Supercharged Northstar V8

2006, Cadillac, XLR-v

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- What a ride: We snag the electronic fob to a souped-up roadster convertible sports car, slip into the twin-seat cockpit and punch the button of a keyless ignition. Blap-a-ti-blap-blap. Four chrome-tipped pipes at the tail play a deep-throat tune which hints at the strength of more than 440 horses hitched beneath an exaggerated long hood that's defined by chiseled angles and knife-edge creased lines. Our test car, riding on a rigid platform which also supports the racy Corvette, comes with taut independent suspension elements at every wheel plus huge disc brakes by the high-performance Brembo brand from Italy.

And it stocks a massive 4.4-liter Northstar V8 engine rigged with a Roots positive-displacement intercooled supercharger. The plant develops 443 hp at 6400 rpm plus torque of 414 lb-ft at 3600 rpm as translated through a new electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission with torque converter clutch. All of that fire power flows directly to the rear pair of wide 19-inch low-profile tires and sets them spinning. With the hardtop tucked into the trunk and a safety harness pinning us tightly against the plush leather driver's seat, we rumble slowing along a traffic-clogged Fifth Avenue in downtown San Diego until a right turn points up the ramp to south-bound lanes of the I-5 San Diego Freeway.

That's when we stomp the throttle and this roadster launches to warp speed -- in a flash we're streaking down the I-5, a white needle in a round gauge on the instrument panel pointing to a speed number so tall it's inappropriate to mention. But fast times and hard-wrought performance seems to be the point of this lickety-split sports machine. On a test track it earns a zero-to-sixty time of only 4.6 seconds and the speedo gauge on the IP runs to 160 mph. Such numbers indicate this car can easily keep pace with top-dog Teutonic performers like the M series cars of BMW and those AMG-tuned Mercedes models. Only incongruity here is that our test car doesn't come together at one of Germany's automotive assembly plants and there's no badge of a German car company on the hood.

Instead, the round wreath and crest of Cadillac, premier marque of Detroit-based General Motors, mounts squarely at the center of a mesh steel grille on this car's angular prow. Cadillac builds a big-engine sports car capable of romping from zero-to-sixty in less than five seconds? It does now with the roll-out of XLR-v -- quickest production car ever in the line of Cadillac. The XLR-v is a souped-up performance model derived from Cadillac's XLR two-seat roadster convertible sports car. This year Cadillac creates a brand-within-the-brand for big-engine muscle cars sporting the v-badge -- that 'v' tacked to a model's alphabetical nameplate, perhaps to denote 'velocity.' It comes from GM's new Performance Division, sort of a tuner shop charged with pumping up racy versions of GM production models. All v-badged Cadillacs carry retuned suspension components, precision brakes and high-performance tires capping special alloy wheels.

XLR-v begins with the rear-wheel-drive (RWD) platform of the XLR, which itself made history with a 2004 debut as a street-legal production model based on the two-seat Evoq futuristic Cadillac concept car. The aggressive face features a thick bumper lip, a prominent horizontal mesh steel panel in modern interpretation of the Cadillac egg-crate grille, and piercing optics with stacked round projector-type headlamps which resemble camera lenses mounted on vertical corners. Tail treatment is also unique with a slab bumper above twin sets of double pipes tipped in chrome and tall vertical taillamps wrapped in angular fashion around back corners. Keen lines on composite body panels linking tail to face look clean but shapely with several sharp character lines stretching the length of the vehicle and wheelwells flaring over 19-inch run-flat tires on gleaming 10-spoke aluminum wheels polished to a silver finish.

The exterior theme of chiseled forms and angular features extends into the two-person cockpit of XLR-v for a contemporary look in a luxurious space fixed with sculptured bucket seats in leather and trim work of polished aluminum metal and lacquered hardwood on the shifter knob, steering wheel and portions of doors and center console. White-on-black analog gauges decorate an instrument cluster sheltered by an arching brow on the dash that extends to a center column of controls over the console with the screen of an on-board navigation system at the top. This high-tech look for the styling of XLR-v foretells a high-tech slant to the vehicle with a number of noteworthy technical features. The cruise control, for instance, is computerized with on-board radar. It draws on the Doppler effect in radar to measure the distance to a car ahead in the coupe's path, then adjusts the throttle or applies brakes to maintain a pre-set minimum distance between the two vehicles.

Further, there are motion sensors all over XLR-v to detect lateral as well as linear slippage of the vehicle and communicate with a computer to correct the dangerous movements without direct steering or braking action from the driver. This equipment -- upgraded version of a complex computer-based stability control system called StabiliTrak -- unites continuously variable road-sensing suspension damping with throttle response, steering force and the anti-lock brake system (ABS).

Also, the XLR-v driver may view instruments as reflected off the windshield in a head-up display which depicts digital data indicating the vehicle's speed and compass direction, real-world clock time and functions of the audio equipment and active cruise control. Even the transformation from hardtop coupe to airy convertible is a high-tech operation. The conversion event, which takes less than 30 seconds, drops sideglass windows, lifts the metal lid with electromechanical muscle and tucks it neatly into the trunk, leaving a smooth and flat bonnet trailing integrated roll bars positioned behind seatbacks.

XLR-v makes another historical mark as the first Cadillac with the MSRP nearing six figures -- it's $97,485.

By Bob Plunkett

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Images of the 2006, Cadillac XLR-v

2006 Cadillac XLR-v
2006 Cadillac XLR-v
2006 Cadillac XLR-v
2006 Cadillac XLR-v
2006 Cadillac XLR-v  Northstar supercharged V-8
2006 Cadillac XLR-v Northstar supercharged V-8
2006 Cadillac XLR-v
2006 Cadillac XLR-v