An electric Cadillac. Many drivers on the road today can remember when a Caddy was as big as a diner and drank gas like Bukowski emptying pints at a pub. But such gas-guzzlers are a thing of the past. Today, GM engineers want you to know from the moment you switch on the first plug-in hybrid electric Cadillac, the ELR, that it's the Caddy of tomorrow. You don't hear the rumbling plunge of engine cylinders; instead, you hear a dashing whoosh, the sound de rigueur in the age of Apple and the Prius.
IGNITION: Sitting in a driver's seat that has no fewer than 20 comfort controls and automatically heats your back if it's cold outside, this is the throne you'd expect in a 2014 Cadillac. Slipping into traffic on the streets of Chicago, the ELR has the smooth shiftless, electric power delivery of a golf cart on 'roids. You step on the accelerator and jet forward with barely a sound.
FIRST IMPRESSION: This is fun! The steering is precise, the suspension sporty and yet comfortable enough—hardly the floating boat of the Cadillacs of yore. The brakes are a bit stiff, which we chalk up to the fact that our test car hadn't gone 1,000 miles yet.
TECHNOLOGY: The ELR is basically a Chevrolet Volt dressed up in Cadillac clothing. Unlike a Prius that alternates between battery and gas power, the ELR runs strictly on electric. When the battery runs dry, a little 86-horsepower gas engine kicks in, acting as a generator to recharge the electric motor. A mode selector allows you to pick between touring, sport and mountain modes, along with a "hold" mode that allows you to drive on gas-power to save a battery charge.
RANGE: Zipping onto a freeway, the ELR eases into traffic. It's hardly a beast (a la the Cadillac CTS), but it's got enough surge to merge into freeway traffic without rattling your nerves. Still, you can't help eyeing that battery power gauge. The car can only cruise around 35 miles on a full electric charge, after which the gas engine starts up. You find yourself timid on the accelerator, afraid of draining the battery.
For us, herein lies the point/counterpoint of the electric vehicle, be it an ELR, Volt, Tesla Model S or any other. It's a great option for a driver with a short commute. If you can get to work and back in about 35 miles, then plug the car into an outlet for the night, you might see a gas pump as often as you see your dentist. If not? You're spending a lot of money on a car to save at the pump. Do the numbers add up? We're not sure they do.
DESIGN: Critics have almost universally hailed the design language of the 21st century Cadillac. This four-seat coupe fits the bill, its packaging high in the hips and angled downward toward its nose, so the car looks like it's moving downhill even as it sits charging up in your garage.
The interior is replete with hand-stitched leather and real polished wood. The touch screen radio and navigation controls require no twisting or flipping but simply a soft touch of the finger, which is great, except on cold days when the interface refuses to sense your touch. All in all, the packaging here is Grade-A.
SPECS: $75,000 base price (minus a $7,500 clean-energy tax credit); 181 horsepower and 295 lb/ft torque electric motor; 86 horsepower inline four-cylinder gas engine; 4,050 pounds curb weight; about 9-second zero-to-60 under electric power; nearly 110 mph top speed.
TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY? The gorgeous ELR elicits desire, an impressive achievement both mechanically and aesthetically. The only downside? For a car this expensive, we wish its electric range was more impressive. It's a great option for a luxury car buyer who (in the parlance of old Lee Iacocca) wants fuel economy so bad he's willing to pay anything for it.
A.J. Baime is the author of Go Like Hell and the forthcoming The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm America at War. Reach him at www.facebook.com/ajbaime.
Photos courtesy of Creative Commons