A day before the Los Angeles Auto Show press days, I enjoyed the rare opportunity to drive both the Cadillac ELR luxury EREV and the futuristic BMW i3 EV (with optional extended range). Both are distinctive looking, technically fascinating and fun to drive, and both are clearly aimed at upscale EV intenders. Yet they are totally different.

Think of the ELR as Cadillac's new Corvette, a "halo" car that helps elevate the brand.

First came the ELR. Based on the Chevy Volt architecture and propulsion system, the ELR distances itself from Volt through its sexy coupe styling, luxury Cadillac interior, impressive dynamics and a bevy of unique features - plus a price tag nearly twice as high at $75,995. Its mission is not volume sales (the 2014 target is just 3,000) but to further boost a brand striving to earn perception parity with BMW, Mercedes and Audi. The compact ATS (2013 North American Car of the Year), mid-size CTS (2014 Motor Trend Car of the Year) and full-size XTS have raised Cadillac's sales and perception in recent years, and the ELR's job is mostly to dot the "i" on that image. Think of it as Cadillac's new Corvette, a "halo" car that helps elevate the brand appeal of its more conventional stablemates.

Cadillac ELR

Like Volt, the ELR's 1.4-liter four-cylinder ICE drives a 5.5-kW generator that feeds its drive motor once its 16.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack runs down. Unlike Volt, it boasts Continuous Damping Control with selectable driving modes, "Regen on Demand" steering wheel paddles (which slow it when you want to, while pumping energy back to its battery), configurable displays, active aero shutters, LED blade lighting front and rear, a leather-lined cabin, BOSE premium audio, big 20-inch all-season tires on chromed alloy wheels and a bunch more.

The ELR has four driving modes: Tour, Sport, Mountain and Hold.

Its motor spins out a healthy 295 lb.-ft. of torque, and the propulsion system lets it dig deeper (than the Volt) into its battery voltage for added performance when you want it. Its athletic suspension is GM hi-per struts front and multi-link rear. Its four driving modes are Tour (the default, for best efficiency), Sport (stronger torque response, tighter steering and suspension), Mountain (saves battery energy for long, steep grades) and Hold (saves charge for later usage). The only options are 20-way adjustable seats in Semi-aniline leather ($2,450), full-speed-range Adaptive Cruise Control ($1,995), Crystal Red Tintcoat paint ($995) and a $1,695 Luxury Package of driver assistance features.

The power button brings up a pleasing display with a battery state of charge curve and EV range on the left, a matching fuel-level curve and fuel range on the right, instantaneous power usage on top and useful information in between. My fully-equipped test car's projected EV range was 33 miles (at roughly 90 percent SOC) and its fuel range was 256 miles. I drove about 18 miles from Santa Monica up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Tour, then switched to Hold at 15 miles EV range, which (imperceptibly) fired up the engine to keep me going.

I went to Sport mode for a delightfully fast, aggressive charge up a twisty canyon road to a lunch stop on Mulholland Highway, north of Malibu and arrived with zero EV range (no surprise) and 232 miles of gas range remaining after 30.9 total miles. Following a brief talk by chief designer Bob Boniface on the ELR's design (which almost perfectly duplicates Cadillac's gorgeous 2009 Converj concept car), I had 30 minutes left for a spirited two-lane romp - making good use of the much-appreciated Regen on Demand paddles (instead of friction brakes) to slow for curves - before departing to join BMW in Marina del Ray.

The ELR is easily the best-looking, best-handling, most fun-to-drive EV.

That 18.2-mile run left 177 miles of gas in the tank and 16.2 mpg indicated fuel economy on the A trip odometer, but my Trip B composite gas/electric economy (counting my earlier electric-only driving) was a more respectable 31.9 mpg. Bottom line: the ELR easily established itself as the best-looking, best-handling, most fun-to-drive EV in my experience.

BMW i3

The i3 is a whole different animal, beginning with its controversial (but EV-appropriate) exterior and interior designs and its unique, lightweight "LifeDrive" architecture - Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic (CFRP) passenger cell over an all-aluminum chassis - and extending to its more affordable $42,275 sticker price. Its 170-hp, 184-lb.-ft. motor is powered by a 22-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, which accounts for 450 pounds of the i3's svelte 2,635-pound curb weight.

