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Road Test: 2014 Cadillac ELR

Abundant Luxury and Style For a Plug-In Electric, But What Is It?

As part of the evaluation process when Clean Fleet Report test drives a car we consider, among other things, its size, passenger and storage capacity, fuel economy and powertrain. We’re also interested in what the manufacturer has intended with the car’s design and what competitive cars our test vehicle is positioned against, as well as, of course, its price.

With the Cadillac ELR, we are looking at a luxury two-door coupe that is rated as a subcompact which means it should compete with the Volvo C30 or BMW 4-Series or the Mercedes CLK, to name a few in a very sparse field.

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Cadillac ELR – a category of one

But the ELR has a base price of $75,000, well above those models. Ah, but here’s the rub: none of those coupes come as a hybrid, so how to compare apples-to-apples.

Or should the ELR be compared with other coupe hybrids, which by our count right now is a class of one–the Honda CR-X. But that sporty model is not a plug-in hybrid and cost less than one-third of the ELR’s tariff. Of course the Chevy Volt is a four-door model with less luxury that uses an almost identical drivetrain.

It seems Cadillac has created a car unto itself that stands alone in its own sub-class. So does this make it Best-In-Class? Well, by default, yes. But are any of the individual ELR elements better than what you can find elsewhere in the automotive market? And, at a base price of $75,000, what should car buyers expect? The ELR is selling against some very impressive cars.

Drivetrain

The front-wheel drive 2014 Cadillac ELR is powered by an 117kW electric motor and a 1.4L DOHC 4-cylinder gasoline engine. Together they deliver 82 MPGe. The “e” is for “equivalent,” which is an EPA rating that takes into account driving solely on electric power (hence the “equivalent”). The gasoline engine alone is rated at 31 City/35 Highway/33 Combined mpg. In my 380 miles of 85-percent/15-percent highway/city driving I averaged 31.7 mpg on the gasoline engine and added an estimated 100 miles on pure electric, which is supplied by the Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) battery that is charged by plugging into a 120V or 240V outlet, through regenerative braking and by the gas engine.

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More info than you might need

My dash gauge read the total average for one week of driving was 52 mpg. Confusing? Yes, a bit. What it means is that if you had a fully charged battery, you could drive approximately 37 miles on pure electricity and if you add all the pure electric miles with the gasoline miles, you get an impressive average. Something else to note is that most commutes are less than 37 miles which can mean no gasoline and no emissions.

The ELR uses a similar, but more refined version of its General Motors sibling Chevrolet Volt, series hybrid technology, or in GM terms: a range extender. This is where the electric motor and the gasoline engine deliver all the power through the electric motor, whether that is solely from the battery or the 55kW generator that is driven by the gasoline engine.

The ELR has four drive modes: Tour, Sport, Mountain and Hold. Tour is for open road cruising; Sport advances the throttle and tightens-up the steering; Mountain recharges the battery at a faster rate when coasting downhill; and Hold forces the car to not use any of the battery charge, saving it for around-town driving, where it is most valuable for saving gasoline. The transition between battery-only power and when the gasoline engine turns on is seamless and only minimally noticeable.

As with the electric-only Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Spark, the ELR’s 16.5 kWh Li-ion battery is charged by plugging in or through the regenerative charging system, which converts the kinetic energy of braking into electricity when applying the brakes or coasting. If you are plugging in, these are the expected charge times:

120V 12 – 18 hours: discharged to a full charge
240V 5 hours: discharged to a full charge

The ELR does not come with a 480V DC Quick Charge option.

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The plug that separates it from other luxury coupes

Driving Experience: On The Road

The styling on the 2014 ELR is a head-turner. Whether I was in a parking lot or at a stop light being honked at, people wanted to know what I was driving. I even got a question: Was this a prototype vehicle and when it would be available for sale. I agree completely that the lines and stance of the ELR make it unique in the world of luxury coupes. But, what’s the weird attempting-to-be futuristic sound effects the ELR makes when starting up? Completely unnecessary and very gimmicky.

The two door ELR weighs in at 4,000 lbs. with the electric motors providing instant and maximum torque delivering a 0 – 60 mph of 7.8 seconds. You do feel the weight, but the electrically assisted power steering, four-wheel ABS and disc brakes, GM’s StabiliTrak electronic control system and front MacPherson Struts deliver a smooth, controlled highway ride.

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Slick and sleek

The ELR takes corners without body roll and with confidence. Its ride is solid but it should not be considered a sports sedan.

One very unique feature are the paddle shifters that do not change gears but, when pulled, apply the regenerative brakes. Doing so hard will stop the ELR without touching the brake pedal. It’s an interesting sensation with a technological advantage as that hard braking is putting energy back into the battery.

There is very little wind noise and no transmission shifts with the Voltec electric drive system, so the ride is smooth and quiet.

