The 2014 Cadillac ELR can be understood as an attempt to answer the Chevrolet Volt’s critics. Looks frumpy, you say? Here’s something that looks like a CTS coupe. Interior’s cheap? Here’s a cow’s worth of leather. It panders to left-leaning pansies? Watch this swaggeringly conservative advertisement. The arrival of a 2014 Cadillac ELR to our Ann Arbor office presented an opportunity to assess this luxurious electric vehicle.
Like the Volt that we named our 2011 Automobile of the Year, range is not an issue with the Cadillac ELR. When the typical electric car arrives at our office, editors have to carefully plan after-work activities to make sure they don’t end up with a dead battery. With the ELR, this is never a factor. I was able to drive it a short distance for lunch even though its battery was depleted. Afterwards, I plugged the ELR into our charger and a few hours later had a full stomach and a full charge. Executive editor Todd Lassa commuted from Ann Arbor to his home in one of Detroit’s northern suburbs. He managed about 31 miles on electric power and used about a half gallon of gas to get the rest of the way home. “Not bad for nearly 50 miles of driving.” Videographer Sandon Voelker took the ELR on a meandering trip around the state of Michigan. The electric range, officially estimated at 37 miles, is a bit shorter than that of the Volt—the result of the ELR’s extra torque, heavier interior materials, and twenty-inch wheels—but it is still far enough that many drivers will rarely use a drop of gas in everyday driving.
Park the ELR next to a Volt, and you’ll be hard pressed to point out the commonalities. Sleek lines, as good looking now as when they debuted on the 2009 Converj concept, replace the stodgy hatchback shape of the Chevy. Layers of leather, wood, and suede-like materials enrich nearly every surface, although they are let down by substandard panel fit—the driver’s-side door panel in our test car was misaligned. Interior packaging, which is already an issue in the Volt, is actually worse in the ELR, as passengers now have to contend with a low roofline, particularly in back. A wide center tunnel, which houses the lithium-ion battery pack, carries over here.
The 2014 Cadillac ELR also drives better than its fraternal twin. Steering is sharper and more communicative, thanks to larger wheels and additional bracing. The electric motor produces a bit more torque (up to 295 lb-ft), enough to zip energetically through traffic. Cadillac has also found a novel way to harness the performance potential of regenerative braking: the driver can call up more or less of it using steering-wheel-mounted paddles. These tweaks are all nice, but they do not transform this heavy, front-wheel-drive electric vehicle into anything resembling a sports car. “It feels smoother than what I remember of the Volt, but there should be a more obvious performance advantage,” notes executive editor Todd Lassa. A Tesla Model S it is not.
The 2014 Cadillac ELR improves upon the Volt, which is already an impressively engineered, versatile automobile. Yet GM may have gone a bit too far in trying to amend its own criticism for the Volt—that it doesn’t make enough money. For an as-tested price of $82,135—about twice that of the Chevy—we want more than an improvement. We want something beyond comparison.
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