A few times a year, we’ll test a new car that reaches out and grabs one of us. It might be the styling, comfort, performance or some other feature, but the car makes an impression that makes us want one.
Generally, this happens to just one of us at a time, but the 2014 Cadillac ELR grabbed us both.
To start with, the 2014 Cadillac ELR is stunning, looking like one of the exotics cars that’s name ends with an “i”. The design is a near mirror image of the Cadillac Converj Concept that wowed audiences at the 2009 North American International Auto Show. And just like many of the concept cars, the ELR doesn’t have door handles; rather there is a pocket on the rear edge of the door that has an electric button in it which releases the door latch. It also has a push button to open the door from inside. But it’s the super bright vertically-mounted LED headlamps, enclosed grille and the dramatic Cadillac taillights that set the ELR apart from anything on the road.
The interior is equally impressive and opulent with beautiful lines, soft comfortable seats, French stitched fabrics and a unique blend of materials – leather, suede, wood, carbon fiber and chrome. Seating is for two, with two equally beautiful seats in the rear, however, as with many coupes, the ELR rear seats have limited legroom and headroom. The rear seat backs do fold down to make space for longer items or bags of golf clubs. We think of a configuration like this as being a very practical sports car because there’s room for things other than two people in the cabin.
The ELR is powered by a unique plug-in electric drivetrain using a 162 kW (217 hp) electric motor attached to a 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack which is located along the center of the vehicle. The motor produces 295-ft.lbs. of instant torque which propels the ELR from 0 to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds. That’s not an overly impressive number, but it does a good job of getting the Cadillac up to the traffic speeds when entering the 101 Freeway at rush hour.
The Cadillac ELR has a range of about 35 miles after a full charge according to the display on the lower left corner of the instrument panel. On the lower right is there is a fuel range number. Combined the ELR had a range of about 340 miles. We noticed we actually drove more miles than the range indicated in some cases.
We charged the ELR overnight at Barbara’s brother’s house while we were visiting in California for a week using the cord from the special compartment in the trunk and plugging into a normal 120 volt outlet. It could also be charged in about five hours using a dedicated 240 volt charging station. Owners can also use a smartphone and the OnStar mobile app to schedule charge times.
We like the concept of electric vehicles, but every time we drive one, we develop a case of “range anxiety” – always watching to make sure we have enough battery power left to get to a charger. The new Cadillac ELR, and the Chevrolet Volt, eliminate that uncertainty by using an onboard gas-powered generator. When the initial charge runs out, the generator automatically starts, with no fanfare, and continues providing power to the electric motor through the battery until the gasoline engine runs out of gas or in this case, up to about 340 miles or around the world if you keep adding gas. The gasoline generator is a quiet and efficient 63-hp, 1.4-liter four-cylinder DOHC engine.
In EPA numbers the 2014 Cadillac ELR is rated at 82 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent), or 33 mpg when run on gasoline only. There is an obvious advantage to plugging in and short trips, so we think of the ELR as a town and city car, rather than a road trip car – but it can do road trips.
No trip for us to Central California is complete without at least one traverse over Hecker Pass on Highway 152 between Watsonville and Gilroy. The road over the Santa Cruz Mountains is loaded with tight curves and is one of our favorite drives. To the rear of the console mounted shifter is a mode switch which allows the driver to toggle through four settings (Sport, Tour, Mountain and Hold) which adjust the accelerator response, suspension and steering settings to best handle the driving styles and conditions. The Mountain mode seemed to work nicely for Hecker Pass. While the ELR is no Corvette, it stays flat in the corners, grips well and we heard no tire squeal even when corning quite hard.
We both manually shift automatic transmissions when we drive; clicking the automatic transmission down a notch or two before entering corners it allows the engine braking to help slow the car for the corner and sets it up to accelerate smoothly out of the corner with better control. Most electric cars don’t have a good way to do that, however the Cadillac ELR has a unique system that works nearly as well. In the positions where many cars have transmission shift paddle behind the steering wheel, the Cadillac ELR has two Regen (Regeneration) on Demand (RoD) paddles. They activate the regenerative brake system to send more charge to the battery and in the process, it slows the car down, almost like downshifting. We nicknamed them “handbrakes.” They worked great on the winding mountain road slowing the car a little before entering a sharp corner. In town, we were able to actually bring the car to a complete stop using a RoD paddle, but they are obviously no substitute for the real brakes.
Cadillac’s CUE (Cadillac User Experience) with navigation system is part of the long list of standard features on the ELR. The system, which is mounted in the top of the ultramodern center stack, has a large display screen controlled by voice, hand gestures and the touch screen. The sophisticated system actually senses a command when the user’s hand approaches the LCD screen. It also pulses when an icon on the screen is touched indicating contact with the control was made.
The 2014 Cadillac ELR has a base price of $75,995, including the destination charge. That price includes an extensive list of standard luxury features. Available options include a Crystal Red Tintcoat paint ($995), 20-way adjustable Kona Brown and Jet black seats ($2,450), Full-Speed Range Adaptive Cruise Control with auto collision prep and intelligent brake assist ($1,995) and the Luxury Package of 20-inch machined aluminum wheels, IntelliBeam headlights, rear cross traffic alert and side blind zone alert ($1,595).
The ELR has been criticized by some auto writers who equate it to an expensive version of the Chevrolet Volt. We like the Volt, but we consider the ELR to be much further advanced and a world more elegant.
At the high price, the Cadillac ELR will raise lots of eyebrows and conjure comments like “no way” or “that’s crazy.” Never-the-less, we loved the car and felt the price was justified. If we were looking for a high performance car or an economy car, there are 100 better options, but for an elegant, economical, personal coupe, that makes a statement and carries the owners in luxury, this is an amazing car, which we would consider if we were at a higher income level.