In making the 2014 Cadillac ELR a reality, General Motors has come very close to reproducing its 2009 Cadillac Converj concept for the street.
Unveiled at the ‘09 Detroit Auto Show, the compact plug-in Caddy was a design exercise built around the yet-to-be-launched Chevy Volt’s powertrain, and the ELR follows through on statements GM made five years ago.
“It’s a logical extension of our plan to reinvent the automobile,” said GM’s then-Vice Chairman of Global Product Development Bob Lutz of the Converj in 2009. “It clearly shows what a Cadillac electric vehicle could look like, and clearly indicates that global luxury customers can have a car that has both strong design and electric propulsion with a total range of hundreds of anxiety-free miles.”
Judged much prettier than eco cars of the era, the Converj was named the Best Concept Vehicle in Detroit that year.
In August 2011 GM revealed it would build the ELR. Since October 2013 when it pinned a $75,995 price tag on it, GM has heard not a few dismayed critics while others defend the car, accentuating the positive.
Emotions have been pitched over the two-ton 2+2 GM says is a corporate halo colored green, and launching this month with a special lease deal and level 2 charger kicked in.
Comparisons have been drawn to loosely similar cars like the all-electric $71,000-plus Tesla Model S, $99,000-plus Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and even the six-figure BMW i8 plug-in hybrid due this year.
But naturally Cadillac’s marketers are leading the charge in accentuating the positive for the only sibling to the Volt.
“The ELR represents a new dimension of Art & Science, the guiding philosophy of Cadillac,” said Mark Adams, Cadillac design director referring to the company’s stylistic ethos that’s helped turned the brand around since 1999. “Cadillac’s DNA is innovation, with dramatic and provocative design. ELR delivers this in a luxury coupe that stands alone among major luxury brands globally.”
If we said this front-wheel-drive coupe was moved by a tweaked Volt powertrain, would that be enough for you?
That about sums it, but to put a finer point on things, the ELR gets the Volt’s 1.4-liter generator combined with two motors and delivers 217 system horsepower and 295 pounds-feet of torque.
Cadillac notes this torque is “about 12-percent more than the 3.6-liter V-6 in the SRX” and compared to the Volt, the ELR has 68-more horsepower and 22 more pounds-feet while weighing 264 pounds more.
Underlying the center of the vehicle is the Volt’s 5.5-foot long, 435-pound, T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack with 16.5-kwh capacity.
Rated all-electric range of 37 miles is only 1 mph less than the Volt’s 38, because GM dipped into the battery more than with the Volt to reportedly draw 11.9 kwh instead of 10.6.
Combined fuel economy is 33 mpg, MPGe is 82. In comparison, the Volt gets 37 mpg, and 98 MPGe, the Model S is rated at 89 MPGe for the 85-kwh version, and 95 MPGe for the 60 kwh.
The ELR’s quickness to 60 mph is 7.8 seconds with the genset adding juice, or a Volt-like 8.8 seconds in EV mode, and no where near the Teslas ranging from 4.2-5.9 seconds depending on configuration.
The EPA calls the ELR a plug-in hybrid, and technically it is, but GM eschews that term not unjustifiably. The ELR will travel solely on battery up to 106 mph and full throttle does not cause the gas to kick on as per conventional PHEV practice.
While it was at it, GM ceased calling the ELR’s powertrain “Voltec” as it was described in 2009 when the Converj was first shown. GM now goes with “EREV” for the ELR.
Four power modes – Tour, Sport, Mountain, and Hold – make for three different EV modes, and the hold mode comes on the generator to save battery power until later.
Unlike the plug-in Porsche, the ELR does not have a mode to recharge its battery on the fly as that is seen as poor energy budgeting by GM’s engineers.
Cadillac points out that over 70,000 Chevy Volts and variant models have been sold globally, so the ELR benefits from this proven powertrain and from reams of driver data also gathered over the past three years.
Here’s where the ELR stands out and attempts to make up the more-than double price tag over a $34,995 Volt.
