2014 Cadillac ELR

2014 Cadillac ELR 2014 Cadillac ELR
First Drive Review

UPDATE: We've fully tested the Cadillac ELR in the real world—head here to read that review.

Cadillac’s new 2014 ELR looks astonishing. Low, chiseled, aggressive, provocative, and uncompromised by any concession to practicality, it seems to have been time-warped out of some Gene Roddenberry–spec, 23rd-century future onto today’s roads. It’s the most ambitious application of Caddy’s “Art & Science” design theme yet—razor sharp art and science transmogrified into science fiction.

But underneath that sculptural brilliance and the $75,995 base price lies a platform based on the humble bones of the Chevrolet Volt. Like the Chevy, the Caddy runs on electricity virtually all the time and has a conventional internal-combustion engine aboard that churns a generator to keep the car’s lithium-ion battery pack charged up. And that means, like the Volt, that the ELR is eligible for a federal bribe—er, tax credit—of up to $7500.

Mesmerizing Flanks

Based on the Converj concept car that debuted at the 2009 Detroit auto show, the production ELR manages the neat trick of looking better than the showpiece that inspired it. The ELR’s aluminum-hooded nose tapers down more dramatically than the Converj’s, reducing the impression of bulk. Meanwhile, the rear window is less radically raked, giving the ELR a more elegant roofline. The leading edges of the ELR’s headlights are more precisely crafted. Moving aft, the rear deck is more dramatically faceted than the Converj’s, and the ELR’s hockey stick-shaped LED taillights lightly suggest that greatest of all Cadillac styling fillips, the fin. Throw in a closed front grille—making it more of an ironic comment on the nature of grilles rather than a grille itself—and the ELR is mesmerizingly beautiful.

While the ELR’s 106.1-inch wheelbase is a slight 0.4-inch longer than the Volt’s, this is a coupe and proportioned as such. The front passengers, although afforded generous legroom and perfectly shaped, well-crafted seats, sit in relatively narrow channels between the outside rockers and the thick center tunnel that houses the forward section of the huge lithium-ion battery pack. But the tiny rear seats are more suitable for handbags, lapdogs, and discarded pistachio shells than actual human beings with legs and such. In classic muscle-car terms, the ELR plays Camaro to the Volt’s Nova.

Spatial Delivery

Cadillac has fitted superlative materials throughout the cockpit, including a rich-looking micro-fiber headliner, hand-stitched leather elements, real matte-finished wood, brushed metal, and high-quality “piano black” plastics. But some of us feel that the interior design—as in other recent Cadillacs like the CTS and XTS—could benefit from some simpler shapes and fewer differing materials along the dash and door panels.

Settling into the ELR coupe, it’s easy to be comfortable. The spacial stuff takes some getting used to, however, as the base of the windshield seems to be about a block and a half away, and there’s a thick blind spot looking back at the five and seven o’clock positions.

After almost three years, the Chevy Volt’s mix of electric operation and extended range thanks to the small four-cylinder engine it also carries seems less magical. Some of that comes from the sheer familiarity of the system, but it’s also a result of newer products such as the all-electric Tesla Model S that have advanced the art of zap-tastic motoring in ways that would have seemed farfetched in 2010.

Voltaic Efficiency

In fact, the Volt’s mechanical soul carries over mostly unchanged to the ELR. That includes an electric drive motor that propels the car’s front wheels with the equivalent of 157 horsepower in EV mode and 181 horses in extended-range mode, the large T-shaped battery array that runs down the car’s spine and across its rump, and the 84-hp, 1.4-liter internal-combustion four-banger. Updated programming for the electric-motor controller nets the ELR 58 more total system horsepower and 22 lb-ft of extra torque compared to the Volt, for a system total of 207 horsepower and 295 lb-ft.