The 2014 Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid coupe is one of the most pleasant vehicles in which to plod along in the daily morass of a stop-and-go commute. Plus, if that commute's length is within the car's all-electric range, gas station visits will be an absolute rarity. Unfortunately, the ELR's price of nearly $80,000 pits it against a higher echelon of vehicles that deliver far more space, performance, comfort or refinement.
It received a "C" rating in Edmunds testing.
What Is It?
In a nutshell, the ELR is the result of taking the Chevrolet Volt's revolutionary plug-in hybrid powertrain and placing it in an ultra-sleek, concept-car coupe body with signature Cadillac styling and interior craftsmanship.
As with the Volt, a fully charged battery propels the car on electricity alone for about 30-55 miles depending on driving style and conditions. Once that all-electric range has been depleted, the ELR essentially turns into a variation of a regular hybrid. A four-cylinder gasoline engine works in concert with a reserve of battery electricity to power the twin electric drive motors. On rare occasions, the engine can directly power the wheels.
Like other Cadillacs, the ELR features an attractive cabin decorated in rich materials and dominated by the frustrating but sharp-looking CUE electronics interface. The cabin technically seats four people (as a Volt does), but the cramped rear seats are largely vestigial. Trunk space is also compromised. On the upside, the ELR looks like it just materialized out of the fanciful mind of a car designer, as its silhouette and detailing are the stuff of bedroom wall posters. Not many eco-friendly cars can claim that.
It Costs How Much?
The ELR's base price is $75,000. For that lofty sum, it comes standard with items like 20-inch wheels, LED headlights, a premium Bose audio system, a simulated suede headliner, a navigation system, Cadillac's CUE interface, keyless ignition and entry, parking sensors, a rearview camera and a lane-departure warning system.
It does not, however, include adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation, rear cross-traffic alert or a blind-spot warning system. Add those options like on our test car and the final price climbs to $79,685.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Does It Deliver?
Talking about a plug-in hybrid's fuel economy can be very complicated and there are lots of facts, figures and calculations to consider. You need to keep in mind such things as charging times and your monthly power bill, as well as number of trips to the gas station and the current price of premium unleaded. The type of driving you typically do is paramount as well.
How much all-electric range does the ELR deliver? We managed to go 54.4 miles on electricity alone on our special suburban evaluation route for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. That should realistically be considered its best-case scenario. When commuting in traffic for two weeks, we averaged 44.3 miles per charge.
It takes about 16 hours (19.5 kWh on average) to recharge using a regular household electrical outlet, or about 5.5 hours (15.2 kWh on average) with a 240-volt wall charger that you can purchase separately from the car.
If, however, your total commute is longer than the all-electric range, or you decide to take the ELR on a longer journey, what fuel economy does it get? On the Edmunds evaluation route that every car gets tested on regardless of powertrain, the ELR returned 57.3 mpg.
When we removed its all-electric miles from our calculations, the ELR returned 41.3 mpg. This is what you could expect on a road trip and is comparable to the Chevrolet Volt and hybrid family sedans like the Ford Fusion and Honda Accord.
What Is It Like To Drive?
When it comes to sitting in stop-and-go traffic or crawling along a hopelessly clogged highway, few cars make the experience as tolerable as the Cadillac ELR. Its ample sound-deadening and whisper-quiet electric motor makes the cabin your own little fortress of solitude. Even the gasoline engine is quieter than it is in the Volt, though still rather raucous and uncouth under heavy throttle.
Despite a short stopping distance of just 116 feet from 60 mph, the brake pedal is very touchy and difficult to modulate during normal driving. Thankfully, slotting the transmission lever into "L" increases the amount of regenerative braking the car employs, meaning that it more aggressively slows down when you let off the accelerator pedal.
This can be disconcerting at first, but once you get used to it, you realize that you rarely need to brake when sitting in slow-moving highway traffic. Alternatively, you can use the steering wheel paddle shifters that call up regenerative braking on command. Besides being handy in traffic, they also allow for an easy way to brake going into a turn before quickly getting back on the throttle to power out of it. In other words, it's efficient and adds to the fun.
