2014 Cadillac ELR

Styling

The two-door Cadillac ELR bears little resemblance to the four-door Volt, upon which it is based. Whereas the Volt is a fairly pedestrian small sedan, the ELR is a provocative coupe. It utilizes the aggressive design language of the current Cadillac brand, perhaps best represented by the badass CTS-V. Reviewers have described it as “low and chiseled” or “creased and angular.”

What's New for 2016 ELR?

A $10,000 price cut; additional power and range; and modest styling updates.

Compared to the Volt, the Cadillac plug-in is almost 9 inches longer, 2.3 inches wider and 0.7 inch lower. The wheelbase, shared with the Volt, is almost a half-inch longer. The ELR features LED headlamps and taillights, and 20-inch wheels.

The Cadillac ELR will turn the heads of fellow road denizens who have no idea that it's a plug-in electric vehicle. But on close inspection, the snazzy design features belie a cheap hollow feel to the exterior materials. Similarly, the interior fit and finish gives a sense of luxury at first look—thanks to features like a leather-wrapped dash, heated steering wheel, and electronic seat adjustments with memory recall. But the ergonomics are atrocious, and many of the key functions, things as simple as door handles, are awkward, if not outright difficult to use.

After a week driving the 2015 ELR, we came to see the car as a glitzy and gimmicky dud. For 2016 though, Cadillac is promising big upgrades with hopes of boosting the model’s anemic 2014 sales.

Performance

The ELR shares most of its technical underpinnings with the Chevy Volt, including its 1.4-liter gasoline engine and 16.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. For 2016, Chevy is increasing power and range for the Volt, without any announced changes to the battery pack itself. Where the Volt trades modest power numbers for maximum range and battery life, the ELR hopes to give luxury buyers shades of the performance they’re accustomed to from a $65,000 vehicle. In Sport mode, the ELR will see significant performance gains for 2016, adding a 25 percent improvement in power output thanks to software changes that will tap further into the car’s peak capabilities.

The ELR boasts a maximum total horsepower rating of 233, and torque is listed at 373 pound-feet in Sport mode. In the default “Tour” mode, horsepower and torque drop off significantly in favor or increased range and efficiency. Both options soundly beat the Volt's rating of 149 hp and 273 pound-feet of torque. Curb weight is 4,065 pounds, roughly 300 pounds more than the Volt.

Thanks to ELR’s power upgrades its top 0-to-60 mph time has fallen significantly to 6.4 seconds an improvement of about 1.5 seconds. The ELR's significant bump in horsepower will boost its top speed to 107 mph for the standard model and 130 mph with a special performance package.

In previous models, driving in Tour mode left the steering wheel feeling loose and disconnected. Cadillac says that improvements to suspension for 2016 will make this less of an issue. Putting the car into "Sport," provides additional tightening to the steering response, and puts more power behind the accelerator pedal.

2014 Cadillac ELR

Another distinction between the ELR and Volt is the Cadillac’s user-controlled regenerative braking controls via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Unfortunately, using the paddles doesn't produce a noticeable change in how the regen system grabs the car and puts more energy into the battery. Unlike the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive, which is a model for how regen paddle-shifters should work, the ELR's shifters feel like a prop.

Efficiency/Range

The Cadillac ELR boasts an electric-only range of 37 miles and a total combined range of 340 miles.

Under its default “Tour” driving mode, the ELR operates entirely as an electric car for its first set of miles after receiving a full charge. It burns no gasoline during those miles, drawing energy from a 400-pound lithium ion battery pack. Then, the ELR uses a 1.4-liter gas-powered engine to power a generator that sustains the battery charge for another 300 miles of range. Again, that only happens once the battery is exhausted.

This technical arrangement is called a “series” plug-in hybrid. It’s fundamentally different from a “parallel” hybrid, like the Toyota Prius, in which the car’s computer frequently switches between the engine and a much smaller battery pack.

Official EPA numbers for the 2015 Cadillac ELR pegged the “miles per gallon equivalent” while driving on electricity at 82 MPGe—based on 85 MPGe in the city and 80 MPGe on the highway. For 2016, Cadillac says MPGe will increase to a combined 85 MPGe. In extended range mode, the 2016 ELR is not exceptionally efficient, earning a combined city/highway EPA rating of 31 mpg, a decrease of 2 mpg compared to previous models. This comes as a necessary trade-off for performance improvements. Total driving range from the combination of battery power and liquid fuel stored in a 9.3-gallon tank is 340 miles.

2014 Cadillac ELR

Charging

ELR drivers never have to worry about running out of range. Instead, the concern—you might even call it a game—is at all costs avoiding using a single drop of gasoline.

The key to going weeks or months between visits to the gas station is to charge up as frequently as possible—at home, work, public, everywhere—plugging in even more often than owners of pure battery EV cars charge. (Again, it’s not that plugging in is absolutely required, but it is a means for staying on electricity.)

Every ELR comes standard with a portable charge cord that can easily plug into a standard 120-volt outlet. In this manner, the 16-kWh battery pack can fully charge in about 10 to 16 hours, according to General Motors. When using a 240-volt home or public charging station, the ELR takes about five hours to go from completely empty to completely full with enough energy for an additional 37 miles purely on electricity.

