2009 Cadillac XLR Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
March 13, 2009

The eye-catching 2009 Cadillac XLR starts with the sharp-edged Corvette and makes some compromises for the sake of grand-touring luxury.

TheCarConnection.com has scanned through available reviews on the 2009 Cadillac XLR to bring you some of the most useful, incisive excerpts. Editors from TheCarConnection.com weaved in their own driving opinions to give you a full overview of the 2009 XLR inside and out.

Cadillac’s sporty, two-seat retractable-hardtop roadster, better known as the XLR, is based on the Chevrolet Corvette. However, it’s plenty different, with sharp-edged styling and an exclusive 4.6-liter, 320-horsepower Northstar V-8 engine in standard trim.

The 2009 Cadillac XLR has aged well since its 2004 introduction, although it offers a slight exterior refresh for this model year, including a modestly reworked front end, a new wheel design, and some tweaks to the interior. The front end now looks very similar—in design, though not in proportion to that of Cadillac’s sedans, with the familiar mix of creases and chunky proportions, plus smooth swathes of sheetmetal that we’ve come to expect from the luxury brand.

The XLR looks good at first glance, but up close it has the appearance and feel of materials just not up to the typical standards of a car this price. Seats are comfortable, but they're jammed next to a wide, tall drive hump and center console. However, all the fundamentals of a good hardtop convertible are here; the mechanical dance performed by its folding hardtop is pure engineering magic that will stop people in their tracks so that they can take a better look, and wind buffeting is spot-on, allowing you to carry on a conversation even at highway speeds. The space feels especially airy if you specify the lighter interior tone. Beware, though, that the folding hardtop occupies a huge portion of the cargo space, leaving you just enough room for some weekend bags.

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Performance enthusiasts can choose the high-performance XLR-V, which packs a 443-horsepower punch from a supercharged 4.4-liter dual-overhead-cam V-8 engine and can reach 60 mph in less than five seconds. As impressive as the V-Series XLR is, most drivers won't be disappointed with the standard 2009 Cadillac XLR. (TheCarConnection.com has a separate review of the 2009 Cadillac XLR-V.) The 320-hp, 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 in the XLR doesn’t quite have the monstrous low-end torque of the Corvette’s standard engine, but it’s especially smooth and velvety when revved. The XLR is a bit slower and slightly less nimble, but the trade-off is well worth it, given the XLR's purpose in life is to be a luxury two-seater, not a bad-boy racer.

One of the XLR's strongest traits is its outstanding MagneRide system. Explaining how it works would require an entire story of its own. Suffice it to say, this computer-controlled suspension can read the road—and the driver's input—so rapidly that it can change settings in about the time it takes for the XLR to roll three inches at 60 mph. This Cadillac roadster handles well, given the decent ride.

The 2009 Cadillac XLR has a heated steering wheel and a retuned version of Magnetic Ride Control. Adaptive Forward Lighting swivels the headlamps as the vehicle corners; a head-up display, heated and cooled seats, and a DVD navigation system are among the standard equipment. GM's StabiliTrak stability control, Magnasteer power steering, and Magnetic Ride Control are also standard on all versions of the XLR. OnStar Destination Download and Bluetooth connectivity are standard, too. All XLRs are now dressed in what used to be the step-up Platinum edition, with handcrafted leather in its cabin. A new Alpine White Limited Edition sports a chrome grille and 18-inch chrome wheels.

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2009 Cadillac XLR

Styling

The 2009 Cadillac XLR is a good-looking vehicle inside and out.

If you didn't know, Cadillac's sporty two-seat retractable hardtop roadster is based on the Chevrolet Corvette. Editors at TheCarConnection.com, however, find that the XLR is defined by its own sharp-edged styling. The 2009 Cadillac XLR has aged well since its 2004 introduction, though it offers a slight exterior refresh for this model year.

