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2014 Cadillac ELR: First Drive Review

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author photo by Basem Wasef December 2013

In 2010, the newly introduced Chevrolet Volt elevated many people's opinions of plug-in hybrids, not to mention their perception of the then-troubled General Motors nameplate. Three years later, GM's renaissance has seen the introduction of the 2014 Cadillac ELR, a bold statement about the confidence of the domestic brand.

Based on Volt underpinnings, the Cadillac ELR is a high-end, $75,995 take on the utilitarian sedan. Boasting dramatically different sheet metal from its donor car as well as a thoroughly reworked interior, the ELR sends nearly as many shock waves through the automotive zeitgeist as its seemingly unassuming stablemate did three years ago.

Is the Cadillac ELR a high-dollar ripoff or a bona fide eco-luxury sled? To find out, we spent the better part of a day piloting an ELR through the windy roads of Malibu, Calif. 

Unrecognizable, Inside and Out... and That's a Great Thing

While the Volt featured solid but unexceptional interior and exterior design work, the ELR takes those elements and ramps them up several notches. In place of the Volt's sparse surface treatments are dramatic creases, upwardly sweeping character lines and a chiseled, ready-to-pounce poise that lends the ELR an active, youthful vibe. Visually, this new coupe lives rather nicely amid its sharply styled friends, epitomizing Cadillac's winning recent formula for modern, distinctive lines.

Inside, the ELR is even more impressive, with generous swaths of buttery Alcantara, supple leather and available carbon fiber or wood trim. There's plenty of techy stuff to keep you busy within this compact 2+2, including nifty energy flow graphics and Cadillac's slick-but-controversial CUE interface. The authenticity of the materials and lavishness of the finishes matches many of the best luxury cars in the world, making the ELR's cabin a plush respite from the outside world.

Under the Hood: Tuned for (More) Performance

Though the 2014 Cadillac ELR packs essentially the same drivetrain under its hood as the Volt, software tweaks manage to squeeze eight more horsepower and 22 more lb-ft of torque from the 1.4 liter 4-cylinder/16.5 kWh battery combo. Chevrolet says it examined data from more than 500 million miles driven by Volt customers, which made the automaker confident enough to draw more voltage from the battery to switch to internal-combustion mode. Because of that re-calibration, that increased capacity counteracts some of the ELR's 264-lb weight gain; as such, driving range in EV mode drops just one mile, to 37 miles. Combined estimated fuel economy is 33 miles per gallon, while EV mode delivers 82 mpg equivalent. Hit the open road, and the highway range is estimated at 325 miles. 

Also aiding the ELR is a significantly reworked adaptive suspension system, which offers greater control and better feedback.

Life Behind the Wheel

If you're familiar with the Chevy Volt's driving dynamics, you'll encounter essentially the same -- if a considerably more upscale -- experience from behind the wheel of the ELR. As with the Volt, the ELR's electric mode delivers smooth (and even quieter) acceleration; in gas mode, a perfectly respectable 0-to-60-miles-per-hour time of 7.8 seconds can be achieved. Regenerative braking levels can be adjusted via the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, giving the driver an additional layer of control. 

Lay into the ELR a bit more (as you'll likely be tempted to do, thanks to its sporty demeanor), and you'll hear the small 4-cylinder engine kick in. Its sound rises noticeably during especially hard driving, though it takes some flogging to trigger those unsexy sounds. In the tight corners of Malibu's canyon roads, the ELR tended to "push" (or understeer) when driven hard. More impressive than its perceived heft, which became magnified at higher speeds, was the adaptive suspension's ability to manage a wide range of road surfaces and do a darn good job of taming bumpy stretches into a buttery ride, while offering enough body control in the corners to boost driver confidence.

AutoTrader Says

If price is no object, the Cadillac ELR may seem a near-ideal blend of interior luxury, exterior charisma and eco-conscious modernity -- it's a civilized driver that happens to be exquisitely finished and technologically advanced. But factor in the MSRP, and this $75,995 coupe (more than double the price of the Volt, upon which it's based) becomes an exercise in eco-frivolity.

Don't get us wrong: This is an impressively engineered and superbly finished range-extender hybrid. But with stiff competition from the Tesla Model S and BMW i3, we suspect the ELR will be fated to remain a cult favorite of the well-heeled green set, rather than a game-changing luxury car.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2014 Cadillac ELR: First Drive Review - Autotrader