July 4, 2014
2014 Cadillac ELR, engine bay. Click image to enlarge
Review and Photos by Justin Pritchard
Even an ultra-smooth luxury land barge with the world’s creamiest gas engine is subject to some sound and vibration while accelerating. There’s always a sense, however small, that there’s something mechanical pumping away under the hood to generate the miracle of forward momentum. A little noise. A little pause in power delivery while the transmission upshifts. A hint of vibration felt in the tips of your toes, the small of your back or the hairs on your arms.
Then, there’s the Cadillac ELR: a magical, electric space-car from the future that runs on electricity delivered to a motor that drives its wheels. When driving, and especially when driving in Sport mode, the throttle response is absolutely instant with no pauses to shift, no increase in noise, no presence of vibration, and no sensation of anything mechanical happening elsewhere in the car. And, in that Sport mode, the ELR is more instantly responsive than almost anything I’ve ever driven – thanks to the “all the torque, all the time” characteristic of electric motors. There’s 295 lb-ft of it to play with. That’s heaps.
Give it some gas, er, electrons, and ELR simply glides quietly, noiselessly and effortlessly ahead. Sport mode on and boot down, torsos press firmly into seatbacks, the car blasts off the line, and not a peep of mechanical noise is apparent.
That’s great stuff – and one of several reasons I found Cadillac’s latest to be one of the most remarkable cars I’d ever driven.
Admittedly, I don’t get to drive many battery-powered electric cars. None, actually. That’s because I live in Sudbury, some 400 kilometres from the Greater Toronto Area where the cars I borrow for these reviews live. In the majority of electric cars, I’d be less than halfway home before the battery was more barren than Whoville on Christmas morning – so, most electric cars aren’t potential test-drives unless I want to stop for a number of hours in the Muskokas. And again near French River.
But the ELR made it home just fine.
Though it’s an electric green-car that runs on batteries, it has a four-cylinder range extender – a nifty word for generator – that kicks in once you’ve depleted the ELR’s all-electric drive charge to create electricity, sustaining the remaining battery charge and powering the wheels electrically in ‘real time’ to keep you going. With a full battery and a full tank of fuel, it’s capable of making the 400-plus kilometre drive with no worries of being belittled on the roadside by passing drivers because you’re all out of electrons.
So the ELR isn’t completely an electric car, but it does give drivers a full taste of the electric car experience with none of the worry. Canada is a big, spread-out place, remember – so if you’re keen on electric motoring but not so keen on being confined to city limits, the ELR’s EREV propulsion system makes sense, especially to many of the trendy new ‘Eco-Luxury’ shoppers this car is fluttering its eyelashes at.
Here’s the gist.
2014 Cadillac ELR headlight & steering wheel detail. Click image to enlarge
Plug the ELR’s charger in to the same outlet as your weed whacker, and the other end into the car, wait about overnight, and in the morning, you’ve got a charged drive battery – worth up to 60 kilometres of driving at any speed you’d like. Once that 60 clicks is used up, the 1.4 litre four-cylinder generator kicks in, feeding delicious electrons to the batteries, and motors and the wheels, to keep you going. If you keep it charged throughout the day, or drive less than 60 clicks between recharges, you’d never use gas.
A 240 volt charger can be hard-wired into your house to slash charging time, and there’s a setting which allows the driver to select a higher-amperage charging rate from their household plug, if the wiring can support it, that works towards the same goal.
2014 Cadillac ELR front entry. Click image to enlarge
Of course, the hydro to juice the battery isn’t free, but topping off the electrons costs about the same as a cup of coffee, perhaps less if you use the ELR’s Smartphone app or on-board interface to activate the charger only during cheaper off-peak hydro hours. Not that saving cash is likely a huge necessity for folks dropping 80 grand on a new luxury coupe.
But with the ELR, minimal dependency on gasoline is far from the only appeal. Visiting the gas station less is sweet. You won’t miss the up-selling, the elderly lottery lady checking 14 dozen tickets as the lineup passes the door, or being argued with over which grade of luxury car-wash you’d like. So, that’s good stuff.
But beyond that, there’s an authentically luxurious driving experience to take in with this futuristic coupe. The big doors open via concealed touchpad handles (straight out of the Corvette parts bin) on a world of rich leather, suede, wood, carbon fibre, accent stitching and glinting metal. So many materials and textures and colours combine and intersect here that you could look around for hours. It’s rich and lavish and beautiful, the way a Cadillac cabin should be.