The 2009 Cadillac XLR driver can apparently feel good when tossing his keys to the parking attendant, as "its styling and Cadillac badge will appeal to those looking to roll up to the valet in something different from the status quo," according to Edmunds. The design is crisp and unique, with "vivid styling," Car and Driver says, and the XLR offers "an edgy package that looks like nothing else." Appealing to machismo, Cars.com points out that "stealth fighters inspired [the XLR]," adding that it's "a contemporary expression of Cadillac's heritage of landmark design and advanced technology." Kelley Blue Book contends the "edgy styling stands out from the crowd, a bonus for those who like to be noticed." "With chiseled exterior styling highlighted by a forceful front grille," ForbesAutos points out, "the XLR comes with a power retractable hardtop that enables it to transform from closed coupe to open roadster in less than 30 seconds." With 2009 comes a slightly refined look to the front end and a new wheel design.

The 2009 Cadillac XLR offers just enough of an interior refresh to make the car feel modern and new. From the driver's seat, the 2009 XLR is comfortable, and the space feels especially airy if you specify the lighter interior tone. Kelley Blue Book attributes the 2009 Cadillac XLR interior's appeal to "a carefully placed combination of real wood, leather and brushed aluminum." Cars.com remarks on the Cadillac XLR 2009's "luxurious interior, which can feature light or dark eucalyptus wood and aluminum accents." Edmund's observation is virtually the same: This 2009 Cadillac features "an upscale cabin complete with rich eucalyptus wood trim and aluminum accents in addition to comfortable leather seating—altogether clean-looking, modern and warm."

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2009 Cadillac XLR

Performance

The 2009 Cadillac XLR is built first to be a luxurious high-speed grand-tourer, so don’t expect too nimble a sportscar.

The 2009 Cadillac XLR carries over most of its mechanics from 2008. TheCarConnection.com finds that this makes it a good choice for all-around performance despite the fact that it's not as sporty as a Corvette.

Car and Driver describes the XLR’s sole engine as “a 4.6-liter Northstar V-8 with variable valve timing.” It makes 320 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 310 pound-feet of torque at 4,400 rpm. But Car and Driver characterizes the Cadillac XLR 2009's "acceleration for passing" as "close to stunning." Edmunds calls the engine "muscular and refined," as well as "spirited," and notes that accelerating from 0-60 mph takes "less than six seconds." Kelley Blue Book reports that the Northstar engine installed in this 2009 Cadillac "makes the XLR plenty quick and returns surprisingly good fuel economy," with "an inexhaustible supply of low-end torque, always on tap when you need to pass, merge or dart across a busy intersection." The 2009 Cadillac XLR delivers good all-around performance, but it's "not as sporty as its Corvette underpinnings would suggest," Edmunds says.

A six-speed automatic is the 2009 Cadillac XLR's only available gearbox. Kelley Blue Book declares, "slip the transmission into gear and the XLR pulls away from stop signs with relentless authority. The XLR accelerates smoothly, with a nice, linear progression that continues to build well past any legal speed limit." Cars.com says the "six-speed automatic transmission incorporates Performance Algorithm Shifting and Performance Algorithm Liftfoot systems, along with Driver Shift Control for manually selected gear changes." It's also mounted in the rear, which "makes the weight distribution close to 50/50."

Of course, all this power comes at a cost, which is probably of no consequence to those who can afford the vehicle. Cars.com reports that "premium fuel is recommended." Nonetheless, fuel mileage is better than one might expect; the bigger Northstar V-8 gets 15 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway, according to EPA estimates.

Edmunds is not a fan of the 2009 Cadillac XLR's suspension, reporting, "the XLR's softer suspension tuning results in noticeable body roll during hard cornering and plenty of nosedive under heavy braking." Car and Driver says that with "the exception of its artificial steering feel, the XLR's back-road manners and performance is on par with top European GT convertibles." Edmunds disagrees; the XLR "comes up short in terms of maximum performance when compared to its similarly priced rivals from Germany and Great Britain...those expecting a true Cadillac sports car will be disappointed."

Cadillac's Magnetic Ride Control wins rave reviews. Cars.com observes, "Ride comfort beats most sports cars by a mile, and steering is tight and impressively precise." ConsumerGuide says, "Magnetic Ride Control helps provide reassuring high-speed discipline." This 2009 Cadillac offers "first-rate structural solidity [and a] forgiving ride," confirms Car and Driver.