The optional 34-hp, 650cc two-cylinder range-extender gas engine - which BMW says roughly doubles the battery-only i3's 80-100 mile range - adds 330 pounds of weight and $3,850 to the sticker. It mounts in the rear, probably reducing cargo capacity, but we couldn't see or drive it, since none of the available test cars had one. I'm guessing it might be less transparent from a noise and vibration standpoint than the ELR's four-cylinder, and that it won't provide sufficient generator power for sustained hard driving, but won't know until I get to try it.

The i3's suspension is designed and tuned for great curvy-road handling, but the downside is a brittle rough-road ride.

Like the ELR's, the i3's suspension (MacPherson strut front, five-link rear) is designed and tuned for great curvy-road handling, but the downside is a much more brittle rough-road ride, which is not helped by its aggressive low-profile tires. On the positive side, its rear cabin is roomier and much more accessible than the ELR coupe's (thanks to rear-hinged doors that latch into the front doors with no pillar between them), its turning circle is a tight 32.3 feet, and its performance is pleasingly strong (7.2 second 0-60 time). Its three drive modes are Comfort, Eco Pro (which adds roughly 12 percent of range) and Eco Pro+ (another 12 percent).

BMW i3

With a journalist friend co-driver, I departed with an indicated 67 miles of range and headed north (again) up the PCH to Sunset Boulevard, several miles east on that, then up Beverly Glen to Mulholland Drive. The range meter showed 36 miles after driving 22.5, the last four mostly uphill, to a driver-change stop. We then drove along Mulholland, down a canyon road to the 110 freeway, then to our downtown LA hotel (final indicated range: 31 miles). In a nearly 42-mile mix of uphill, downhill and level two-lane roads and some freeway, driving aggressively when we could, we used just 36 miles of range, partly because of the car's always-on, very strong (and too-often annoying) regenerative braking whenever you lift off the accelerator.

