2014 Cadillac ELR First Review: Green Envy
What is it?
Based entirely on Cadillac's 2009 Converj Concept, the ELR is a plug-in hybrid sports coupe designed to compete with the likes of Tesla's all-electric Model S, the Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and to a lesser extent, the conventionally-powered BMW 6 Series. From the 1.4-liter gasoline engine, to the 16.5 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, to the 154 kW electric motor, the ELR shares the bulk of its powertrain with GM's mainstream plug-in, the Chevrolet Volt, though major suspension and chassis components have been specially tuned for the luxury-oriented Cadillac.
Green charms aside, the true essence of the 2014 Cadillac ELR boils down to its interior and exterior design. In keeping with the theme established by the Converj Concept, the ELR incorporates Cadillac's signature vertical lighting elements into angular-yet-aerodynamically sound bodywork, where aggressively raked front and rear glass are complemented by numerous drag-reducing touches like a flush front grille with active shutters and concealed door handles. Together they yield a respectable 0.30 coefficient of drag. Inside, the ELR's contemporary 2+2 cabin can be had with alternative materials that range from ultra-premium Opus semi-aniline leather to carbon fiber. If the concept of a 2+2 interior escapes you, just know it takes the expertise of a skilled contortionist to climb into and out of the ELR's rear seats.
Does it drive like a Chevy Volt?
Despite the fact that Cadillac engineers managed to squeeze an additional 22 lb-ft of torque out of the Volt's EREV propulsion system, that power increase is largely negated by the ELR's extra weight. So straight-line performance is nearly identical between the Volt and ELR, but that's where the similarities end.
For starters, Cadillac developed a number of unique suspension components for the ELR, including a HiPer strut front suspension to help lessen the effects of torque steer (front-drive cars have a tendency to pull left or right under hard acceleration), a semi-independent rear suspension with a Watts Z-link for better stability in corners, and Continuous Damping Control that adjusts shock dampening every two seconds according to the current driving situation. Combined with proprietary Bridgestone low rolling resistance tires and a trio of active noise cancelling microphones, the ELR delivers a driving experience that's on par with other high-end luxury coupes.
Seeing as the EREV propulsion system employs a gearless continuously variable transmission (CVT), the ELR's steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters serve as the regenerative braking controls. Dubbed Regen On Demand, the system allows the driver to supplement (or in some instances, bypass) the brakes by converting vehicle momentum into stored energy. During a 23-mile drive down the California coast, we called the brakes into action a mere three times. This liberal use of Regen On Demand also enabled us to achieve an impressive 39 miles of pure electric driving range, exceeding GM's estimate by three miles. Recharge times range from 4.5 hours using a 240V charging station to 10.5 hours on a standard 120V outlet. With a charged battery and a full tank of gas, the ELR delivers a maximum driving range of around 300 miles.
So, how much?
Therein lies the potential deal breaker. If you don't think of the ELR as nothing more than an upscale Chevy Volt (we certainly don't), then its $75,995 starting price shouldn't send you running for hills. And, because the ELR is essentially the amalgamation of two niche vehicles, its exclusivity factor helps rationalize its sticker price.
Looking at the competitive set, the all-electric but more limiting Tesla Model S begins in the low-$70,000 range, but, along with the Cadillac, qualifies for up to $7,500 in Federal tax credits on top of state and local handouts. On the high end of the eco-minded spectrum, the $100,000-plus Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid is eligible for up to $4,750 in federal rebates, plus any applicable state incentives.
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