Driving Experience: Interior

The ELR’s four-passenger interior, with 40/40 fold down rear seats, is easily the nicest you will find on any car built in the USA and rivals what Europe can offer. The top-quality materials complement each other with soft and supple leather seats, microfiber suede headliner and chrome, wood and carbon-fiber trim pieces. About that carbon-fiber trim: I felt it could go away as it does not match well in the side-by-side placement with the wood trim. The ELR interior is impressive in many ways and adding an element such as carbon-fiber trim does not add to the experience.

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Leather and technology cover the interior

The long list of standard equipment on the 2014 ELR is what is to be expected on a car of this quality and price. Our ELR had the standard heated driver and passenger seats, both with optional 10-way power seats and 4-way power lumbar adjustments. The leather-wrapped heated steering wheel with power tilt and telescopic adjustments made finding a comfortable seating position quite easy. The driver’s seat has a surprise for you if you have not been forewarned: it vibrates as part of the lane departure warning system. If you did not use the turn signal when crossing into an adjoining lane on the highway, the driver’s seat will vibrate to let you know about your lane drift. I found myself changing lanes sans blinker on purpose just for the momentary rush, but after a while it became annoying, but effective, in reminding me to stay in my lane. The true safety impact of this feature is if the driver is dozing off as the vibration, small as it may be, would wake the driver and hopefully prevent an accident.

The ELR incorporates a twin cockpit design with the center stack separating the bucket seats. Everything is nicely laid-out and within easy reach. The rear split seats, separated by an armrest with cup holders, are comfortable for two adults, but four adults on a long driving trip would be a stretch for the ELR as there is limited luggage storage in the hatch. With the rear 40/40 seats folded flat, there is ample luggage space for two adults to take long trips, and that would include golf bags. One “convenience” the ELR has, that is unnecessary, is the center armrest lid is power operated by pressing on it for open, and gently pulling on it for closing. It just seemed like an extra that offered nothing to the otherwise excellent ELR interior experience.

The ELR is well-equipped with true convenience features including remote keyless entry with remote start, power door locks, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, keyless push button on and off and a three year subscription to OnStar.

A note regarding OnStar: a simple push of a button connects you with a friendly GM representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more enjoyable. This is one area where GM is the industry leader and after the three-year service plan expires, it is well worth renewing.

The infotainment system on the ELR starts with the CUE System and an 8-inch full-color touch display screen that uses haptic controls. Haptic technology uses tactile feedback from the user such as touch, vibrations or motion to change stations, modes and other functions. I found it slow to react and when touching the screen, I had to be spot-on or nothing would happen, or it would not give me the desired result for my selection. As mentioned earlier with the carbon-fiber interior trim pieces and the power armrest lid, the haptic technology distracts from what is an otherwise excellent sound and navigation system.

That system includes AM/FM radio with Bose Premium Audio and active noise cancellation, SiriusXM, HD AM radio, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio with three USB ports and 12V charge stations.

Safety

The ELR has a full complement of safety systems: TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), eight airbags, rear vision camera, forward collision alert and lane departure warning (with the previously-mentioned vibrating driver’s seat), pedestrian safety signal (useful when at a crosswalk and someone walks in front of the car), front and rear park assist, LED headlights and tail lamps, stability and traction control and power, electro-hydraulic four-wheel disc with ABS that are fully regenerative to maximize energy capture.

Pricing

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Leaving a small mark on the market

The 2014 ELR base price is $75,000, plus the $995 Destination Charge. The ELR Clean Fleet Report was driving had options that brought the price to $82,135, not including the $995 Destination Charge. The ELR qualifies for Federal and State tax credits that could reduce the final purchase price. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering an ELR purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.

Also worth noting is that in California the ELR qualifies for the coveted car pool lane stickers allowing the driver, with no passenger, to use the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on major freeways in the Golden State.

The 2014 ELR comes with these warranties:

Bumper-to-Bumper 4 years/50,000 miles
Scheduled Maintenance: 4 years/50,000 miles
Battery: 8 years/100,000 miles
Powertrain: 4 years/50,000 miles
Roadside Assistance: 3 years/Unlimited miles
Courtesy Transportation: 6 years/70,000 miles

The ELR went on sale in December 2013 and has sold 396 units through June 2014 when this review was written. This would put projected sales annually of under 1,000 cars.

Observations: 2014 Cadillac ELR

Cadillac has done us no favors with the ELR. Sure, they have designed a great looking car with a beautiful interior, filled it with all the technology and safety you would ever want or need, and for a vehicle this size and weight it has commendable fuel economy. But, if you had $75,000+ to spend on a luxury coupe would you buy the ELR over a BMW, Audi, Jaguar or even Cadillac’s ATS or CTS coupes? With its anemic sales, it appears car

Cadillac,ELR,plug-in hybrid,fuel economy, luxury

Striking a new path for Cadillac

enthusiasts with good incomes have asked – and answered – the same question.

The ELR is the real deal when it comes to luxury and will set you apart from the crowd, even though Cadillac is trying too hard with some features to make it cutting edge. The ELR does not need any tricks: you will enjoy driving short and long distances in supreme comfort, ensconced by the finest materials with an audio system that rivals home units – with fuel economy unrivaled by any of the other choices.

