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Cadillac's ELR gives Tesla a run for its (and plenty of your) money

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July 5, 2014

Exploring the Bay Area in the Cadillac ELR

Exploring the Bay Area in the Cadillac ELR

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Cadillac swears its plug-in hybrid ELR isn't a bust and to help make the point, it recently let me cruise around in one for a weekend. It's a powerful and fun ride built on the guts of the Chevrolet Volt that could certainly give Tesla a run for its money, provided you've got plenty of your own to spend on one.

The Converj concept car was the predecessor to the ELR some years back. The ELR first debuted in January of 2013, and the US$76,000 price tag was announced the following fall. It's now been almost six months since the first pluggable Caddy hit the market, but the sales figures have yet to sparkle nearly as much as the vehicle itself did on my spin around the San Francisco Bay.

As I drove from Oakland to Silicon Valley, over the Golden Gate bridge, through wine country and back in the leathery embrace of the ELR's premium interior, I tried to consider why the vehicle was so much less prevalent than say, electric-only Teslas that are never too far away on the region's roads.

There is, after all, an awful lot to like about the ELR.

First, let's talk about power. When the ELR has juice in its battery and isn't relying on the gas-powered generator for a charge, you've got instant access to 295 lb-ft (400 Nm) of torque without any of the lag between gas pedal and actual acceleration on the road that internal combustion has conditioned us to put up with. Sadly, the range for the ELR's battery is only about 35 miles (about 56 km), but those miles are the closest thing one can experience to having a telekinetic, mind-melded (or at least foot-melded) link with a machine.

Under the hood

Under the hood

Of course, once the battery's spent and the ELR turns to flipping on the gas generator to power its two 135-kW drive motors at the front wheels, it's still an enjoyable driving experience by conventional standards with plenty of power. Elaborate in-dash displays keep you informed on where the electrons are flowing in the system and you'll begin to master the subtle regenerative braking using the novel paddles on the steering column.

There's other software-based tweaks on the ELR that control freaks will love, like the driving modes such as sport mode, which adjusts the throttle map in the car's software to handle better and provide the feel of more power. There's also a mode for mountain driving that changes how the system stores energy to provide a little extra power kick from the battery.

Exploring the Bay Area in the Cadillac ELR

Exploring the Bay Area in the Cadillac ELR

This is also where General Motors begins to make its case that the ELR is more than just a prettied-up Chevrolet Volt. While the Cadillac shares the same battery and drive-train as its nearly half as expensive electric kin, GM's Shad Balch made the argument to me after my ELR weekend that its extended range electric vehicle (EREV) propulsion system is the most advanced available. While "the same operationally" as the Volt, Balch told me that the ELR has received a software upgrade of sorts to "fit the Cadillac brand."

One of the results is that the ELR can harness a little over 60 more horsepower than the Volt under ideal conditions. The ELR will still take 8 seconds to get up to 60 miles per hour, but that instantaneous torque sure makes it feel more nimble.

The ELR isn't the most beautiful car on the market for my particular tastes, but it is still attractive and retains a certain kind of characteristic Cadillac gravitas which isn't my style, but will resonate with a certain classic aesthetic.

Inside, it's all luxury and leather and little leg room in back. The ELR is the perfect cockpit for couples cruising through one of America's most beautiful cities, over its most striking bridge and up for some tastings in wine country.

Not much room in back

Not much room in back

In fact, nearly all of my complaints about the ELR can be confined to the cabin.

I simply could not get the hang of the ELR's built-in infotainment and navigation system, nor the odd touch controls with haptic feedback that are used throughout the interior. When I brought this up with GM, they claimed that I simply needed more than one weekend to get the hang of both. That could be true, but seems to back up the notion that some of the finishing touches on the ELR could have been a bit more intuitive.

While there's little to complain about in the ELR, it remains to be seen if there's a full $76,000 worth of awesome. So far, most consumers have yet to see it as well.

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets.   All articles by Eric Mack
19 Comments

I guarantee the advertising campaign hurt sales. http://jalopnik.com/this-cadillac-elr-ad-will-make-you-hate-electric-car-bu-1519987554

Robert Fahey
3rd July, 2014 @ 11:14 am PDT

@Robert Fahey: Wow, I just watched it and I totally agree. Shooting themselves in the foot. So many great engineers at GM, and such an incompetent management. The story of the last 25+ years.

To me this does not exactly look like the car to take on the Tesla, sorry. The Model S is far better looking, way more usable, way more spacious, has a better user interface, gets rid of the need for gas, and has no combustion engine to worry about. It's aluminum, and will out-last me.

My Model S will still be rolling strong when most 2014 ELRs are being sold by the pound, 10 years from now.

BeWalt
3rd July, 2014 @ 12:08 pm PDT

$76k for 56kms range and they say they can compete with Tesla. I think that was a bit off the mark and should be retracted. This isn't even a round trip to the supermarket.

capro71
3rd July, 2014 @ 12:36 pm PDT

Um.... no. Not at all. The ELR is an overpriced Volt with less doors and less practicality. Its a coupe. But normally coupes are fun and lively. But with this thing being in the price range of an M4 or CTS-V, it isn't that either.

The base price of a Model S is actually LESS than that, and for that you get a car that has the cargo room of a small SUV, the carrying capacity of 5 adults plus optionally 2 rear jump seats, more performance, better safety, more technology.

Not to mention the way the two different companies actually take care of their customers. Yes, sorry, had to add that.

The only thing the ELR has for it is its total range. Thats it.

Richard J. Auchus
3rd July, 2014 @ 12:43 pm PDT

How does the Warranty stand up against the Tesla benchmark?