Bottom line: I love the ELR, the way it looks, the way it operates and drives. I would love to have one, but can't afford it unless a friendly lease deal appears down the road. I have mixed feelings on the more affordable i3, but I would need the extended range option, which bumps the price and may have NHV and other issues. I would have to experience it first.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 89 Comments
      purrpullberra
      • 1 Year Ago
      The ELR isn't an EV, dude. Where do you work? ;-) On the other hand I did appreciate the way the rest of the article left the technical details behind for more real world observations, so that is nice. Both cars are pretty fantastic achievements. Not every article needs to constantly nit pick. I love the nearly horizontal backlight on the caddy. The art and science coupes are so original and gorgeous. And I really like the i3 too.
      • 10 Months Ago
      How about comparing both cars the the Tesla Model S.
      Spec
      • 1 Year Ago
      Despite my complaints about the design, if I had to choose between the two, I'd definitely go with the i3. It is more efficient, nice light-weight components, interesting range-extender, etc. The Caddy is too . . . too Cadillac for me.
      mycommentemail
      • 1 Year Ago
      Hmm. Interesting. I'm still of the opinion that the elr is too expensive for what it is (it's performance numbers don't compare to other cars in its price class - gas or electric). But I hope I'm wrong. I'd love to see GM sell all 3k and then some. We'll see I guess. The comparison to the i3 doesn't make sense specifically outside of the fact that the author had the opportunity to drive both back to back (and the i3 wasn't even the range extending model). Still, interesting info on both. Looking forward to all the upcoming reviews on both cars (on multiple websites).
      paulwesterberg
      • 1 Year Ago
      Has Gary driven a Model S? It is the current benchmark of electric vehicles, but I get the sense that Gary hasn't had the pleasure of driving one.
      EZEE2
      • 1 Year Ago
      Wait....the new halo car? Wow. So.....the halo car....the car to get people into the dealership has a...what...84 hp gas motor and with electric is 207hp? Ford had the GT super car, and CAddy has this? Pardon me if I don't show up to look at one, I will simply nod as I walk by the volt that shows up with its person at my Starbucks. It is the most fun EV to drive? See above on the hp. Have you not driven the tesla? My God what a sad review. 2wheel - start your blog now. Get marco and Danny (the commie Dane, not the writer here) to write for it. I think we would all like to hear Danny's auto reviews. You could also have a special section for anyone with an alt fuel/hybrid/EV so we could hear of their experiences on a day by day experience. Wow that is such a cool idea. Hurry 2wheel, this is getting pretty sad here.
        CoolWaters
        • 1 Year Ago
        @EZEE2
        The Caddy halo car, sad to see the world has passed you by. But, yes, this comparison is a little nutty, but, it's Ratzenburg, what did you expect?
          EVSUPERHERO
          • 1 Year Ago
          @CoolWaters
          EV update for Ezee and 2WM blog, one car drives fine, the other is in pieces in my garage. It only takes a day to put the drive train back in and I can pick the gearbox/motor assembly up myself. Not saying I military press motor/gearbox or anything, just lift it off the jack stands.. Approx 40k miles on one and 38k miles on the other. No desernable degradation in range on the Kocam cells.
          EVSUPERHERO
          • 1 Year Ago
          @CoolWaters
          Oh my gosh, I would never work on my old 1986 Ranger that I had until 2005. In 2005 I purchased 1500 dollars worth of tools from Sears to be able to maintain my dirt bikes, a hobby I took up in 2005. The tools come in handy when tearing my EV apart. EV's are so much easier to work on than a gas car but I do quiz my engineer buddies quite often, they help and are hands on a fair amount as well. They work for beer. Not saying everything goes smooth. We don't have a manual. We ripped the wire right out of a encoder bearing taking the motor apart. A $8.96 bearing ordinarily but when you add a sensor and 4 wires to it, it becomes a $325.00 bearing out of Europe or a $225 bearing out of China (none in the US). China does not use paypal or credit cards, they want me to wire the money to their account and then hope I get the bearing. Unlike the "Who Killed the Electric Car" mechanic, I do get my hands dirty, seems these 1200 dollar gearboxes are prone to weep ATF fluid so my hands don't stay any cleaner than working on a IcE.
          EZEE2
          • 1 Year Ago
          @CoolWaters
          @EV I envy you devotion. Not due to saving the environment or some such, but the self reliance. You are that good to be able to totally rip the car apart. Excellent. I used to not be bad at stuff like that, but today? The complexity? No. My Beloved 2000 Ford Ranger ULEV Flex Fuel (all has to be capitalized) has had two problems in its 13 year life. Once, it kept dying until it was warmed up. Checked all the normal stuff, even vacuum lines and throttle body. Take it in.....a sensor. Sigh. Then I had an engine light and a slightly rougher ride. Immediately stop and check timing chain, plus a few other things..... Can't figure it out. Take it in.... Engine positioning sensor (with no distributor, this thing looks at the pistons and says, 'yep, there they are' and lets the computer know when to fire the spark plugs. We need to get you a Man Card for your efforts. Next up, EV goes hunting with his bare hands, and wrestles a bear.
          EZEE2
          • 1 Year Ago
          @CoolWaters
          Oh come on....I used YOUR numbers in my argument!
      Grendal
      • 1 Year Ago
      And RyanC, everyone knows the Model S is a great car. More EV's on the road = better. Even Elon wants more EV's out there. He's clearly said so. So there is no reason to bash other EVs or EREVs. Or even hybrids since they improve mileage. Over 90% of the cars on the road around the world are run by an ICE. Focus your efforts on those, please. Or boycott the container ships that are highly polluting since those are so terribly damaging to the environment. Happy Thanksgiving, for those that celebrate that holiday.
        CoolWaters
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Grendal
        The Leaf is now made in the USA, including the battery. Built in the USA and runs on Local USA Power, so less pollution.
          Marcopolo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @CoolWaters
          @ CoolWaters Well " made in the USA " is not quite correct, most of the components are imported.
          Grendal
          • 1 Year Ago
          @CoolWaters