An aggressive forward stance and sharp creased lines combine with Cadillac’s signature vertical headlamps and tail lights. The vehicle is among the first to utilize exclusively LED lamps inside and out.
Cadillac’s “Art & Science” design language, while fresh in execution, is old in concept in that it echoes aeronautical cues – remember tail fins in the ‘50s? – and incorporates them in your own personal stealth fighter on four wheels.
The ELR does deviate a bit from the Converj lacking the concept’s all-glass roof with solar panels and the concept’s deleted inside rearview and outside mirrors replaced by cameras and viewing screen.
Coefficient of drag of 0.305 for the ELR is down somewhat from the Volt’s 0.280.
The outside door handles are actually hidden electric pushbuttons that audibly release the door catch. This theme is carried through with inside door release buttons, and rear trunk button as well.
Underpinning the vehicle, GM did significantly improve the suspension with a HiPer Strut front design adopted from the Opel Astra GTC using forged aluminum components to cut weight.
Steering is by way of a dual-pinion, rack-mounted electric system with ZF steering gear intended for good feedback while reducing fuel required.
The rear suspension is a semi-independent compound-crank design with Watts link that incorporates weight-optimized trailing arms to absorb lateral forces.
Hydraulic ride bushings are used front and rear, and electronic Continuous Damping Control monitors the ride every 2 milliseconds.
The ELR comes shod with 20-inch wheels that look like those on the Converj albeit smaller than the 21-inch front and 22-inch rear sizes on the concept.
The production car otherwise strikes a wider-than-Volt stance – front track is 62.1-inches wide and rear is 62.4 inches. Wheelbase is 106.1 inches and the vehicle is set up to ride as comfortable as possible for a smaller car while sharpening handling manners as well.
The tires on our $82,135 example were Bridgestone Potenza RE97AS which Cadillac tells us are not low rolling resistance compound as others have reported.
Also baked in are Cadillac active safety features, including Safety Alert Seat, Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning. Optionally available are Side Blind Zone Alert with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and full-speed-range adaptive cruise control.
The integrated interior is among the finest with genuine materials and attention to detail.
“The ELR interior is a convergence of expressive forms and premium materials that create the optimal balance of sport and luxury,” said GM’s Keith Fisher, interior design manager. “No expense was spared in bringing authentic material selections and the latest technology interface into the car.”
More specifically, materials in various trim and color options include cut-and-sewn leather, sueded microfiber, chrome, fine finished wood, available carbon fiber and ultra-premium Opus semi-aniline leather seating.
Interior lighting is cool-hue LED and includes subtleties like fine blue accent lighting along the doors.
Standard is a Bose 10-channel audio system with active noise cancellation, and GM also spent time in the sound lab to make the ELR quieter than a Volt.
Central to the visual layout is Cadillac’s CUE infotainment screen with 8-inch display.
The system was released in 2012, saw a revision in early 2013 after complaints for lag-time and operability issues.
The Linux-based system works OK however. One does get used to it, and it includes operability with smartphones, voice commands, Nav, and energy displays as well.
Driving The ELR
The ELR’s digital startup and shut-down sound reminds one of a few-second audio clip from a Hollywood action movie or cartoon and is accompanied with a visual display on the info screens.
The default operation mode is the energy saving “Tour” setting, and assuming the battery is charged, the ELR quietly and smoothly accelerates with instant torque.
If the battery is depleted, or if in “Hold” mode, the genset is fairly well muted, but the little four-banger can rev to as high as 4,500 rpm and no amount of sound lab tricks can fully mask it when it needs to whine.
Road and generator noise is otherwise relatively hushed much of the time.
Steering manners are predictable, and the car feels reasonably light on its feet for a two-ton compact.
The “Sport” drive mode accentuates accelerator inputs, sharpens steering, and does make the car more responsive around bends. Even in tour mode at highway speeds, it changes directions more sharply than a Volt.
In range testing, we managed 29 all-electric miles on one run, and this consisted of more than half highway taken at the speed limit, without cruise control, so more range is possible.
