The 2014 Cadillac ELR is an all-new electrically powered luxury sport coupe based on the Chevrolet Volt's extended-range electric vehicle (EREV) platform and powertrain. Yet it carries a starting sticker price nearly twice as high.
Whether that can be justified depends on your priorities and pocketbook. On the plus side, this very sharp-looking ELR is much sexier than the Volt and offers more athletic handling, somewhat stronger performance, a true luxury interior, a plethora of features and the upscale Cadillac badge and image. On the down side, it's a tight-back-seat two-door with a near-$80K price tag.
Most automakers now market pure electric (battery only) vehicles or gas-electric parallel hybrids, but only GM offers extended-range electric vehicles, or EREVs: the Chevrolet Volt and this new Cadillac ELR. Operating as series hybrids (the engine powers an electric generator, not the drive wheels) most of the time, both run on battery energy alone for the first 30-40 miles before an 84-hp 1.4-liter gas four-cylinder fires up to drive a 55 kW generator to keep them going. Total system output is 162 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque.
Pure electric vehicles are expensive (mostly due to high battery cost) and have the dual drawbacks of limited range and long battery recharge times, sometimes leading to range anxiety: the fear of running out of volts before you run out of trip. Parallel hybrids, which save fuel by efficiently blending battery electric and engine power, cost less than EVs but more than conventional vehicles, and even pricier plug-in parallel hybrids with larger batteries for more electric-only range typically consume some fuel even on short, slow trips.
The advantage of an EREV is that it drives those first 30-40 miles before consuming the first drop of fuel. Owners with short commutes to work can recharge overnight and avoid using any gasoline, driving to and from work in electric mode. Run the battery down and the engine starts, it becomes a fuel-efficient car that will go as far as its tank of gas will take it, so no range anxiety. You need only refill the gas tank; there's no need to recharge the battery until the next convenient opportunity. In short, it's a great setup. The major disadvantage is high price from a large, expensive battery and a lot of added cost in its dual propulsion systems and the hardware and software that make it work.
But why is the ELR twice the price of the Volt? Partly because it's a Cadillac and not a Chevrolet. Partly because the ELR boasts a leather-lined Cadillac cabin, ride-smoothing and handling-enhancing Continuous Damping Control with selectable modes, Regen on Demand steering-wheel paddles that slow the car when you want (while regenerating energy back to the battery), and a lot more that the Volt doesn't.
Cadillac has been building its brand image around the mantra of Art and Science (meaning high style and technology) since its sharp-edged 1999 Evoq concept sports car, which evolved into the 2004 Cadillac XLR sports car followed by the first (2003) CTS sports sedan. Both elements of it have come a very long way since, and the ELR carries Cadillac Art and Science to its highest level yet. But is it worth $75-80K?
In two very different driving experiences, a brief spirited romp in California and a week-long relationship in frozen-Tundra Michigan, we found the ELR a delightful ride in most ways. With eight-second 0-60 performance, it's quick enough to be fun to drive, and its twisty-road handling is surprisingly good despite its two-ton curb weight. Its downsides are a weak-kneed heater (consistent cold feet in single-digit temperatures) and its Cadillac CUE infotainment system, which (like most) has drawbacks and requires a learning curve.
If you would like and can afford a sexy-looking, feature-loaded luxosport coupe that's both fuel efficient and fun, that can run on cheap grid power without burning any gas most days then keep going on gas when its battery runs low, the ELR is your only choice. For an even more expensive long-range, big-battery pure EV, your only answer is the $100K Tesla Model S sedan. For a more affordable family EREV, it's the $40K Chevy Volt.
The 2014 Cadillac ELR comes in just one model and trim level. Standard features include a leather-lined cabin with 16-way adjustable heated front and fold-down rear seats, Cadillac User Experience (CUE) eight-inch tablet-like (tap/flick/swipe/spread) LCD touch-screen infotainment/navigation system, eight-inch color multi-configurable displays, Bose 10-speaker premium audio, Keyless Access and pushbutton start with Adaptive Remote Start, Advanced Continuous Damping Control suspension, Regen on Demand, 20-inch all-season tires on chromed alloy wheels, front and rear LED blade lighting, aero-slickening active air-intake shutters and 10 air bags.
Options are limited to 20-way adjustable seats in semi-aniline leather ($2,450), Full-Speed-Range Adaptive Cruise Control with Auto Collision Preparation ($1,995), Crystal Red Tintcoat paint ($995), and a Luxury Package ($1,695) that adds Rear Cross Traffic and Side Blind Zone Alerts, Intellibeam Headlamps and 20-inch ultra-bright machined aluminum wheels.