          Did I imply otherwise? Maybe the container ship reference. I wasn't really commenting on cars. That's about this: http://www.gizmag.com/shipping-pollution/11526/ Marco put me onto bunker oil and its highly destructive properties.
      EZEE2
      • 1 Year Ago
      Testing these two cars against each other is just plain sad. Nearly twice the price difference. Why not a tesla versus a leaf? How about a Bently vs. a Versa?
      Marcopolo
      • 1 Year Ago
      Okay, so the headline is a bit misleading, ( well downright odd ! ). I agree that comparing these two totally dissimilar EV's is a bit of a journalistic (or sub-editior ) faux pas ! Gary Witzenburg's article should have simply said that he was given the opportunity to revue the latest two EV'S. Outside of the attempt to compare the two, I enjoyed Gary Witzenburg article, and I look forward to his opinion of the BMW i3, with a range extender. Gary Witzenburg is a long established and highly influential motoring writer. Gary's views reflect mainstream opinion among people unfamiliar with EV's. Gary reaches a very wide audience, exactly the people who views need to be changed, as such, he can play an important role in the spread of EV adoption. The fact that Gary Witzenburg spoke favourably about both EV's, demonstrates how far EV's have come, and how quickly !
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Marcopolo
        This is turning out to be the EV revolution we've been waiting for. :) ... and the very thing that detractors were saying would not happen. There are still plenty of market segments left though. Pickups and SUVs for instance. The Model X will start in that direction with a Crossover. Maybe some other automaker will take the hint, and if battery prices are low enough, perhaps we can.
          Marcopolo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          @ Joeviocoe Joe, there are EV SUVs , just not widely available in America. But you are correct, price is the biggest deterrent. I don't think that there will be an EV "revolution", but more of an progressive "evolution" , with many stages.
          EVSUPERHERO
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          Still waiting for the range wars,,, Not talking about the 1800's concerning Lincoln County and cow grazing land either. Who will draw first blood? Rumor has it Mitsubishi of all Corps will be coming out with something that gets 150 miles range, I forgot the name of it.
          Joeviocoe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Joeviocoe
          evolution or revolution is semantics and depends how fast this happens. Seems more like a revolution to me. But that could be because this change is happening with so much resistance from the status quo. Range wars might happen when two EVs actually compete in the exact same market segment for several years in a row. Could happen in a couple of years.
        denverdave
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Marcopolo
        So ………how many times did you need to name drop Gary in one post? Six times?!?
          ElectricAvenue
          • 1 Year Ago
          @denverdave
          In the above post denverdave called out Marcopolo's name dropping. Marcopolo is a long established and highly influential commenter here. Marcopolo reaches a wide audience, exactly whose needs to see his words of wisdom. I like Marcopolo's posts so much that I love to revue them. Marcopolo never needs a sub-editior as he never accidentally types extra i's or incorrect possessive's. Marcopolo probably won't like my post.
          Marcopolo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @denverdave
          @ denverdave Hmmm,... well you're entitled to your opinion, and you're obviously not a Gary Witzenburg fan. However, I don't think it's really "name dropping", to include the name of the subject the post is about.
          Marcopolo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @denverdave
          @ ElectricAvenue Actually, I like your post ! It serves to highlight a philosophical difference between EV (and environmental) advocates. Some elect to "preach to the choir", including left wing ideology etc, for a small number of like minded fellow travellers. Other's see forum's like ABG as a broader based platform to promote EV (and environmental ) technology to a broad spectrum of readers. Neither viewpoint is right, or wrong, and the resulting debate's are the whole point of having a comments section. (pretty boring if everyone agreed !). Oh, by the way, I'm sorry if it disturbs you that i lack the services of a sub-editor, but perhaps you should also consider that English grammar and spelling, varies between the English speaking peoples quite widely.
      JP
      • 1 Year Ago
      "The ELR is easily the best-looking, best-handling, most fun-to-drive EV." Um, you mean hybrid, because it does have a gas engine, and EV's don't. "The i3 is a whole different animal, beginning with its controversial (but EV-appropriate) exterior..." Why is ugly "EV-appropriate"? The i3 is a BMW styling disaster, made worse by the fact that the ugly doesn't even come with particularly efficient aerodynamics.
      • 10 Months Ago
      How about a comparison to the Tesla S
      Peder Norby
      • 1 Year Ago
      Since the reviewer is not clear on the i3, let me be clear. The optional rex in no way alters cargo or interior space. O, nada,zilch. It's considerably quicker than the ELR, has a shorter braking distance and is over 1000lbs lighter while offering more interior room. Cheers Peder (Mini-E, ActiveE driver, 80K on sunshine power)
        Marcopolo
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Peder Norby
        @ Peder Norby " The optional rex in no way alters cargo or interior space. O, nada,zilch." I like the i3, but the optional range extender certainly does intrude into the vehicles cabin space
          Jim Illo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Marcopolo
          Peder is right. With no Rex, the i3 uses that space for a heat pump (which is not available on the ReX version).
          Peder Norby
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Marcopolo
          @Marcopolo Both rex and non rex versions of the BMW i3 are identical in cabin space, interior space, cargo space. O, nada,zilch difference. It's just a simple fact that is easy to get and the reviewer should have said that. Cheers
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Marcopolo
          http://img.gawkerassets.com/img/18wec09ppzrf5png/ku-xlarge.png
          Spec
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Marcopolo
          Yeah, I'm gonna agree with Marco. Sure, there is no difference in interior space of the two models, but the space used for the ICE (and wasted in the ICE-free version) could have been used as interior space.
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