And indeed, driving the ELR can be fun. Its responsive, well-weighted steering, low center of gravity and tidy dimensions make it feel nimble when zipping around town. Compared to the Volt, the ELR features a more sophisticated front suspension and self-adjusting dampers shared with the Buick Regal. In addition to improved handling, this also allows for Touring and Sport ride settings. It is rather firm, though, and doesn't soak up bumps in the same sophisticated manner we'd expect.
How Quick Is It?
At our test track, the ELR went from zero to 60 mph in 8 seconds flat, a time achieved by putting the car in "Hold" mode. This gets the 1.4-liter, 84-horsepower gasoline engine involved regardless of how much all-electric battery you have left and is useful in certain types of commutes (say, one in which highway miles precede time in the city). For comparison sake, the Volt did the same sprint in 9.2 seconds — also in Hold mode.
So the ELR is indeed quicker, and although its 157-hp primary electric motor provides an ample kick of effortless, silky smooth torque around town, it's ultimately not what we'd consider quick.
Yet, for $80,000, it's hard not to think the ELR should deliver more, be it performance, electric range or fuel economy. For comparison sake, consider the similarly priced and equipped Tesla Model S. Its base model, known as the 60, can go an estimated 200 miles on electricity alone (there is admittedly no gasoline backup) and runs from zero to 60 in a Tesla-estimated 5.9 seconds.
What Is the Interior Like?
One of the areas where the ELR feels like it should cost nearly $80,000 is the materials used in its cabin. And as if to really drive that point home, Cadillac's designers put those fancy materials on display, fanned out like a poker hand, on the passenger side dashboard. Contrast stitched leather? Check. Simulated suede? Check. Glossy wood trim? Check. Carbon fiber? You bet.
Unfortunately, they aren't really put together in the same way you'd expect from sport coupes like the Audi A5 and BMW 4 Series, let alone those that cost the same as the ELR. A few trim pieces were loose and there's a degree of solidity missing that makes it feel less luxurious.
When it comes to passenger and cargo space, the ELR is tight. The backseat is all but unusable for adults, with negligible legroom and virtually no headroom. The 10.5-cubic-foot trunk has decent depth, but is shallow and narrow, and its tiny opening is basically just a big slot. Making matters worse is that only the outside portions of the 40/20/40-split backseat fold, and when they do they don't fold flat. Add in compromised visibility and the ELR is impractical even by modest luxury sport coupe standards.
It's also worth mentioning the CUE electronics interface. As in other Cadillacs, this touch-operated system is slow to react, menus can be hard to find, the touch volume control is inferior to a knob and the thunk produced by the "haptic" feedback is inelegant.
What Safety Features Does It Have?
The ELR comes generously equipped with front side airbags, full-length curtain airbags, a driver knee airbag, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, frontal-collision warning and lane-departure warning. In the event those warning systems are triggered, Cadillac's Safety Alert Seat vibrates to get your attention. Also standard is OnStar, which provides automatic crash notification, on demand roadside assistance, stolen car assistance and remote door unlocking.
The optional adaptive cruise control brings with it automatic collision preparation, while the Luxury package includes automatic high beams, rear cross-traffic alert and a blind spot warning system. It has not been crash-tested by either NHTSA or the IIHS.
What Other Cars Does It Compete With?
BMW i8: Like the ELR, the BMW i8 is an exotic-looking electric coupe that also has a small gas engine for added range. It's even more expensive than the ELR, however, with a base price of $135,700.
Tesla Model S: Although there are more powerful versions available that can also go farther on a charge, the most basic Model S 60 model costs about the same as the ELR. It is more practical and more enjoyable to drive. It lacks a range-extending internal combustion engine, but goes at least four times farther on a full charge. It also benefits from Tesla's nationwide supercharger network.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
The Cadillac ELR has eye-catching styling that's rare for a car of its type. It's also a uniquely luxurious commuter car that would rarely need gas if you have a short commute. Longer trips are possible, too, thanks to its range-extending engine.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car?
The ELR is essentially a two-seater and a very expensive one at that. There are more than a few traditional coupes in this price range that offer equally luxurious cabins along with much higher levels of performance, at least when it comes to speed and handling.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.