As you can imagine, being a car enthusiast as well, it was with much anticipation that I picked up the keys to the Cadillac ELR. A car that combines a gorgeous interior and enough high-techiness so satisfy my needs and wants.
Cadillac says that electric ELR is their answer to combining luxury, eco-friendliness, style, and a dash of “the standard of the world”.
So is the ELR still worth of Cadillac’s “standard of the world” mantra? Keep reading to find out!
THE FIRST WRINKLE
As auto journalists, there is an unwritten rule that we should comprehensively test all aspects of the vehicle. Many of us spend hours pouring over the minute details of the vehicles that we are so graciously entrusted with.
However, I certainly did not expect to get a chance to evaluate the effectiveness of GM’s OnStar system. Let me explain.
On my second night with the ELR, I pulled into a public high speed charging station. The car recognized that the charger was hooked up but would stubbornly not take a charge. Perplexingly, the ELR had no problem accepting through the 120 volt home outlet travel charger.
Seconds after pressing the OnStar button, I was speaking to an agent who promised that it would only take two minutes to run the remote diagnostic on the car while I waited on hold. A few electronic clicks and whirls later, the OnStar agent disclosed that the remote checkout resulted in a clean bill of health. She apologetically directed me to the nearest Cadillac dealership and promised that the car would still run using the range extender engine.
Enter the beauty of the Internet. The thing about early adopters is that for better or worse, we like to discuss the smallest details ad nauseum. If this was a common issue, surely it would crop up on an ELR internet forum, or more likely a Chevy Volt forum (since the ELR shares the Volt’s platform).
A few minutes of Googling revealed that most ELR or Volt owners were writing about how delighted they were with their latest “toys”, and that the vehicles were relatively trouble-free.
However, I eventually stumbled upon a Chevy Volt owner who suggested that the small plastic catch at the end of the 120 volt travel charger can break off, obstructing the latch.
According to the Internetizens, evidently the included travel charger has now been revised to resolve the issue.
In a word, the ELR is “gorgeous”.
Cadillac is trying to move down the median age of its customers base and the ELR’s styling is indicative of a step in the right direction.
Even the ELR’s 3D-effect LED taillights are exquisitely styled and suggestively recall the grand daddy of all Cadillac design features from decades past. I am, of course, referring to the classic Caddy tailfins.
Everywhere I went, the ELR turned the heads of both millennials and older folks. People commented on how the ELR’s futuristic belonged on an iRobot or Tron movie set rather than on the streets of Vancouver.
So the good news is that the ELR looks amazing regardless of whether or not it’s electric.
The enormous dash is layered with different textures consisting of carbon fibre, alcantara, leather, and leatherette. It looks and feels expensive. Something that is perhaps necessary to justify my test car’s lofty $86,000+ price tag.
Cadillac’s CUE infortainment system makes its appearance here in a gorgeous 8-inch LCD screen high up on the dash. While I’ve complained about it being laggy in the past, the latest iteration fitted to my ELR test vehicle was noticeably faster than that in the Cadillac ATS that I tested last year.
Part of what makes the interior feel sumptuous and modern are the excellent Kona Brown leather seats that come with adjustable bolsters and thigh supports. The colour is delicioius and contributes to an inviting cabin that is well-designed for two.
However, my guests found the rear seats to be comfortable once they were able to get to them through the small opening. There is a fairly high degree of athleticism and flexibility required to thread the needle through the door opening then under the front passenger seat belt.
But once you do so, the rear seats are acceptable for trips under an hour, provided you’re not taller than 5’8” and haven been indulging in too much KFC on Toonie Tuesdays.
The ELR’s trunk capacity is a smallish 10.5 cu-feet but the seatback splits 40-20-40, for a bit more room. Because the 20 per cent part of the rear seat never moves as a result of the fixed waterfall design centre console, golf clubs are ok but not any long pieces of Ikea furniture.
People who buy the ELR are likely to be using it as a second vehicle anyway, and the precious cargo they’re likely to transport in the trunk is probably limited to groceries from Whole Foods, or bags stamped with the names the like of Louis Vuitton, or Burberry.
The Cadillac is fitted with the Chevy Volt’s E-REV powertrain technology, largely unchanged from its Chevy Volt cousin.
