AOL Autos Test Drive: 2014 Cadillac ELR
The ELR is an advanced hybrid two-door car – meaning it can run on electric power for about 37 miles before the gas engine kicks in. That's the same set up as the Chevy Volt, which can go 38 miles on electricity before it resorts to gas.
But the biggest difference people have focused on so far is the price: The ELR will go on sale for $75,995, while the Chevy Volt starts at $34,000.
California will be, by far, the biggest market for the ELR. More electric, advanced hybrids and plain old hybrids are purchased here than in any other state in the U.S. So convincing people here – many of whom may think buying a less-expensive all-electric Tesla Model S carries more green street cred than buying a car that runs on both electricity and gas – will be crucial.
Cadillac execs met with buyers in Silicon Valley, took journalists from glossy lifestyle magazines on a tour of classic homes owned by Frank Sinatra and his contemporaries in Palm Springs, and brought AOL Autos to a hip Santa Monica hotel to convince us that the ELR is worthy of its price tag.
Did they win us over? Read on to find out.
Sticker price: $75,000
Invoice price: $71,625
Engine: A 1.4-liter I-4 engine combined with a 162 kilowatt electric drive system
Range: 345 miles combined with gas and electric power
Performance: 207 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque
Fuel economy: 33 mpg combined, 82 mpg-e (miles per gallon, gasoline equivalent)
Seating: Four people
Cargo capacity: 10.5 cubic feet
Exterior designNo doubt about it, this is a good-looking car. Car designers sometimes fret about having to imagine new ways to make aerodynamic vehicles, because they fear that everything is going to start looking the same. But the ELR stands out because it's so well-designed.
The front grille looks almost like mirrored windows on a tall skyscraper -- an unusual geometric design for a part of the car that is usually intended to let air into the engine compartment to cool the engine. But Cadillac designers wanted to force air under the car, so the grille blocks most air from entering under the hood. Traditional designs like that leave air swirling around in the engine compartment, causing drag and lowering fuel economy.
The design of the side mirrors are another design feature that act as an aerodynamic tool. The mirrors let air slip in between the car and the mirrors, keeping air close to the body of the car, and preventing air turbulence around the mirrors.
From the side view, the two-door coupe is much sleeker than it's four-door Chevy Volt relative, with a steeper roofline leading to the trunk. That looks great from a side view, but it makes getting into and sitting in the back seat pretty unpleasant. Anyone taller than 5'7'' should rule out ever comfortably sitting in the ELR's back seat.
This is where the ELR is a real standout compared to the Chevy Volt. The Volt feels like a nice, humble mass-market car, with hard plastic surfaces and a minimalist Swedish-furniture design feel. The ELR feels much more comforting, like sitting in a warm rich person's library (you know, the one they have next to the pool room and across from the formal dining room.)
Using a variety of materials, including a synthetic suede-like fabric wrapping the steering wheel, leather seats, a wrapped dashboard and a combination of carbon-fiber looking panels and wood-like insets, the car feels like a luxury vehicle. The center stack entertainment system usings Cadillac's CUE system, which eliminates knobs in favor of metal bars that you slide your finger over. It takes some getting used to, and I'm not a huge fan.
Passenger and cargo room
Like we said before, the backseat is pretty much unusable unless you are really short, a child, or don't mind banging your head on the roof or glass.
That big barrier between the rear seats is actually part of the housing for the huge battery needed to power the electric drive system. The Chevy Volt also only has room for two people in the back. It was hard to get into these rear seats, and I can't imagine it's fun to spend more than 10 or 15 minutes back there.
The trunk was also pretty small, but it fit our two big bags. It's definitely large enough for supermarket shopping, although a big Costco trip might be a little challenging.
Driving dynamicsCadillac did what it could to differentiate the ELR's driving dynamics from the Volt's. They added lots of sound dampening materials to keep the car quiet (because without a big gas engine under the hood to provide some white noise, electric cars are a lot noisier than gas cars.)
When driving on battery power, the car feels like a futuristic car should. It gets lots of immediate torque, and Cadillac added paddle-shifters to the steering wheel to make driving a little more fun. You can't shift gears with the paddles. Instead, the paddles engage the regenerative braking. Which makes powering around twisty and curvy roads fun, because you can keep your foot over the gas pedal and brake with your hands.
When the battery power runs out and the gas generator kicks in, that's where the ELR's troubles kick in. The generator revs high and loud, and doesn't appear to correspond with how fast or slow you're driving. It's off-putting, although we've heard GM executives in the past say Volt drivers get accustomed to the sound. Still, for a $75,000 car, we'd hoped they'd figured out a way to minimize the noise.
Tech and infotainmentWell, let's be honest. We here at AOL Autos are not huge CUE fans. The system uses something called haptics -- basically, the screen vibrates slightly when you touch it. And the volume, fan and other controls are metal bars you slide your finger over. We've test driven plenty of Cadillacs, and we still can't get used to it. The screen and center stack look so cool, we understand why designers want to push this onto people. But it's just not intuitive enough for us.
Is this car worth twice the price of the Chevy Volt? Well, actually, we kind of wish Cadillac hadn't released the price so early, because that's all anyone has been focused on trying to determine.
Its closest competitor is probably the Tesla Model S, which would cost around $75,000 when similarly tricked out with options. The Model S is known for smooth, liquidy acceleration, a huge touch-screen that will impress your neighbors, and rarity in many parts of the country. The ELR, though, comes from a company that has a long history of building cars. As we see from Tesla's recent fires, the company is a total newcomer to the world of safety regulation.
The ELR is plenty fun to drive, and we are not-so-secretly hoping it does well in the marketplace. But GM will probably learn that the car is probably $10,000 to $15,000 overpriced, so don't be surprised if deals start coming later in 2014. The car goes on sale this winter.