Photos & Guest Blog Write-up by Alex Bellus
With Cadillac only committing to building a limited number of these luxury electric coupes, I figured I wouldn’t have another chance any time soon to drive the ELR. When I first laid eyes on the ELR, I was blown away by the shape. It looks like it rolled straight off the stage of the 2013 North American Auto Show where it debuted. But the $75,000 ELR offers a lot more than just concept car looks. There’s also a surprising amount of technology under the skin designed to both coddle the driver in luxury and also provide smooth, silent electric propulsion without the range anxiety of other electric cars.
Now make no mistake, despite having a gasoline-powered “generator”, the ELR is a true electric car. The 1.4L generator is just used to keep the batteries charged up to power the motors that drive the wheels. What this means is that you always have instant torque the moment you put your foot down. While the CVT doesn’t have any gears, per say, there are four different drive modes: Tour, Sport, Mountain, and Hold. My favorite was Sport. It gives you the full amount of torque and throttle response right when you want it. Tour is great for running errands around town in full EV mode when you just want to listen to music and relax. Either way, both are so quiet and smooth and really give you the full benefit of an EV. I never had the chance to use the Mountain mode but Hold was great for cruising on the highway. Instead of using the battery reserves, the generator fires up and charges the batteries as you drive. One other really cool feature to point out is the paddles behind the steering wheel. At first, I expected them to change gear ratios or settings or something but actually, they control the regenerative braking. During my time with the ELR, I found that I could just pull back on one of the paddles as I came up to a stoplight and I wouldn’t even need to touch the brakes. All the while, the electric motors were scrubbing speed and charging the batteries!
Regardless of which drive mode you’re in, it’s smooth sailing in the ELR. Inside, it’s nothing but luxury. Everything you can see or touch is beautifully finished in soft leather, velvety Alcantara (similar to suede but more durable), wood, or carbon fiber. So while the drivetrain technology may be inspired by the Chevrolet Volt, the interior far exceeds anything most would expect in a Cadillac. It really is a nice place to be, and quiet too as a result of the electric drivetrain. Once on the move, all you’ll hear is some faint wind and tire noise. This was the first electric car I’ve driven and I was shocked by just how serene it was, and when the calm ambience became a little too relaxing, there was a wonderful Bose stereo system to liven things up a bit.
The stereo, as well as the rest of the in-car entertainment features, are controlled by the Cadillac User Experience, or CUE. CUE has become Cadillac’s signature infotainment platform that will be available across the entire Cadillac line as of 2015. It offers a unique and customizable, tablet-inspired touchscreen interface with proximity sensors that pull up commonly used features when you want them and hide them for you when you don’t. On top of that, the entire dash is completely button-less with a smooth black panel with touch points for things like volume and A/C controls. My favorite feature is that that panel can flip up to reveal a hidden storage compartment for your iPod or smartphone, complete with a glowing USB port to charge your device while it’s tucked away. Between that and the soft-close cover for the cup holders, the whole interior of the ELR feels just as high-tech and cutting edge as the drivetrain.
Now, the fact that the Cadillac ELR is based on the Chevy Volt while being nearly three times the cost might seem absurd to some people, but there’s more to it than that. In addition to Cadillac rebodying the Volt into the sleek, sexy coupe we’re talking about here, they’ve given it a fully luxurious makeover. While the Volt is designed for functionality first, and looks second, it’s obvious that Cadillac took a much more thorough look at the design and engineering of the ELR. Heck, it’s even more practical than I thought it would be, fitting a surprising amount of cargo after a trip to Ikea for new deck furniture. The ELR never failed to surprise me!
After a weekend of driving it, and a week to ponder the experience, I’ve come to a few conclusions. At first, I didn’t think it was a particularly good value given its somewhat more pedestrian roots but after averaging 88 MPG during my time with the car and being mesmerized by all the technology, the ELR has a lot going for it. It’s not really fair to compare the ELR to other coupes in its price range. Most of them offer far thirstier, more powerful engines without anywhere near the technology under the skin. Looking at other electric cars, like the Tesla, the ELR is less practical, only having two doors. So where does that leave Cadillac’s environmentally friendly halo car? Well, I see it as a Tesla coupe for people who have a life and don’t want to be tethered to charging stations. Unlike the Tesla, you can take the ELR on long road trips without having to stop every few hours only to spend the next 8 or more hours charging your car. Instead, you can glide along effortlessly in silent, electric comfort, swaddled in luxury, not needing to worry about when and where you’ll run out of juice. Instead, you can simply plug your car in at night when you arrive at the hotel or whatever destination you want and charge it and simply fill it up like you would any other car along the way.
So to break it down, the ELR is a gorgeous, expensive, electric, grand touring coupe that offers uncompromised luxury and technology. It may also be somewhat of a sleeper collector car given that Cadillac is planning on building so few of them. At the very least, it’s unique and you’re not likely to see one silently roll up next to you at a stop light.
Guest blog post written by: Alex Bellus – a well-known automotive photographer in the Twin Cities area and a frequent attendee of MN C&C at the Automotorplex. He is an Automotive Analyst for IHS Automotive and has a wide range of automotive knowledge. Keep your eye out for his next Blog Post where he will highlight another popular new vehicle!