Cadillac unveiled the ELR at this week's North American International Auto Show. Essentially a Chevy Volt in upscale Cadillac dress, the ELR brings plug-in hybrid technology to the consumer that simply isn't willing to give up luxurious appointments for fuel economy gains.
While cars like the Tesla Model S and Fisker Karma have been offering a combination of electric technology and upscale design for a while, Cadillac says the ELR represents the first application of extended range electric vehicle technology by a full-line luxury brand.
The ELR uses a 180-hp drive electric motor, an upgrade over the Volt's 149-hp motor. Torque is also up – 295 lb-ft (400 nm) versus the Volt's 273 lb-ft (370 Nm). The 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack is the same size as the one in the Volt. When that battery is depleted, power comes from an 84-hp 1.4-liter engine generator.
Cadillac hasn't released an estimated fuel economy yet, but does say that the ELR will be able to travel about 35 miles (56 km) on electricity alone and 300 miles (483 km) with gas and electric combined. That's slightly lower than the Volt's 38 all-electric miles (61 km) and well under its 380-mile (612-km) gas + electric driving range. Still, drivers that commute short distances will be able to go days, weeks or months using little or no gas. The battery can be recharged from a 240-volt source in about 4.5 hours and 12 hours from a 120-volt source.
For those that aren't familiar with how a range-extending hybrid works, the large battery and electric motor work together to travel short distances on electricity only. When the battery is depleted, the gas-powered engine-generator kicks in to generate electricity and extended the vehicle's range. In this way, drivers can enjoy emissions-free, electric-only driving on shorter rides but with the ability to call on gas for longer drives and road trips.
On the ELR, a "Hold" button allows the driver to choose when the engine-generator kicks in, so they can reserve battery power for later use. In this way, a driver can reserve all electric driving for city commuting, where it is most efficient.
The ELR also gets tuned to provide the comfort, handling and performance expected from a premium-segment vehicle. The car's wide tracks (62.1 inches/1,578 mm in front and 62.4 inches/1,585 mm in back) are stretched over a 106.1-inch (2,695-mm) wheelbase. Up front, the HiPer Strut suspension reduces torque steer to deliver surer steering and better grip in both wet and dry conditions. The semi-independent compound-crank rear suspension with Watts link should provide smooth, consistent cornering and enhanced stability. A dual-pinion, rack-mounted electric steering system keeps the driver in command, while traction control, StabiliTrak electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes provide extra on-road control.
The driver can further tweak the ELR's ride with four selectable modes. In addition to the aforementioned Hold mode, the hybrid offers Sport, Mountain and Tour modes. The Sport mode tunes suspension, steering and acceleration settings to provide enhanced response. Tour mode is the default mode designed for comfort and efficiency, while Mountain mode adds power for driving in hilly environments.
The driver can also exert some control over regenerative braking. Paddle controls mounted to the steering wheel allow the driver to activate the Regen on Demand feature that generates battery power from the car's momentum. The feature simultaneously slows the car in a manner comparable to downshifting in a manual vehicle.
Standard safety features include a Safety Alert Seat, Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning. A driver-activated sound feature takes the place of a roaring engine in alerting nearby pedestrians of the oncoming ELR.
In terms of styling, Cadillac kept the sporty feel and profile of the 2009 Converj concept while refining raw, edgy components into production-ready features. With two doors and a roof line that sweeps smoothly back into the trunk lid, the ELR is much sportier than the four-door Volt. The flush front fascia, tapered corners and rear spoiler improve the car's aerodynamics, helping both its efficiency and sportiness. Other exterior elements of note include the vertical LED headlamps and tail lamps, flush door handles and lights on the side mirrors that blink green when the battery is charging.
"When we introduced the Converj in 2009, we knew any production model would need to advance the concept yet retain the distinctive design language and styling that were so well received," said Tim Kozub, ELR exterior design manager. "The overwhelming response to the Converj confirmed we knew how to make a beautiful design statement that would satisfy the packaging requirements associated with the powertrain, battery and aerodynamic function. Every inch of the ELR is in keeping with our design philosophy and executed to Cadillac’s standards for craftsmanship and leading-edge technology."
While the exterior bares much similarity to the Converj concept, the interior is totally new. Much more refined and practical, the 2+2 interior combines premium materials like Opus semi-aniline leather seating and carbon fiber. Cadillac's CUE infotainment system with navigation comes standard and is controlled via an eight-inch touchscreen with haptic feedback, multitouch and natural speech recognition. A 10-channel Bose audio system comes standard. A four-mount front engine cradle dampens noise and vibration to keep things quiet and smooth in the cabin.
Cadillac will begin production of the ELR in Detroit towards the end of the year. Sales of the yet-to-be-priced car begin in early 2014 with expanded global sales in Europe and China to follow.