- Striking style
- Luxurious interior design, materials
- Smooth, quiet electric power
- No range anxiety
- Powertrain noise
- Handling is luxury coupe, not sporty coupe
- Is the wedgy styling a luxury look?
- Breathtaking price
The 2014 ELR brings extended-range electric-car virtues to the Cadillac lineup, but its Volt-like appeal diminishes as the price balloons.
The 2014 Cadillac ELR is an entirely new kind of Cadillac. It's not only a compact luxury coupe, but the first-ever plug-in model for the luxury brand. It's a high-style, premium range-extended electric car, with a battery range of 37 miles that's extended by a gasoline for a total driving range on one tank of as much as 345 miles.
The ELR's most flattering angle comes from those numbers--when viewing it as a less practical relative of the groundbreaking Chevy Volt. Seen as a luxury sport coupe, the ELR falters. It's an uneasy fit in the Cadillac fold, and its breathtaking price gives even spendy green drivers pause.
If its stats sound suspiciously like the rather less glamorous or luxurious Chevrolet Volt, there's good reason: The two cars share powertrains, if not body styles and other running gear. Fundamentally, the ELR employs the same Extended Range Electric Vehicle (EREV) technology and hardware that’s used in the Volt, including the same 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. The electric-motor system is identical as well—as is the system’s ability to use the gasoline engine as a supplemental traction motor at high speeds to aid efficiency.
Cadillac has managed to cut a few pounds from the 16.5-kWh battery pack, but it remains otherwise the same as in the Volt. Charging times will be the same as the Volt, too, with a complete recharge in 4.5 hours on 240-volt power. Yet through some tweaks for the software controls, the electric motor system delivers a bit more: 207 horsepower, with 295 pound-feet of instant torque.
With that net output, it also delivers a jarring amount of engine noise that's disconnected from the driver's inputs into the throttle; the car is propelled by battery power, and those batteries are recharged as needed by the engine. Regenerative braking comes via steering-wheel paddles, and they require some mental leaps, too. They can't slow the car completely, and their action subverts anything you've learned about dual-clutch paddle shifters. On the whole, the ELR's drivetrain delivers acceleration that's just mediocre by the brand's current standards.
Cadillac says the ELR electric coupe delivers a distinctly different driving experience than the Volt--one that puts it in the conversation with vehicles like the Tesla Model S and BMW 6-Series--but in our experience, the ELR isn't that refined or that dynamic. Aside from the powertrain issues, the ELR just doesn't handle any better than a mid-priced luxury coupe, despite much work to its suspension. It has beefier struts, added suspension links, adaptive dampers, and big 20-inch wheels, but its substantial mass and low-profile tires mean lots of tire scuffing.
The ELR's exterior styling wowed the crowd at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, when it was unveiled as the Cadillac Converj concept car. The wedgy, aggressive shape hasn't aged at all in the four years since, but it also bears the unmistakable aero stamp of a whole generation of electric and hybrid cars. Coming from a brand with the ATS and CTS in its showrooms, it's something of a mismatch--either a transmission from the brand's future showrooms, or a stand-offish family member that only shows up for the occasional reunion. As a statement of front-drive futurism, though, it's visually grabby, and it has a knockout interior dominated by big digitally rendered screens and handsome touches of stitched leather and carbon fiber.
The front seats are exceptionally comfortable, and adjustable 16 ways (20, optionally). Elsewhere, the ELR’s cabin is essentially that of a rakish mid-size coupe; there are two backseat positions, in small individual buckets, but full-size adults will have trouble getting in, and feeling comfortable with the very limited amount of headroom and legroom. The ELR’s wheelbase is 0.4 inches longer than the Volt, but feels quite a bit smaller inside due to that roofline.The trunk is small, too, though fold-down rear seats boost storage capacity.
The ELR's stunning pricetag of $75,995 includes destination charges and doesn't account for federal or state tax incentives against its purchase price. Even after those credits, it still compares unfavorably with formidable competitors that offer superior performance, pure green driving, or a combination of both.