October 11, 2006
BMW has “M”, Mercedes-Benz has “AMG”, and Cadillac has “V”. Not just mere letters, these, as they represent the high performance arm of each automaker. Giving credence to these innocuous suffixes are small and dedicated groups of designers, engineers and craftsmen who turn garden-variety versions of selected vehicles into road burners of the highest order.
I recently got some seat time on the rural roads around Mosport International Raceway in a 2006 Cadillac STS-V and XLR-V – two cars Cadillac would dearly love to have mentioned in the same breath as the BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG.
Kevin Smith, Manager of Cadillac Communications North America, refers to the V-Series Caddys (CTS-V, STS-V and XLR-V) as the “family jewels”. Cadillac has long shouldered the stigma as the prime purveyor of luxury land yachts to retirees. With these V cars, Cadillac is hoping to drive a stake in that notion once and for all.
2006 Cadillac XLR-V
The XLR-V, with a price of $112,995, is Cadillac’s most expensive offering. This two-seat roadster, which features a retracting hard top, is a striking piece. The brave, angular and razor-edged styling of the base XLR benefits greatly from the V specific 19” wheels, mesh grills and revised front fascia. It’s a unique look – like nothing else on the road. Whether you love it or loathe it, you can’t dispute that it’s identifiably Cadillac.
Under the hood lies a supercharged and intercooled 4.4-litre DOHC 32-valve Northstar V8 kicking out 443 horsepower @ 6400 rpm and a sturdy 414 lb-ft of torque at 3700 rpm. It works in concert with a rear-mounted and brainy 6-speed automatic that features manumatic shifting. This is a highly sophisticated drivetrain that delivers on its promise. Prod the ‘go’ pedal with some conviction and the 3840-lb XLR-V sits back on its haunches and blasts forward, bellowing a decidedly un-geriatric NASCAR-like howl from the special exhaust system sporting electronically controlled valves that open up for just such occasions.
With the shift lever in the manumatic gate, upshifts and downshifts are called up by tapping the lever forward or back, and the transmission will hold a gear for as long as you want to bump up against the rev limiter. This car could really benefit from wheel-mounted paddle shifters, although the head up display, which projects rpm, speed and gear selection is a welcome feature.
The XLR-V is first and foremost a very fast and comfortable luxury, sport tourer. It shares its basic architecture with the C6 Corvette, but their missions are clearly divergent. The hand-stitched French leather, eucalyptus wood trim, Bvlgari designed gauges and heated/cooled suede surfaced seats in the Cadillac are all about opulence. The ride is suitably comfy, as the XLR-V uses GM’s Magnetic Ride Control – a computer controlled suspension system that can adjust the shock stiffness up to 1000 times per second according to road conditions. The roadster happily dives into a bend and hangs on with vigour, thanks to a rear anti-roll bar (not present on the base XLR), stiffer rear lower-control-arm bushings, and a recalibrated ride program. I did notice a few quivers through the structure over rough surfaces, however.
The steering feel is somewhat disappointing. The system is very light at parking speeds, and although it firms up nicely, it is ultimately inert and doesn’t offer much feedback – perhaps a little hangover from days of old.
2006 Cadillac STS-V
If you’re into sharing your V-ness with a few friends, the rear-drive STS-V ($97,995) is the ticket. It uses the same LC3 supercharged Northstar engine as in the XLR-V, but in his application it makes 469 hp due to freer-flowing intake and exhaust systems, and a deeper sump which reduces windage loss.
Kevin Smith was quick to point out that with only 4.4 litres, Cadillac has matched the horsepower of the 5.4 litre supercharged V8 in the Mercedes E55 AMG. True, but the AMG unit handily wins the torque contest with 516 lb-ft vs.439 lb-ft.
Maybe Cadillac shouldn’t be so quick to compare the STS-V to the E55 AMG and BMW M5 because dynamically, it can’t match these Euro super sedans. The suspension tuning is softer, the ZF Servotronic II steering, although better than the XLR-V’s, is still a bit vague, and overall the STS-V doesn’t convey that sense of connection to the road that these competitors can.
But that’s not to say this American luxury sports sedan isn’t a very good car in it’s own right. The Northstar engine is world-class, exhibiting immediate throttle response and a smooth power delivery over the entire rev range. It makes all the right noises too, with faint overtones of supercharger whine when you really push it. One hundred km/h is yours in a tick over five seconds.
The new six-speed auto incorporates Cadillac’s Performance Shift Algorithm which, among other things, will hold on to a gear when lateral g-forces are detected, avoiding the unpleasantness of an up-shift in mid-corner. It swaps cogs smoothly, although in manumatic mode the shifts are tardy. (The very quick six-speed ZF transmission in the 2007 Jaguar XKR is the new gold standard for manumatics.)
The ride quality in the STS-V is superb – something you’d expect of a Caddy. But it’s not of the overly floaty variety. There is no Magnetic Ride Control here, and the V engineers went for a more narrowly focused chassis tuning. They’ve done a fine job of maintaining body control in this 1920-kg (4233-lb) sedan. Sure, it’s not as sharp as the aforementioned Euro offerings, but for those who might prefer their luxury rockets with an American accent, the exclusive STS-V is a fine handling car. Large 4-piston Brembo vented disc brakes handle the stopping duties.
The interior of the STS-V has been spiced up with hand-stitched leather on the dash-cap, console and door panels, although these upgrades are bit at odds with the rest of the surroundings.
Visually, the STS-V benefits from a mesh grille and lower air intake, ten-spoke aluminum wheels (18’ front, 19” rear), fatter-lipped front fascia, trunk lip and rocker extensions.
Both the XLR-V and STS-V will be rare sights on our roads as less than a hundred of the roadsters will make it to Canada for 2007, and about 150 sedans. Smith says, “We’re intentionally keeping them exclusive. It’s something our customers expect.”
One reason for the small numbers is limited engine supply. The LC3 Northstar, along with the 505-hp LS7 from the Corvette ZO6 are hand assembled at GM’s Performance Build Center in Wixom, Michigan. One craftsman builds each engine from start to finish, and the factory is running at full capacity.
The XLR-V and STS-V offer their own brand of luxury, exclusivity, power and performance, each wrapped in a angular skin that you won’t see coming and going. The V-series buyers, based on U.S. CTS-V data, are eight years younger and 60 grand-per-year richer than those who buy the base cars.
I have a Caddy collecting friend who’s life mission is to own an XLR-V. Sorry I couldn’t take you for a ride Bob, but I did get you a hat.
Pricing: 2006 Cadillac STS-V
Base price: $97,995
Options: Power sunroof $1670
Destination charge: $1350
AC Tax: $100
Price as tested: $101,115
Pricing: 2006 Cadillac XLR-V
Base price: $112,995
Destination charge: $1350
AC Tax: $100
Price as tested: $114,445
Manufacturer’s web site