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2009 Cadillac XLR

Comfort & Quality

Seating comfort is OK, but the 2009 Cadillac XLR loses out in terms of cargo space and materials quality.

The 2009 Cadillac XLR is tight on storage space. Fortunately, experts at TheCarConnection.com note that the passenger cabin is as comfortable as one might reasonably (or even unreasonably) expect.

Kelley Blue Book says that in the 2009 Cadillac XLR, "seats are supportive, with a multitude of possible positions. Mounting the transmission in the rear provides abundant room in the footwell areas, an uncommon feature in a rear-wheel-drive roadster of this size." ConsumerGuide tempers its praise of this 2009 Cadillac somewhat: "not expansive, but as roomy as any rival," noting that the "comfortable, supportive seats set low, so entry/exit requires minor effort." Cars.com counters this opinion: "high sills demand some twisting to get inside." This source also notes that "two occupants fit inside the XLR's luxurious interior."

Storage space is sparse in the 2009 Cadillac XLR. Kelley Blue Book notes that in the XLR, "storage space is reserved to a small storage console between the seats, the glovebox and two flip-out map pockets in the doors." MyRide.com, however, blithely asks, "who buys a $100,000 performance convertible for weekly runs to the local megastore in search of provisions for a family of eight?" Still, many drivers will crave a bit more space. There is "limited interior stowage" and "[little] trunk space with top down," according to Car and Driver, due mainly to the retractable hardtop.

The interior of the 2009 Cadillac XLR (slightly refreshed for 2009) looks good, but fails the quality test. Damning with faint praise, Kelley Blue Book says "the XLR's interior is somewhat reserved, lacking the polish found in Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz cars." Car and Driver reports "shoddy materials inside," while Edmunds comments that "compared to similarly priced offerings from European luxury brands, the XLR doesn't come close to matching materials quality and overall design."

For a convertible, however, the 2009 Cadillac XLR is amazingly quiet; ConsumerGuide reports a "tightly sealed hardtop, plenty of insulation keep wind, tire noise well within reason," noting that "normal conversation [is] possible with top down, even at highway speeds," although "rapid acceleration brings spirited V8 growl."

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2009 Cadillac XLR

Safety

There aren’t any test results for the 2009 Cadillac XLR, but the list of safety features is promising.

TheCarConnection.com reports that the 2009 Cadillac XLR has not been crash-tested by either the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Safety features are unchanged for 2009. Edmunds notes this 2009 Cadillac "does feature its fair share of state-of-the-art technologies," including side airbags that offer head and thorax protection. Anti-lock disc brakes, run-flat tires, and stability control are also standard. This Cadillac XLR 2009 model has "rear parking sensors...also included" as standard equipment, states Edmunds.

Cars.com reports more Cadillac XLR 2009 safety features: "side-impact airbags are installed in the seats." Additionally, "for safety's sake, the engine will not start unless the remote fob is in the car and the driver is depressing the brake pedal."

ConsumerGuide notes that "visibility [is] slightly compromised, especially with top up."

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2009 Cadillac XLR

Features

The 2009 Cadillac XLR offers everything most drivers will want or need—as standard.

Editors at TheCarConnection.com note that the 2009 Cadillac XLR has an immense list of standard features. There are relatively few options because most items are standard.

Edmunds notes that the standard Cadillac XLR 2009 "comes with just about all of the luxury features you'd expect, including 18-inch alloy wheels with run-flat tires, adaptive xenon HID headlights, heated leather seats with plenty of power adjustments, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless startup, a head-up display, a navigation system and a Bose audio system with satellite radio and a CD changer."

Cars.com reports that the present 2009 Cadillac's "long list of technical features includes a head-up display, radar-operated adaptive cruise control and an electronic stability system." The 2009 version brings standard OnStar Destination Download and Bluetooth connectivity.

Given the list of standard features, options are understandably slim. ForbesAutos sums it up quite nicely under its "2009 Cadillac XLR Options" heading: "N/A." In fact, when it comes to Cadillac XLR 2009 options, Kelley Blue Book simply says that "the only options are the Platinum and Alpine White Editions and chrome wheels."

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