Cadillac's ELR gives Tesla a run for its (and plenty of your) money
By Eric Mack
July 5, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.