Right now, Cadillac's V-Series of high-performance cars might seem to the average buyer like nothing more than an interesting idea. After all, the only V-Series model one can buy is the CTS-V sedan--which is fast but not terribly opulent inside, giving the V-Series the potential to seem half-baked.
In fact, the V-Series is merely in its infancy. By early 2006, two new V-Series models will arrive, and both will be more luxurious and powerful than the CTS-V. Cadillac introduced one of these two new models, the STS-V sedan, at January's North American International Auto Show in Detroit and the other, the XLR-V convertible, at the recent New York International Auto Show.
The XLR-V will be the fastest Cadillac in history. It is also likely to be the most expensive--by a long shot. With a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $76,650, the XLR, upon which this edition is based, already boasts that distinction, but the XLR-V will be even pricier. Using the price differential between the $30,885 base price of the CTS and its $50,185 V-series doppelganger as a yardstick, if the XLR-V also cost as much as 62% over the base model, it would sticker at around $124,173.
But Cadillac will give more than just some token offerings in the high-performance arena to justify this price. The new XLR-V's performance credibility begins with its supercharged, 4.4-liter V-8 engine, which has 440 horsepower and 425 pound-feet of torque. Ferocious acceleration will be available at nearly any point, as the V-8 will be able to deliver 90% of its peak torque between 2,200 and 6,000 rpm. Cadillac said in a recent statement that the XLR-V will be able to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in under five seconds.
For this vehicle, Cadillac has made significant modifications to the XLR, the convertible on which the XLR-V is based. The XLR-V will have larger brakes, an upgraded suspension and larger wheels and tires. Parent company General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) likes to identify high-performance or special-edition cars by installing a wire-mesh grille, and the XLR-V is no exception. The car's special wheels and ebony and aluminum interior accents also help identify it as a V-Series model.
The introduction of the XLR-V will give Cadillac a bona fide luxury hot-rod brand in the V-Series, not just a curiosity. A strong hot-rod brand can attract customers and generate handsome revenues. Just ask DaimlerChrysler (nyse: DCX - news - people ) which owns Mercedes-Benz and its profitable line of AMG performance cars.
It remains to be seen, though, if Cadillac can build and price a car that can compete in this rarefied automotive world. For one thing, test drives of the regular XLR have demonstrated to us that Cadillac is expecting a lot from its customers if it thinks it has a car on its hands that is as desirable as a Porsche 911 or a Mercedes SL-Class. Presumably, patriotism and memories of glorious Cadillacs of old have driven more than a few XLR sales. For another, we're not thrilled to learn that an automatic transmission will be the only option on the new XLR-V.
I drove the XLR a couple of years ago with the car's chief engineer in the passenger's seat and mentioned that manual transmissions seem more appropriate on sports cars. He countered by saying I could not execute gear changes as quickly as a modern, sophisticated, automatic transmission can--but that's not the point. Throwing a stick shift provides a visceral, exciting connection with a car. I feel like I'm driving with a stick shift, as opposed to being driven, as I feel with an automatic.
The engineer also pointed out that the XLR was not designed as a sports car, but rather as a "gentleman's express"--a comfortable, quiet touring car. This may not bode well for the model's potential appeal as a performance car. So far, sales haven't exactly exploded for the XLR either. Since it was introduced in September 2003, it has sold an unimpressive 5,507 cars. In contrast, for the first three months of this year Porsche sold 2,301 911s, and for the same period Caddy sold 967 XLRs.
The XLR-V may go against the purpose of the XLR, but it at least makes the V-Series a big-time player against such rivals as AMG and BMW's M cars. Nice to see an American answer to those vehicles.
The V-series is so named because Cadillac was the first company to mass-produce a V-8, as well as the first to build a V-12 and a V-16. In another first, the XLR-V will be the first Cadillac equipped with adaptive forward lighting, a system that uses sensors to determine speed and steering-wheel angle in determining how fast and how far to turn the headlamps for improved night vision.