Electric and hybrid-electric cars are becoming more common sights in U.S. cities and upscale models of the plug-in hybrid variety can be found in almost all of the European automakers' luxury-car showrooms. Among U.S. car companies, though, there's only one in the luxury coupe segment, the 2016 Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid, a sport coupe that is as chiseled, muscular and handsome as a Hollywood leading man.
The ELR offers all-electric power almost all of the time, with the engine relegated in most circumstances to generating more juice when the lithium-ion battery's initial charge is depleted. The power stored when the battery is plugged into the grid is good for a segment-leading 39 miles of range. After that, a four-cylinder gas engine-generator fires up to supply electric power. A full battery and a full tank of gas will combine to give the ELR an estimated 330 miles of total range. The ELR coupe can be an intriguing proposition if you're looking to make a fashion statement while reducing your environmental footprint. But it falls short of an Oscar-winning performance in either the luxury car or sport coupe categories.
Beneath its hood, the 2016 Cadillac ELR shares its major mechanical components with the previous generation 2015 Chevrolet Volt. The 2016 Volt should be able to deliver close to 50 miles of all-electric range from a completely redesigned powertrain that the Cadillac won't get for at least one more model year. To help make amends, Cadillac engineers plumbed the depth of their programming skills and retuned the ELR's power management software. As a result, the 2016 ELR is a fair bit quicker than the 2014 model it replaces. Cadillac's coupe also has a much richer interior than its Chevy cousin and comes with considerably more standard equipment.
Unfortunately, even with a significant MSRP reduction the 2016 ELR's price tag is more than double that of the Volt's. 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. Caddy has reworked the 2016 ELR's suspension and we haven't tested it as of this writing. Its predecessor, however, had a serene ride on smooth roads but delivered a surprising amount of harshness for a luxury car over rougher pavement. Beyond that, the 2016 ELR's dramatic roofline 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 2016 Cadillac ELR has few direct rivals. If you simply want a plug-in hybrid with lots of electric range, a fully loaded 2016 Volt might be for you. On the higher end, you could consider the 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 the best pure EV you can buy, or you could go totally wild with the two-seat, aluminum-and-carbon-fiber BMW i8. On the other hand, if a luxury coupe is what you're really after and you don't care about electric drive, the Audi A5 and S5, and BMW 6 Series have plenty of style to go around and can be fairly fuel-efficient, depending on the engine you choose.
Although it's an improvement over the 2014 model, the 2016 ELR coupe doesn't quite have the performance credentials, refinement or day-to-day functionality to justify the asking price.
The 2016 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, adaptive suspension dampers, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, LED headlights with automatic high-beam control, heated mirrors, keyless ignition and entry and remote ignition. Inside you'll find 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, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, an 8-inch touchscreen display with the CUE (Cadillac User Experience) interface, voice controls, a navigation system and a 10-speaker Bose sound system with satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB interface. Standard safety tech includes OnStar emergency communications with 4G LTE, built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts,
lane departure and forward collision warning systems and Cadillac's Safety Alert Seat. New for 2016 is wireless charging capability for the ELR's battery pack.
An optional Kona brown leather package supplies premium leather and additional power seat adjustments. The new Performance Package includes a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, summer-only performance tires and 20-inch sport alloy wheels, Brembo brakes, and sport-tuned suspension and steering. A downside of this package is that the stickier tires lower the 2016 ELR's all-electric range to 35 miles.
Adaptive cruise control with forward collision mitigation is a standalone option.
Inside the ELR you'll find 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, but it can be slow to respond and 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 and hip room are extremely limited and the sharply sloping roofline puts the squeeze on headroom 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 2016 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 83-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. The Sport mode has been recalibrated and gives a 1.5-second boost to zero-to-60 mph acceleration, bringing it down to a claimed 6.4 seconds. Total system output in Sport is 233 hp and 373 lb-ft.
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 2016 ELR will take about four to five hours to recharge from empty. It can take 12 hours or more on the 110-volt charging cord that comes with the car. Cadillac also has equipped the 2016 ELR to be compatible with the wireless charging system developed and marketed by Plugless Power.
Cadillac estimates that a full charge will give it up to 39 miles of electric range, which is one mile less than the 2015 Volt and not bad given the ELR's additional power, increased weight and wider tires.
The EPA has not yet rated the 2016 Cadillac ELR's fuel-efficiency as of this writing, but with the same powertrain as the previous model it should be about the same 82 MPGe overall and 33 mpg when all the power for the electric motor is coming from the gas engine-generator which, unfortunately, requires premium-grade fuel.
In full-electric mode, the 2016 Cadillac ELR has a smooth power delivery and this, along with the coupe's well-insulated interior and standard active noise cancellation system, makes for a quiet ride. But things change 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. Fortunately, performance has been increased and with its zero-to-60-mph time down to a snappy 6.4 seconds, the 2016 ELR is a lot more competitive with other sport luxury coupes.
Cadillac says it has retuned the ELR to provide sportier handling this year. We've yet to drive the new version, but it's fair to assume the 2016 car will be responsive and precise when driven around turns. Potentially more concerning will be the car's ride quality. It's comfortable and composed when you're driving on pristine pavement, but we found the 2014 ELR could be a bit harsh on deteriorating road surfaces.
Standard safety features on the 2016 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, blind-spot monitoring, a frontal collision warning system and a lane-departure warning system. Cadillac's Safety Alert Seat vibrates to get the driver's attention when those warning systems are triggered. Also standard is a three-year OnStar Guidance plan, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking, stolen vehicle assistance and turn-by-turn navigation.
Optional safety equipment is limited to a forward collision preparation system, included with adaptive cruise control, which can automatically apply the brakes to reduce the severity of an imminent collision.
The 2016 Cadillac ELR improves on its predecessor, the 2014 ELR (there was no 2015 model), with a significant cut in the base MSRP, a nice jump in torque and horsepower, sportier suspension settings, upgraded brakes, a standard suite of driver assistance technologies, a slightly tweaked grille and badge design, wireless battery pack charging capability and an optional Performance Pack.