Bringing the car to a halt can be done the usual way via the brake pedal, but the ELR has two means of extra regenerative braking.
There’s the “L” position on the center shifter, and there are a pair of redundant steering wheel paddles that increases the deceleration rate under regen.
Holding either or both of the paddles after a couple or few seconds, you feel the regen increase progressively and the car will come down to an indicated 1-3 mph depending on road grade. The rear brake light does comes on, and with practice, this trick can sometimes be used instead of the brakes when slowing down.
Heading down twisty roads proved the ELR is pretty satisfying. Its low-profile 245-series tires add to quick turn in and quicker responsiveness in general when changing direction compared to the Volt.
Its 4,050 curb weight is substantial, but less than a 4,600-4,700 pound Panamera S E-Hybrid or comparably heavy 85-kwh Tesla Model S. The ELR’s tires are also 30mm narrower than the 275s on the bigger cars, and center of gravity is higher than with the Tesla, so it is not an outright better handler.
Push it hard enough and understeer takes over.
As for that oh-so-critical speed potential, you already know it is no blazingly quick car.
Speaking purely subjectively, this could be OK for some folks. Frankly, when we had the P85+ Model S, while superb, it was tempting to trip it to 60 in low-to-mid 4s all over the place.
Such antics waste a lot of energy, and on a cold day we managed to sap over 80 miles range in 35 actual miles by being careless with the Model S.
If we were speed addicts, we’d soon be needing to check ourselves into a rehab program. Seriously, one does need to exercise self restraint, or the quickest Model S is soon in extra-legal territory, and could get you in trouble.
Most people say lack of zip is a major miss for the Cadillac but it’s a car that can be enjoyable at a more mellow pace, so could some interpret that as a virtue? And, if you do come to a twisty zone, you can keep a respectable pace.
And that about sums it: The ELR’s performance parameters don’t make it a replacement for a CTS-V Coupe halo, even if it looks like it could be packing 400 horsepower under the hood.
One other conspicuous upper-scale car we’ve spent time with and have not seen as much comparison to is the now-extinct Fisker Karma, which shared a conceptually similar mission in life, albeit in size extra-large.
Inside the sedan’s interior volume it was 2+2 tight, technically classified as subcompact, and it was a plug-in series hybrid with 33 miles electric range and these details make it more like the ELR than anything else.
Like the ELR also, it looked faster than it was, handled decently on relatively fat tires, but was heavy and presented a rarified air with swank style inside and out.
Obviously the ELR benefits from GM’s very thorough engineering, represents a 112-year-old brand, will get superlative service and customer care, so the similarity only goes so far.
A Good Value?
Successful luxury items tend to be the most profitable as they trade on as many intangibles, perceptions, and mystique as much as any tangible or intrinsic value being presented.
The ELR is a nice ride that ensconces the driver and passenger in comfort. It handles better than a Volt, is able to travel about as far on electricity, and comes loaded with safety and convenience technology as well.
The ELR’s best uses would be to comfortably transport two, and rear legroom might be adequate depending on stature of front and rear seat occupants.
If that’s unacceptable, you should pass on the car, but does anyone rant much about other elites cars with cramped rear seating, such as a $200,000 Aston Martin Rapide?
It has been easy for alternative-energy fans to smack their forehead over the ELR, and while not fast, it is based on a proven powertrain.
And yes, the ELR’s price does seem a bit steep, but maybe someone in the demographic likely to go for it won’t blink at what others decry as $15-20,000 too much – or Cadillac’s lease or some other deal will make it less of a stretch.
Like it or not, the ELR will offer a degree of exclusivity and elicit some special treatment for the owners of an upscale car for which its maker has set modest sales expectations.
And that’s fine. There’s a place for everyone, right?
Unknown however is now that GM has adorned a jewel in its corporate crown with body by Cadillac and the heart of a Volt, is that not a strong endorsement for “EREV” tech, and would it be reasonable to expect more variants – this time priced for more than a minority?