Auto review: Cadillac ELR aims to challenge Tesla for hybrid luxury market

April 14, 2014

The 2014 Cadillac ELR, an extended-range hybrid, is the most premium Cadillac on the market, including far more upscale features as standard equipment than any other Cadillac to date.

Cadillac has entered the electric-vehicle fray for 2014 with the introduction of the ELR four-passenger coupe, which uses a drive system nearly identical to that of the similar Chevrolet Volt.

Looking to give General Motors its own answer to the increasingly popular Tesla Model S all-electric car, the ELR (Electric Long Range) can go up to 37 miles on battery power alone, with a full charge. But unlike the Tesla, the ELR can go an additional 300-plus miles on gasoline, using its 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine to run a generator to power the car’s electric motor.

The longest-range version of the Tesla, whose prices are similar to those of the ELR, can go up to 265 miles on a full charge of its battery pack. But then it must be recharged from an external power source for several hours before it can go that far again.

With the ELR, if it runs out of battery power, the gasoline engine kicks in, and it can be refueled in minutes just like any other gasoline-powered car. Of course, you won’t be getting the fuel-economy advantages of battery power at that point. The car gets a combined 33 mpg when running on the gasoline engine, according to EPA estimates, way down from the 82 mpg-equivalent when operating solely on battery power.

GM says the battery can be fully charged in 12.5-18 hours with the included 120-volt charging system, or in about five hours with an optional 240-volt charger. The point of the ELR and the Volt’s systems, though, are that if you don’t have the time to recharge the battery, you can keep going on gasoline power.

Recharging overnight using 120-volt household current, we were able to get enough power into the battery to run our test vehicle about 30 miles in EV (electric vehicle) mode. The onboard distance-to-empty computer told us we had about 300 miles left on the gasoline engine once the battery ran down. There is a separate meter that shows remaining EV range.

The tank holds just 9.3 gallons of the required premium unleaded fuel, which limits the range to much less than we’re used to on our own vehicles. My Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid, for instance, can go well over 500 miles on a tank of gas — but it has a 26-gallon tank.

Chevy uses the same 9.3-gallon tank on the Volt, so both it and the ELR have the shorter range. But it takes just a quick stop at a gas station to go another 300 miles or so.

Compared with the Volt, though, the ELR doesn’t seem to be as practical. It has just two passenger doors instead of the Volt’s four, and while both vehicles are technically designed to seat up to four people, the ELR’s dual rear captain’s chairs don’t offer much leg and knee room—especially if there are big people up front who need to ride with their seats all the way back on their tracks.

It’s also quite a chore for an adult to get into and out of the ELR’s back seat through the front doors.

But if you’re not putting adults in the back seat regularly and want a truly cool car loaded with luxury and high-tech features, the ELR might be for you. You’ll certainly have plenty to talk about wherever you take it.

It’s certainly a beautiful vehicle, and it turns heads wherever it goes. It has its own take on Cadillac’s modern art-and-science design theme, which combines dramatic curves with chiseled creases to create a compelling exterior appearance.

Inside, the car is loaded with luxurious touches, including very comfortable heated leather bucket seats up front that include 16-way adjustment on both sides (eight power adjustments for the seats themselves, four power for the lumbar support, and four manual for the headrests). There is a memory for the driver’s seat, but not the passenger’s.

Front and rear seats are separated by center consoles, and the rear seats fold flat (a 40/40 configuration) to allow for cargo use.

The base price includes 20-inch ultra-bright machined-aluminum wheels with all-season tires. But our test vehicle came with a Luxury Package that also brought midnight-silver premium paint for the wheels, along with Intellibeam headlights, and the rear cross-traffic alert and side blind-zone alert systems.

Our tester had two other packages, as well. One included a Kona Brown exterior with jet-black accents and a full-leather interior with 20-way adjustable front seats (10 power for the seats, and two extra manual adjustments for thigh support).

The other package added adaptive cruise control with automatic collision preparation and intelligent brake assist.

With options, total sticker price of our car was $82,135, including freight. You’d still have a very nice ELR without those extras, but I suppose many buyers in this price range wouldn’t balk at paying for the options.

The ELR’s front-wheel-drive layout includes an electric drive motor that turns out 181 horsepower, but also a quite respectable 295 foot-pounds of torque — which helps give the ELR plenty of zip for startup and freeway merging.

