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by Steve Siler

Cadillac XLR
2004 Cadillac XLR

The letters X, L and R may mean little to you right now, but after scrolling down a bit, they certainly will. If you haven't looked already (and considering how eye-catching it is, we doubt you haven't looked), the XLR is one hot roadster with a long hood, two-seats and a wreath and crest on the hood. And yes, it has sex appeal in droves. What you might not be able to tell by looking, however, is just how "premium" this $76,200 roadster actually is: it has its gunsight locked on none other than one of the most lustworthy roadsters in the world: the Mercedes-Benz SL500.

Now for a company like GM, that may seem ambitious. But it is that kind of confidence that GM proudly exudes regarding its plans for Cadillac, which once was considered, literally, "the Standard of the World" (but since has become more commonplace in retirement communities and livery service fleets). Well, Cadillac is ready to get back on top-and the XLR, more than any Caddy we currently know about, is charged with the task of making that happen.

The XLR takes Cadillac's angular new form vocabulary to the extreme with its wedge profile, straight-cut bodysides and spear-like taillamps. Even the center-mounted brake light is a glowing red sliver that spans the trunk lid. The standard retractable hard top folds and stows in the trunk, but not until after the decklid has leapt skyward in a flurry of sheet metal origami (in the process reducing the trunk space from an impressive 11.4 cubic feet to just 4.4). In all, it's a design that looks great in pictures, and will blow you away in the flesh.

As you might expect, the interior is a montage of boxes and bevels, however, in contrast to the exterior, there actually are a few slight curves here and there to soften things up. Featured is every conceivable amenity known to man-from a head-up instrument display to OnStar to a navigation system-all standard, with the exception of XM radio. Liberal applications of metal and wood look great, as do the individual gauges designed by Bulgari. Then there are the seats: very supportive, very comfortable and not only heated, but cooled, too. There are two stereo speakers in each headrest, too for the Bose audio system. Fabulous.

Based on the same platform as the next-generation Corvette, the XLR is a rocket. Cadillac's winsome Northstar V-8 (with 320 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque) will make meringue out of your mop with a 0-60 time in the mid-six-second range. A terrific five-speed automatic transmission with manual control is standard, as is a road-ironing active suspension and a keyless engine starter.

Pretty slick package, Cadillac. The road back to the top is going to be a lot more fun with this car around.

Price: $76,200