Clean Fleet Report suggests taking a lengthy test drive with your local dealer’s most knowledgeable hybrid sales person. Maybe even go to a couple of dealers as the dealer hybrid “experts” can sometimes get it wrong. Take your time to learn about and experience this fine car, and it just may end-up in your garage. Which, by the way, would be a good decision and a very good thing.

Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

Other related stories you might enjoy:

Road Test: Chevrolet Volt

Road Test: Nissan Leaf

Road Test: Chevrolet Spark

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About Author: John Faulkner

John Faulkner is an automotive marketing professional with more than 30 years experience branding, launching and marketing automobiles. He has worked with General Motors (all Divisions), Chrysler (Dodge, Jeep, Eagle), Ford and Lincoln-Mercury, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota on consumer events and sales training programs. His interest in automobiles is broad and deep, beginning as a child riding in the back seat of his parent's 1950 Studebaker. He has a keen appreciation of Art Deco design, no bias for domestic versus foreign makes and loves competition - whether that be F1, IndyCar, Sports Cars, NASCAR or participating in Track Days at places such as Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Thunderhill or Willow Springs. John lives in Dana Point, CA, and enjoys a top-down drive on PCH on an early Sunday morning.

11 thoughts on “Road Test: 2014 Cadillac ELR

  1. sam salamay
    October 25, 2014 at 4:04 am

    Just about every German car is overpriced, especially Porsche. The ELR is a special “one of a kind” vehicle which exudes a futuristic body and unique drive train.

    The key point that drove me to purchase was the deal.

    By going to a top dealer with a large inventory and no buyers, I dictated to the general manager what I wanted to pay and he accepted the offer. I ended up leasing this car for 0 down, 39 months and 12k miles per year for just over $700 per month and they took my 5 month old guzzler SRX without any penalty.

    The art of negotiation certainly paid off for me for a fully loaded car of my dreams.

    The problem is the marketing and the media for the most part. I just wish I could be a part of the Cadillac NY team to properly promote their line of cars and believe they should expand plugins to at least one body style type and include E85 as a backup range extender instead of gas. That would jolt the media into a frenzy of environmental stewardship for the New Cadillac Brand.

    Sam…

    • October 30, 2014 at 9:44 am

      @sam salamay,
      You are a great ambassador for the Cadillac brand and its foray into efficiency and clean technology. It will be interesting to see if you can bring others into the fold and boost ELR sales. However, we still feel the ELR is overpriced; we can’t wait to see if they pick up on any of your ideas when they bring their new plug-in to market in a couple years.

      • Sam Salamay
        October 30, 2014 at 9:57 am

        We can get rid of all ELR’s on the lots if they offer $699 per month sign and drive only on a lease. That is what we need to push to GM. Then it is certainly worth the price of admission to get many drivers to love this car as current owners do passionately.

        • October 30, 2014 at 10:22 am

          @sam salamay,
          While I think your plan would move a lot of ELRs, I’m not sure Cadillac wants to lose money on every one they move that way–and it would create a glut of vehicles at lease-end. Nissan found when its Leafs came back from two-year leases they had a problem because buyers could get new ones for less than the off-lease models because the leases were discounted so heavily. I agree Cadillac needs to figure out how to move their overload of ELRs, but not sure a discount lease wouldn’t be simply postponing the inevitable. –ed.

          • Sam Salamay
            October 30, 2014 at 10:51 am

            SImple. offer a 39 month lease with the option of upgrading the battery to keep the customer for another 39 months. GM’s image on EREV’s are much more important than losing a few bucks. This is a test which can either succeed or fail miserably. Tesla is losing on their cars by replacing most if not all of their drivetrains as they are defective. Their stock price makes up easily for their loss. It’s all about PR and keeping the customer. More ELR owners, more love of the car. It is a unique feeling to drive the ELR. Watch Jay Leno’ piece on the ELR, he tells the story quite well, ending with there are cars for speed and their are cars for efficiency and customers know the difference…

          • October 31, 2014 at 10:39 pm

            @Sam Salamay,
            This is going to be fun to watch as GM maneuvers between market share and revenue. It’s gotten a lot more competitive out there since the Volt was launched and several companies are completing for an EV-image and/or money loss. Tesla’s stock took a hit this week as it announced a drop in prices so it’s not always a smooth ride. I concur about Leno. Here’s link for those who haven’t seen it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-X-0hjx8q8. Jay likes tech and we like Jay. -ed.

  2. Sam Salamay
    October 22, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I’ve owned an ELR since May and I must say it is the best car I have ever owned. As a veteran of Porsches, BMW’s and Audi’s, I could not be more pleased with the comfort, plug-in capability and overall build quality. It is gorgeous too…

    • October 24, 2014 at 11:24 pm

      @Sam Salamay,
      We don’t disagree with you at all. The ELR is a beautiful piece of fine machinery. Our only reservation is whether it has enough content to justify it’s high price tag. Of course, dealers and the manufacturer appear to be making those adjustments. What are your thoughts?
      –ed.

Let us know what you think.