Top speed is 106 mph, and the ELR can go from zero-60 mph in 8.8 seconds using battery power alone, or in 7.8 seconds when operating in extended-range mode, GM says. No reason was given for the difference, but it must have to do with more power being generated for the electric motor when the gasoline engine is running.

Performance is quite a bit less than what has been published for the Tesla Model S, which can go from zero to 62 mph in about 4.4 seconds. That makes the Tesla the sporty one of the two — but remember that once its battery runs down, you’re stuck for a few hours.

GM says that the ELR provides "programmable charging schedules and energy-efficiency reports" that can be accessed online and through smartphone applications.

The ride and handling of the ELR are more impressive than its acceleration. The car has advanced chassis and suspension systems that include a special strut arrangement up front, and continuous damping control. It feels like a sports car at times, and the ride is cushy, but without being spongy.

There is an exclusive regeneration-on-demand system that uses the vehicle’s momentum to help recharge the battery — similar to the regenerative-braking systems included on hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius. The driver engages the system using steering-wheel paddles similar to those used to manually shift automatic transmissions on other vehicles.

GM says the ELR’s range is designed to be long enough for most consumers to complete their daily commutes on battery power alone. The extended range would therefore be used mostly for weekend drives or over-the-road trips, or any other days when extra driving would exceed the EV range. The ELR’s range on battery power is about half of what the typical Nissan Leaf driver would expect. But like the Tesla, the Leaf relies on battery power alone, with no extended-range feature.

GM says the ELR’s enhanced low-emissions system meet California’s criteria for using the vehicle in carpool lanes with only one person aboard.

Among other standard features are LED headlights, daytime running lights and taillights; cut-and-sewn accented leather seats; interior trim that uses sueded microfiber, chrome, wood and optional carbon fiber; and the Cadillac CUE audio and connectivity system with navigation.

The CUE system works using natural voice recognition, capacitive touch and hand gestures, and would take some getting used to. That’s something I didn’t have time to master during my weeklong test of the ELR. Without knowledge and practice, controlling the audio, navigation and even the HVAC systems can be difficult and distracting, as there are no simple buttons and switches for most functions.

Among included safety features are the Safety Alert Seat, which vibrates under the driver when the vehicle is getting close to hitting something; and Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning.

There is a standard premium Bose 10-channel audio system with active noise cancellation. With an iPhone connected to the system, my own music choices sounded phenomenal throughout the car’s interior.

Power windows/mirrors/door locks are standard, along with a remote and pushbutton start. Trunk space is limited to just 10.5 cubic feet.

The key parts of the electric drive system, including the lithium-ion battery pack, are covered by a warranty for eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.

GM assembles the ELR in its Hamtramck plant in Detroit, which also makes the Volt.



—Rating: 8.3 (of a possible 10).

—The package: Compact, two-door, four-passenger, electric motor and four-cylinder gasoline powered, extended-range plug-in hybrid, front-wheel-drive coupe.

—Highlights: New for 2014, the ELR is Cadillac’s take on the Chevrolet Volt, using a similar drive system, but with substantial differences in styling, along with the addition of luxury amenities. Like the Volt, this is an electric motor/battery-powered car that comes with a gasoline engine to run an electric generator to keep it going when the battery runs down. It’s stylish and quite high-tech, but also more practical than battery-only cars such as the Tesla, its major competitor.

—Negatives: Back seat is a tight fit for adults; too expensive to attract mainstream luxury buyers.

—Engine/power: Electric motor (drives the wheels exclusively); 1.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine powers an onboard generator to provide electricity to the motor when the lithium-ion battery pack runs down.

—Transmission: Continuously variable automatic

—Power/torque: 181 horsepower/295 pound-feet

—Length: 186.0 inches

—Curb weight (base): 4,050 pounds

—Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock

—Trunk volume: 10.5 cubic feet

—Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows

—Electronic stability control: Standard

—Fuel capacity/type: 9.3 gallons/unleaded premium required

—EPA fuel economy: 31 mpg city/35 highway/33 combined (running on gasoline only); 82 mpg-e combined (battery power — gasoline equivalent)

—EV range/ total range: 37 miles (battery power only, full charge)/ 340 miles (battery and gasoline, with full charge)

—Base price: $75,000

—Price as tested, including destination charge: $82,135




  McClatchy-Tribune Information Services