Randy Snakes
3rd July, 2014 @ 12:43 pm PDT

the ELR is an overpriced volt. I wouldn't compare this with the tesla, but more of an upmarket volt. Not worth the coin IMHO. Does not have the electric range or performance of the Tesla. If sold for $50k, the nicer styling and trim would be worth it, but at the cost of $75k, this is nothing more than a next generation Cadillac Cimarron in hybrid garb.

An attractive, well equipped cimarron, but about $25k too much

Michael Wilson
3rd July, 2014 @ 02:36 pm PDT

I tried to take a test drive in an ELR, I really did. Having booked a test drive, and spoken to the dealer that morning, I get there to find they didn't have one that could be driven. The salesman couldn't understand why I didn't want to just sit in it.

The Tesla dealer was incredibly pleasant experience, with no pressure, and a full tour of the shop, including the (spotless) service bay.

I'm not looking to buy right now, I'm still taking notes, but the Cadillac is out of the running - if that's how they treat people when they want their money, I shudder to think what they'd be like in something like a warranty claim situation.

schmoe90
3rd July, 2014 @ 03:34 pm PDT

First, I think the Volt is a pretty good platform and 38 miles of EV is more useful than people think but at $500/kWh and 16.5 kWh the Volt and ELR use a $8,250 battery and the ones in the tesla are $30k and $42,500 respectively.

Tesla has a good reason to be expensive and its still cheaper than a base ELR. As Richard said Tesla offers a lot of other useful features too.

I can sort of see why people don't see enough value in the ELR. The Volt itself is actually a decent platform because most trips are significantly shorter than 35 miles. GM did a study of Volt owners and discovered people got on average about 900 miles per tank.

The average trip in an automobile is only like 6 miles and most peoples commutes are under 20 miles so most people can get to work and back on EV alone and even if you do tap into some of the fuel its only for a couple miles. If you can charge at work you can stay in EV for a large percentage of your driving.

People underestimate the usefulness of plug in hybrids. Even only 10-15 miles of EV range can have a huge impact on overall fuel consumption. To give an example if you drive 30 miles to work each way and use EV for the first 15 of it and get 40 MPG for the last 15 miles, ignoring electricity your average is 80 MPG instead of 40 and you can do it with about $3000 in batteries. In a couple years it will be possible with $2000 in batteries as Li-Ion prices drop to the $300/kWh range.

Daishi
3rd July, 2014 @ 08:32 pm PDT

Looks like it fails on too many counts!

And that is not even counting the incompetent dealership.

The Skud
3rd July, 2014 @ 08:37 pm PDT

"$76,000!!

That is in the same price category as the Tesla Model S, (130mph top speed 0-60 in less than 4.5 seconds) described as the best car in the world by several critics and publications. It is laughable that they charged so much for this lackluster car.

Michaelc
4th July, 2014 @ 06:28 am PDT

I own an Elr for a month and simply love everything about it. I can go anywhere without range anxiety. It is gorgeous and drives flawlessly. I spoke with the sales manager and insisted on a great sign and drive lease and got it. To me, the Tesla looks plain and that ridiculous portrait ipad is distracting and too large. I drive a luxury car with all the latest software. Try it, you'll love it, and insist on 700 a month with 0 down. Finally, also received a free 240v charger too.

samsun
4th July, 2014 @ 07:29 am PDT

The ELR is a joke compared to the Tesla. That said, the cars don't even compete.

No one in their right mind would take an ELR over a Tesla, hence why GM is paying dealers 5k just to test drive them. Overall though, ELR sales have been terrible.

They should have priced it in the 40k-50k range, that is about what it is worth.

weapon
4th July, 2014 @ 09:09 am PDT

The ELR is the same car that was featured in the 2014 Super Bowl ad about how Americans work hard so they can get more "stuff"...unlike those lazy socialist Europeans who lake long vacations and fritter away their time with family and friends.

But for those Americans who don't want to work so hard, you can have the Volt, basically the same platform but with less stuff.

I wish GM would get it together, I really do. I thought it was a rising star after the 2008 financial crisis. But they can't seem to get enough momentum to keep the past from continuously rear-ending them.

Oh well, at least they now have a woman CEO it blame it on.

Jay_Wilson
4th July, 2014 @ 09:36 am PDT

To each his own. I drove the Tesla and was not impressed. My other car is a Z4, so I have open air speed. The elr is amazing and the price was right. The Tesla is restricted to major highways anyway.

samsun
4th July, 2014 @ 10:58 am PDT

The GM Volt was ahead of it's time, Tesla is the future. This is an expression of GMs corporate 'death wish.'

Stuart Wilf Wilshaw
4th July, 2014 @ 12:39 pm PDT

The only thing missing from the ELR is E85 capability whereas only 15% gas would be in the tank. That would be nice...

samsun
5th July, 2014 @ 03:53 am PDT

Another loser... I wonder if the Federal Government gave them money to "develop" the car. None, I repeat none, of the electric cars built in this country are for the "people". Where is the Volkswagen for the people. Oh wait a minute. If they build an electric car that works like its suppose to and the people can afford it... well then where will they get their taxes from fuel. You know.. the taxes on gasoline that was suppose to go to "repair" the roads, but instead goes into the general fund to give away by politicians to guarantee their re-election. Give me a break, Why does Gizmag put this stuff in here.

S Michael
5th July, 2014 @ 01:03 pm PDT

This is like comparing gold to crap. Tesla comes out on top and Cadillac goes face down in its own waste...

Jeffrey Brown
7th July, 2014 @ 07:16 pm PDT

GM thinks the ELR is in the same market as the BMW 6 series coupe and thus the pricing. Not even close. When the actual price drops to $50k combined with $7500 tax credit for a net price of $42.5k, then the ELR will sell.

Dave Lvegas
11th July, 2014 @ 12:45 pm PDT
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