As hybrid and electric cars become more common sights in U.S. cities, they're also moving farther up the food chain and beginning to turn up in luxury-car showrooms. The 2014 Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid coupe is an example of this trend. Not only does it offer a convenient combination of electric-only power for short trips and gas-electric operation for extended travel, it brings cutting-edge style and posh interior trimmings into the mix. At a glance, the ELR coupe is an intriguing proposition if you're looking to make a fashion statement while reducing your environmental footprint. However, a few significant drawbacks make Cadillac's plug-in hybrid tough for us to recommend.
Under the hood, the Cadillac ELR shares its major mechanical components with the Chevrolet Volt, including its 17.1-kilowatt lithium-ion battery pack and 1.4-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine. Cadillac estimates it can go up to 37 miles on battery power alone, and while that's one less mile than the Volt, the ELR is a fair bit quicker, as Cadillac was able to get more power out of the car's electric-drive motor. Inside, Cadillac's coupe has a much richer interior than its Chevy cousin and comes with considerably more standard equipment.
The problems begin when you look at the 2014 Cadillac ELR's price tag, which is more than double that of the Volt. This makes the raucous drone from the ELR's four-cylinder engine that much more difficult to take once you deplete its all-electric range. Cadillac has tried to mask the engine's coarseness with hydraulic engine mounts, sound-absorbing materials and a noise-cancelling audio system, but it simply isn't enough when you're accelerating hard. And while the Caddy's ride is serene on smooth roads, a surprising amount of harshness invades the cabin over rougher pavement -- you'd never complain about this in a Volt, but in a luxury coupe, it stands out as a glaring lapse in refinement. Beyond that, the ELR's dramatic roof line creates some major packaging issues: The backseat is small to the point of being almost unusable, and the trunk opening is extraordinarily narrow.
For the moment, the 2014 Cadillac ELR has few direct rivals. If you simply want a plug-in hybrid with lots of electric range, a fully loaded 2014 Chevrolet Volt will provide much the same driving experience. On the higher end, you could consider the 2014 Porsche Panamera S E-hybrid, which delivers far more in the way of performance but only 20 miles of pure electric range. If you're a bit more adventurous, the all-electric Tesla Model S is wildly fashionable. On the other hand, if a luxury coupe is what you're really after, the 2014 Audi A5 and S5 and 2015 Jaguar F-Type have plenty of style to go around and can be fairly fuel-efficient, depending on the engine you choose.
Although the time has arguably come for luxury-brand plug-in hybrids like the Cadillac ELR, this coupe simply doesn't have the performance credentials, refinement or day-to-day functionality to justify the asking price.
The 2014 Cadillac ELR is a two-door plug-in hybrid coupe, with seating for four passengers. It comes in a single trim level.
Standard features on the ELR include 20-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, LED headlights, heated mirrors, keyless ignition and entry, remote ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, eight-way power and heated front seats, folding rear seats, leather upholstery, a power tilt-and-telescoping and heated steering wheel, cruise control, 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.
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. &Agrave; la carte options include adaptive cruise control (with automatic collision preparation) and a glovebox-mounted CD player.
Inside the ELR there are a handsomely sculpted dashboard and doors draped with multilayered amalgamations of leather and simulated suede. While we like the look of the cabin, the CUE system detracts from its functionality. This touchscreen interface manages audio, climate, navigation and phone functions, and not only is it slow to respond, it sometimes misses touch inputs entirely. The system's vibrating haptic feedback is meant to make it easier to use on the move, but the sensations can be awkward until you acclimate.
Drivers of all sizes will find plenty of headroom and legroom up front. The rear seat has become largely ceremonial, though, as shoulder room and hiproom are extremely limited, plus the sharply sloping roof line puts the squeeze on head space as well. The ELR's roof also intrudes on the trunk opening, which is reduced to an awkward vertical slot (imagine loading videotapes into a VCR). Cargo capacity comes in at 10.5 cubic feet, which is less than most plug-in hybrid competitors and luxury coupes alike. Each of the rear seats folds down (with a fixed center console in between), giving you a little more flexibility when running errands.
The front-wheel-drive 2014 Cadillac ELR is primarily powered by an electric motor that puts out 157 horsepower (117 kilowatts) and 295 pound-feet of torque. That electric motor is fed by a 17.1-kilowatt-hour (kWh) lithium-ion battery pack until the battery charge is mostly depleted and an 84-hp, 1.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline-fueled engine springs to life to power the electric motor. 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. There are Normal, Hold, Sport and Mountain modes designed to maximize the powertrain's performance and efficiency in different situations.
Recharging the battery can be done partially while driving (through regenerative braking and the engine generator), but you'll need to plug into an outlet to regain a full charge. Plugged into a 240-volt power source, the ELR will take about 4-5 hours to recharge from empty. Cadillac estimates that a full charge will give it about 37 miles of electric range, which is one mile less than the Volt, but still impressive given the ELR's additional power, increased weight and wider tires.
In full-electric mode, the 2014 Cadillac ELR has a smooth power delivery and this, along with the coupe's well-insulated interior, makes for a quiet ride. But everything changes once you've depleted the batteries' charge and the 1.4-liter gasoline engine awakens. This engine simply isn't very quiet or refined, and when you're accelerating to pass or climbing a significant grade, its raucous soundtrack upsets the calm in the cabin. Equally disappointing is the ELR's tepid performance. Even with both power sources working on the coupe's behalf, Cadillac estimates it will take 7.8 seconds for it to reach 60 mph -- not bad but not exactly sporty, either.
By the same token, the 2014 ELR's handling is respectable, but it's not on par with other luxury-brand coupes you might consider in this price range. Drivers can choose between two levels of effort for the steering, and in either mode, the Caddy's steering is precise and responsive. Meanwhile, ride quality is a mixed bag. It's comfortable and composed when you're driving on pristine pavement, but the suspension is unable to absorb ripples and imperfections and you'll feel that harshness in the cockpit. It's something you could overlook on a less expensive car, but in this price range, most shoppers will expect more in the way of refinement.
Standard safety features on the 2014 Cadillac ELR include antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side-impact airbags, front knee airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera and frontal collision warning and lane-departure warning systems. Cadillac's Safety Alert Seat vibrates to get the driver's attention when either of those warning systems is triggered. Also standard is OnStar, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking, stolen vehicle assistance and turn-by-turn navigation.
Optional safety equipment includes a blind-spot monitoring system and a collision preparation system (included with adaptive cruise control), which can automatically apply the brakes to reduce the severity of an imminent collision.
The 2014 Cadillac ELR is an all-new plug-in hybrid coupe.