For shoppers with a green conscience, there's an undeniable appeal to plug-in hybrid cars like the Cadillac ELR coupe. Depending on your driving habits, you may be able to spend your weekdays commuting in all-electric mode, while an onboard gasoline engine gives you the ability to venture far beyond the reach of an extension cord on the weekends. You'll also travel in style in the ELR, which is among the first luxury-brand plug-in hybrids. Its bold design and plush interior will likely pique your interest, even if you've never considered buying a hybrid before.
A two-door coupe, the Cadillac ELR manages to look less utilitarian than other hybrids, while still offering seating for four. Although it's mechanically based on the Chevrolet Volt, you'd never guess that from outward appearances, as the ELR's angular lines, rich leather and long list of standard amenities give it a distinctly Cadillac feel. In our experience, however, the driving experience is just too similar to Chevy's hybrid. The gasoline engine gets noisy under duress, while the ride quality is unpolished for a luxury coupe. Factor in the Cadillac ELR's substantial price tag and very small backseat and trunk and we have a hard time recommending this hybrid coupe in spite of its unusual blend of style and frugality.
Current Cadillac ELR
Introduced for 2014, the Cadillac ELR is a plug-in hybrid coupe. There is only one trim level available and only one available powertrain. The front-wheel-drive ELR is primarily powered by an electric motor that generates 157 horsepower (117 kilowatts) and 295 pound-feet of torque. That electric motor is fed by a 16.5-kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery pack, and it provides an EPA-estimated 37 miles of all-electric driving range.
When the battery charge is mostly depleted, an 84-hp, 1.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline-fueled engine springs to life to power the electric motor and provide as much as 300 additional miles of range. For the most part, the gasoline engine is used as an electricity generator for the electric drive motor, though in some situations it kicks in to boost the car's performance. You'll need to plug into an outlet to do a full recharge of the battery pack. This takes about 4-5 hours using a 240-volt charger.
The standard features list on the Cadillac ELR is long. It includes 20-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, LED headlights, keyless ignition and entry, remote ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power and heated front seats, leather upholstery, a power tilt-and-telescoping and heated steering wheel, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, an 8-inch touchscreen display with the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) infotainment interface, a navigation system, and a 10-speaker Bose sound system with satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB interface. Standard safety tech includes OnStar emergency communications, lane departure and forward collision warning systems, and Cadillac's Safety Alert Seat (which vibrates to get the driver's attention when either of those warning systems is triggered).
An optional Luxury package bundles automatic high-beam control, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert systems, and a different 20-inch wheel design, while a Kona brown leather package supplies premium leather and additional power seat adjustments. À la carte options include adaptive cruise control (with automatic collision preparation) and a glovebox-mounted CD player.
Operating in full-electric mode, the Cadillac ELR is quiet and smooth, though not especially quick for a car in this price range. Once you've depleted the batteries, the gasoline engine switches on and life isn't nearly as peaceful. Cadillac has taken various measures to mask the sounds from the engine bay, but there's no hiding the four-cylinder's raucous power delivery when you're accelerating quickly to highway speeds. And although the ELR rides well on freshly paved roads, the Cadillac's suspension simply isn't able to absorb ripples and imperfections with the sophistication we'd expect in this price range.
Inside the ELR, you're greeted by a well-organized dashboard wrapped in several layers of leather and simulated suede. There's no denying the luxurious look and feel of this cabin, but the CUE infotainment system might detract from your enjoyment of it, as this touchscreen interface is difficult to use and often distracting. Tall drivers will find plenty of headroom and legroom up front, but due to the ELR's dramatically sloped roof line, the backseat is so short on headroom and shoulder room that you probably won't use it very often. The roof also takes its toll on trunk access, as the opening is unusually small, making it difficult to take advantage of the 10.5-cubic-foot luggage space. On a more positive note, the rear seats fold (with a fixed console in between), providing a little extra utility for running errands.
Used Cadillac ELR Models
The Cadillac ELR is all new, but buyers interested in purchasing a plug-in hybrid car with similar electric-only range may want to check out the Chevrolet Volt, which went on sale for 2011 and provides much the same driving experience.