Steering wheel turns, lock-to-lock: 2.9
Turning circle, curb-to-curb (ft / m): 39 / 11.9


Type: XLR: power-assisted disc with 4-channel ABS, front and rear

XLR-V: heavy-duty with cross-drilled rotors and high-performance brake linings, dual-piston front calipers and single-piston rear calipers. Power-assist with 4-channel ABS front and rear.

Rotor diameter x thickness (in / mm): XLR: front: 12.8 x 1.3 / 325 x 32; rear: 12.0 x 1.0 / 305 x 26
XLR-V: front: 13.4 x 1.3 / 340.4 x 32; rear: 13 x 1 / 330.2 x 26


Wheel size and type: XLR: std: spun-cast painted aluminum, 18-inch x 8-inch; opt: chrome, 18-inch x 8-inch
XLR-V: std: painted aluminum, 19-inch x 8.5-inch; opt: chrome, 19-inch x 8.5-inch
Tires: XLR: P235/50R18 – Goodyear EMT Run Flat
XLR-V: P235/45R19 – Pirelli Run Flat


Length (in / mm): 177.7 / 4513
Width (in / mm): 72.3 / 1836
Height (in / mm): 50.4 / 1279
Wheelbase (in / mm): 105.7 / 2685
Track (in / mm): XLR – 61.6 / 1564 (front); 62.1 / 1578 (rear)
XLR-V – 62.2 / 1580 (front); 62.2 / 1580 (rear)


Seating capacity (front / rear): 2 / 0
Headroom (in / mm): 37.6 / 955
Legroom (in / mm): 42.6 / 1083
Shoulder room (in / mm): 54.3 / 1380
Hip room (in / mm): 53 / 1346


Cargo volume (cu ft / L):
Top up: 11.6 / 328
Top down: 4.4 / 125
Fuel tank: (gal / L): 18 / 68.1
Engine oil (qt / L): 8 / 7.5
Curb weight (lb / kg) estimated: 3804 / 1726