This means that there is a 154 kW electric motor and a 1.4L 84 hp range-extender engine that drives the front wheels through a planetary gearset. Unlike the Volt’s 149 hp and 273 ft-lbs of torque, the ELR’s total system power is rated for a fair bit more power at 217 hp and 295 ft-lbs of torque. These figures vary depending on the drive mode selected as well.
The driver can choose to preserve some of the battery charge with use of a clever “hold” mode in which case the range-extender engine will fire up and charge the battery pack through a generator.
The engineers have done a great job in isolating the traditional car noises (i.e. tire/road HVAC sounds) that would be more obvious than normal without engine or transmission white-noise to mask them out.
A Bose active noise control system is in place to reduce the engine noise as best possible and you don’t actually hear a lot of the typical combustion engine noise unless you are heavy with your right foot.
The T-shaped 16.5 kWh battery array is nestled low along the centreline between the front and rear wheels for optimal weight distribution. For those worried about the battery’s longevity, the ELR’s is covered by an 8 year/160,000-km warranty.
According to Cadillac, the ELR’s all-electric range is good for about 60 km. With the range-extender engine activated, the total range swells to about 545 kilometres depending on terrain, driving techniques, and temperature.
Charging the ELR’s battery takes about 5 hours with a 240V quick charging station, but significantly longer (11-16 hours) through a 120V household electrical outlet.
Step into the Cadillac’s cabin, close the door, and you’ll immediately be greeted with a Star Trek-like futuristic “whoosh” start-up sound. Turn the car off and you’ll also get a similar shutdown sound effect.
All of these little touches added to the ELR’s novel and high-tech driving experience. But for those who find the effects, they can be turned off before the sensation turns to irritation.
Overall, the ride is refined, thanks to the Cadillac’s Continuous Damping Control system which adjusts the ride control every 2 milliseconds. The wide front and rear tracks combined with the low centre of gravity and long wheelbase all contribute to respectable handling.
However, car’s weight is always noticeable if the ELR is pushed a bit harder, and its low-rolling resistance tires are still biased towards efficiency.
Like other electric cars, the ELR operates extremely quietly in all-electric mode. An experience that is surreal for those who are new to the EV experience.
The ELR operates so quietly in all-electric mode that a driver-activated sound was even developed in conjunction with the American Federation of the Blind to alert visually impaired pedestrians in an intersection.
There are four distinct driving modes available. The default “Tour” mode is what Cadillac expects most of its customers to use for the greatest driving comfort and efficiency.
“Mountain mode” allows the ELR to sustain a sufficient state of charge so that supplemental power is available from the battery to boost the range-extender motor’s output when climbing hills.
The aforementioned “Hold” mode allows owners to control when the ELR uses the gas-powered electric generator, reserving the remaining charge for later use.
I found “Hold” to be particularly handy when travelling in mixed city and highway driving, where I could save the battery charge for city-use where it is the most efficient.
I particularly liked the ELR’s Regend on Demand system which allows the driver to temporarily regenerate energy from the ELR’s momentum by pulling back on the steering wheel paddles. The system works extremely well in slowing the vehicle down aggressively, with a sensation similar to that of downshifting in a conventional gas-powered car.
Earlier in this review, I wrote about how the ELR doesn’t need a green-car status to justify its good looks. But perhaps for some, this is also a turnoff.
Nowhere on the ELR’s handsome exterior is there a badge that says “electric”, “hybrid” or “plug-in”. While this lack of badging is shared by the Tesla Model S, Cadillac is not a company known for producing electric vehicles.
Comedian Jay Leno once said on Top Gear, “Americans want everyone to know about the charity they do anonymously.” And that’s what the Toyota Prius is: a purchase to secure an individual’s moral superiority.
I can’t help but wonder if the ELR is almost too anonymous of an electric vehicle. That customers who spend $85,000+ on an electric Cadillac want others to know that they chose their vehicle not just because of its looks, but because it’s a green car.
Cadillac’s sales figures would seem to reflect some of my concern as well as there have been less than 1,000 ELRs sold in all of North America since its launch. And that’s a pity.
Clearly Tesla has shown that people are more than willing to cough up over $100,000 on an electric vehicle. However, those people are buying into Tesla’s “Why” of a high performance all-electric vehicle future.
I just hope that there are enough of those people out there that will also buy into Cadillac’s “why” because it would be a shame to see such a pretty car fade into the history books. A damn shame.