2014 Cadillac ELR First Drive
What Price the Luxury of Silence?
Cadillac is jumping into a strange new world with its extended range electric (read: hybrid). On one hand, the $75,995 base price of the 2014 Cadillac ELR seems a bit steep for a car with family sedan performance and looks that could pass for an ATS coupe. On the other hand, Volt customers have the highest income of anyone walking on a Chevy lot, and beyond that, my own experience has shown that Tesla Model S customers are buying them as third, fourth or fifth cars, so price isn't really an issue. So before you leave all your witty comments about how much gas the price difference between an ELR and 'Vette would buy, keep in mind the person who would actually buy this already has whatever it is you dream of owning.
The ELR is rated as having 37 miles of electric range. Sounds pretty good for the EPA's equivalent of a half-gallon of gas, but maybe not so good when you consider that a half-gallon equivalent is carried in a 435-pound battery. The beauty of an electric car is in reclaiming kinetic energy through regeneration. No matter how hard you try, you won't get your non-electric car to make more gasoline for you. During our test drive along the Pacific Coast Highway tracing the shoreline from Santa Monica up to Malibu, I was easily able to surpass the stated efficiency. You can blame that on extended periods of time behind the wheel of our Model S, Volt, and -- way back when -- a Nissan Leaf.
As soon as I turned onto canyon roads, the poor electrons went from conservatively covering ground miles at a time to gnashing and thrashing uphill and through corners, working for every inch. Unlike a traditional electric car, however, more energy was a mere piston stroke away.
The ELR is based on the Chevrolet Volt. Everything from the powertrain to the floorpan and firewall are out of the parts bin. Everything fore and aft of the axle lines is different; the suspension is refined; and of course, the body and interior are all-new. The exterior is a new application of Cadillac's design language, called Art and Science. The ELR still has the tight, crisp lines we expect, but the surfaces between the hard lines are now more fluid. The front seat occupants' hip point is the same as the Volt's, but the base of the windshield has been pushed forward while the roofline was lowered by nearly an inch and a half. The track widths are increased an inch in front and 0.3 inch in back. The wheelbase was also extended by 0.4 inch, while overall length is up nearly 9 inches. The most surprising part of the exterior design is a coefficient of drag of 0.31, which is pretty disappointing when compared to the Volt's 0.26 and the impressive 0.24 of the Model S.
With all the data gathered from three years of Volts living in the wild, Cadillac felt confident pushing the drivetrain a little harder in the ELR. The Cadillac's lithium-ion battery is rated 0.5 kW-hr higher than the 16 kW-hr unit in the Volt. The batteries are identical; the ELR is just using more of the capacity. The two electric motors deliver a maximum of 181 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The generator is a 1.4-liter, 84-hp I-4 that spins at a maximum of 4800 rpm. Acceleration is decent with a claimed 0-60 mph time of 7.8 seconds in extended range mode and 8.8 seconds in full electric operation. For the sake of online argument, the Volt does 0-60 mph in 8.7 while our Model S P85+ long-termer gets there in a blistering 4 seconds flat. If you're wondering, we tested an ATS 2.0T manual at 6 flat.
On the road, the ELR feels quick, but never fast. Like most electric vehicles, it jumps off the line, but after that it feels pretty flat. On the positive side, I'm not sure anything feels as luxurious as the fluid pull of a near-silent electric motor. Acceleration is smooth and constant and even the best automatic transmissions can't match a shiftless experience. Sadly, when I was up in the mountains I found the gasoline engine isn't as well-isolated as it could be. When it kicks on and is running at a constant rpm, it becomes a bit annoying. It might be that it's such a stark contrast to all-electric operation, or it really might be just that loud.
More impressive is the combination of ride and handling. While the ELR will never be mistaken for a sports car, it drives well. In the canyons it changed directions quickly enough to be fun, with understeer waiting to pop up whenever I started having too much fun. Overall grip is relatively low. Cadillac says it will pull right around 0.80 g thanks to the high-efficiency tires. If owners would be willing to give away a little efficiency I have no doubt a higher-performance tire would transform this car. Steering is direct and feel is good for an electric rack. The brake pedal is also fantastic for something connected to a regeneration system. (Are you listening Infiniti?) Besides the brakes, the ELR has paddles where you would normally find shifters that allow you to use nothing but regen to slow the car. In normal driving they provide enough stopping power, and you only need to use the brakes to bring the car to a complete stop.
The ELR's interior is a huge step up for Cadillac. The dash and door panels are covered in cut-and-sew leather for a more handcrafted look. The pillars and headliner are suede and the wood, and the carbon fiber and piano black are the equal of anything found in a German competitor. The center stack houses Caddy's love-it-or-hate-it CUE system and haptic control panel. I am in the latter category, so I will leave it at that. The cluster is a configurable LED panel with a plastic overlay outlining the single main gauge. I'm not a fan of all-digital displays, but this is my favorite yet. The seats are comfortable and supportive with enough bolstering to hold you in place, but not so much that it makes entry or exit difficult. Headroom was decent for my 6-foot, 2-inch frame, but somehow I couldn't find the perfect position. The rear seats are about as useful as those in a 911, but if you have a short driver and even shorter passengers they might be able to handle a quick trip. Overall the interior is a very nice place to be, but that's about as far as I would go. It's nice, but stepping up from an ATS to an ELR really isn't going to feel that different.
That's the biggest concern I have with the ELR. A car like the Model S has a novelty to it. It looks, feels, and operates like something different. You will never mistake it for a BMW, Audi, or Mercedes. That novelty isn't lost on the general public either. Even though I live in Tesla-saturated Orange County, when I drive our long-termer, it gets attention everywhere. No one is saying "Look at that car that doesn't have door pockets." They're saying "Look at that car from the future." The only nod the ELR has to its hybridness is a closed-off grille. If you have 75 grand to spend on a car, you probably aren't worried about saving a few bucks on gas. You are looking to make a statement about saving gas, even if you are just making that statement to yourself. I think the ELR will be a relative success, but nothing close to the rocket launch of the Model S. It is a pretty good alternative car, but it wouldn't be compelling enough for me to make the sacrifice.
|2014 CADILLAC ELR|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, FWD, 2-pass, 2-door, coupe|
|Engine(s)||1.4L/84-hp /92-lb-ft (gas-est) DOHC 16-valve I-4 , plus 181-hp/295-lb-ft front electric motors|
|Transmission(s)||cont. variable auto|
|Curb weight||4100 lb (mfr)|
|Length x width x height||186.0 x 72.7 x 55.9 in|
|0-60 mph||7.8-8.8 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||Not Yet Rated|
|CO2 emissions||Not Yet Rated|
|On sale in U.S.||January 2014|