Passenger/Cargo Room

Like the Volt, the ELR only seats four (at least in name). The driver and a front-seat passenger will find plenty of legroom, and comfortable well-made seats. However, the backseat is a different story. The tiny rear seats are more suitable for things—like a handbag or two, or a bag of groceries—rather than adult-sized people. The experience of getting into the back is frustrating, if not entirely comical. The shoulder strap for the front passenger blocks entrance to the back, and can trip the most agile passenger. The back windows do not roll down. Head room for passengers in back is lacking for anybody taller than about 5'10".

The ELR has its share of luxury interior materials, but the poor layout and usability of many features makes the entire driving experience seem like a design flaw. Visibility in the ELR is poor.

2014 Cadillac ELR

Safety

The ELR comes equipped with safety features like lane departure warning control, forward collision alert, side blind zone alert with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, safety alert seat and all-round LED exterior lighting.

For 2016, several of these safety features have become standard and a new theft security system has been added. The ELR has not yet been evaluated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Price

The Cadillac ELR range-extended luxury coupe initially sold for a cool $75,995. That price tag proved unpalatable for luxury consumers, so Cadillac has dropped the starting price by $10,000 and added several standard features for 2016. After the cut, the ELR can be had for about $66,000 before incentives or $59,000 after a $7,000 federal tax credit. This figure does not include taxes, title, license, dealer fees or a mandatory $995 destination fee.

Leasing and ELR was initially at about $699 a month, based on $6,000 cash down and a term of 39 months. (The deposit drops to $5,000 for current owners of GM vehicles.) Last year, there were widespread reports of lease deals in the neighborhood of $500 per month. With the announced price drop for 2016, lessees should be able to expect packages closer to that range. Buyers should read the fine print regarding rates, residual values, mileage limits and buyback options. The fine print on the ELR stipulates that miles are capped at 32,500 during the lease period—or about 830 miles per month. Run over the mileage limit and pay $0.25 for each additional mile.

In the luxury plug-in car market, the ELR's lease price compares to about $550 a month (with $5,000 down) for the BMW i3 or about $800 a month for the Model S (with $6,500 down). With the added luxury and additional driving modes, Cadillac is asking about $30,000 more for the ELR than a base-level Volt. Based on our experience, it's simply not worth the money.

2014 Cadillac ELR

Comparisons of Similar Cars

The addition of the Cadillac ELR to the plug-in electric vehicle market brings the total number of luxury electric models to five. The other four cars can roughly be categorized into two groups. However, it's important to realize that the ELR does not neatly fit into either of these groups, but slots directly in-between the two in terms of price and segment.

The first group consists of two urban-oriented compact cars: the BMW i3 and the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive. While the Cadillac plug-in starts at just below $66,000 plus fees, these small pure electric cars can be driven home for closer to $45,000. That is a significant price difference.

Moreover, the BMW and Mercedes take a more geeky functional approach to their first plug-in models, as opposed to Cadillac’s sporty tough-looking coupe design. Even though these vehicles can all be lumped together as luxury plug-ins, it will be quite easy to determine if you are interested in one of these sub-categories or the other. Just take one look at online photos to see the difference.

Perhaps the range-extender version of the BMW i3—that essentially doubles driving range from 80 miles to about 160 miles—brings it a little closer into consideration compared to the Cadillac ELR, since both essentially run like electric cars for a first set of miles before utilizing a gas engine. However, the design, layout and space of the two vehicles are radically different. The thoughtful treatment by BMW makes the more expensive Cadillac look inferior.

The Cadillac ELR is perhaps more aligned with the second grouping, which consists of Tesla Model S and Porsche Panamera plug-in hybrid. All three are stylish. The Tesla Model S, at least the one with the 85 kWh battery pack, has similar driving range to the ELR. In terms of style, the Tesla looks more like a Maserati or Aston Martin compared to the Cadillac’s American muscle profile (and an overall cheap feel that many people associate with an entire generation of domestic cars).

Another difference between those two models is the ELR's ability to more conveniently refuel using gasoline, whereas Tesla drivers use the company's proprietary Superchargers for longer distance trips.

You might compare the ELR with the Porsche, which is sleeker and more powerful, but manages only about 22 miles of all-electric range, compared to the ELR's 37 miles. That's not a huge difference, at least when compared to the fact that the Porsche will likely require laying down more than six figures to drive off the dealership lot, compared to the more affordable $66,000 for the Cadillac ELR. Yet, in terms of build quality, and practicality, Porsche wins hands down.

Purchase Process

Production of the limited ELR started in the US (specifically, alongside the Volt at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant) in late 2013. Cadillac said from the beginning that it would be a limited production vehicle. That means a few thousand a year. Even at that low level of production, Cadillac has been unable to move the ELR off the lot. It's been at times considered the worst selling vehicle in America, with two years' worth of inventory sitting dormant at dealerships.

Cadillac indicated that about half of the approximate 950 dealerships have elected to become ELR sales and service centers. These dealerships have equipped their shops with charging stations, special sales areas, repair equipment, and trained sales staff. Most of these ELR dealerships are in key markets such as California, New York, Texas, and South Florida. You can't help but wonder if the ELR, for those dealerships and the Cadillac brand, is more of a glitzy prop, than a legitimate vehicle for purchase.

Visit the online Cadillac dealer locator. Check the box for "ELR Certified Sales and Service,” and enter your location information:
http://www.cadillac.com/luxury-dealer-locator.html

Cadillac ELR specifications

Availability: Discntd.
Base MSRP: $76000
Est. tax credit: $7500
Technology: Plug-in Hybrid
Body type: Coupe
Seats: 4
EPA Range: 37 miles electric + gasoline
Battery size: 17 kWh
Charging rate: 3.3 kW

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.