I recently had the chance to drive a Cadillac ELR, which is a lovely little plug-in hybrid car with a nice powertrain, and gorgeous styling, and a decent interior, and some nice technology. In fact, I would highly recommend a new ELR for somewhere in the $45,000-to-$50,000 range.
Unfortunately, it cost $76,000.
And that makes it probably the single worst value in the modern automobile industry.
Before I continue with my superlatives, allow me to give you a brief overview of the ELR. Back in 2011, Chevy came out with the Volt, which was a plug-in hybrid hatchback that everyone seemed to like, in the sense that it could drive for many hours without provoking range anxiety. This was unlike its fully electric competitors, which made you anxious the moment you climbed inside and realized you could only make it as far as your hair appointment, after which you’d have to rush home and charge it for the better part of the weekend.
So the Volt did fine, and it got a lot of positive press, and General Motors figured they wanted to make a luxury version. So they did: In 2014, they debuted the Cadillac ELR, which was essentially a luxurious, performance-oriented version of the Chevy Volt. This, on its face, makes sense: Luxury versions and performance models are common additions to a popular model line, and the Volt suffered from a slight lack of luxury and performance. It should have worked. But oh, boy, did they screw it up.
The first problem was that the ELR didn’t have any major powertrain benefits over the Volt. The so-called "performance" model wasn’t really any quicker — and it didn’t get any better of an electric range, either. It had some boosts in both areas, but they were so small as to be imperceptible to a normal person. Not exactly the stuff of a performance model — or any car that’s sold at a premium.
The next problem was that the ELR had two fewer doors than the Volt. So you weren’t getting more electric range, you weren’t getting more horsepower or better performance, and you were actually getting less practicality — and, in fact, a LOT less practicality, because the trunk was considerably smaller and the back seats were virtually unusable for anyone other than children.
Admittedly, the ELR did have a few major benefits over the Volt. One was its styling, which I happen to find truly gorgeous. I also loved its interior, which was a major step up over the Chevy version — assuming you didn’t want to put anyone in back. And it had a few more high-tech features, too, like all the latest safety technologies that are still trickling their way into new cars.
But those benefits weren’t particularly substantial, especially compared to the drawbacks — so the ELR’s price premium over the Volt should’ve been minuscule. In 2014, when the Volt started right around $35,000, the ELR should’ve been $45,000 — or maybe $50,000 at the most — for it to make sense.
It was $76,000.
I want you to think about that figure for a moment. Cadillac wanted you to pay $76,000 for the ELR — a luxury Chevy Volt with fewer doors. Just for reference, a 2014 Escalade — with seating for eight, a huge V8 and massive towing capabilities — started at $64,000. A brand-new 2014 Mercedes C 63 AMG, with 450 horsepower, was $61,000. A 2014 Honda Odyssey started at $29,000, meaning you could buy two of them for the price of an ELR — and have enough money left over to get a nice Civic.
Seventy six thousand dollars.
As you can imagine, this didn’t go over well: During the 2014 model year, so much inventory built up that Cadillac had to skip the ELR’s entire 2015 model year. When the ELR returned for 2016, the price had been lowered to $66,000 — a $10,000 drop, but still not enough to make anyone buy it. The ELR was canceled after 2016.
And with all this in mind, it’s time to discuss my personal ELR experience.
I rented the ELR from Turo, which is this service I like that lets you rent cool, unusual, weird cars instead of normal, boring rental cars. Turo gives me a budget to rent cars, so I decided to use it to rent the ELR on a recent trip to the Detroit area. This is largely because it was quite possibly the strangest car listed on all of Turo.
So I borrowed the ELR, and I got inside, and I quickly discovered that I like it. Really, I do. It’s not fast, but it’s reasonably comfortable, and (obviously) quiet, and it really is nice to look at. Handling is relatively secure, I like the modern technology, and overall, the thing was pretty impressive. Honestly, it was a very nice vehicle for $50,000.
Now, I admit, the truth of the ELR is that none of them actually sold for $76,000. Cadillac quickly realized the demand for the ELR would be almost earth-shatteringly low, so they piled on huge incentives, and the dealers discounted them even beyond that. I have no doubt some people actually paid fifty-some-thousand dollars for their ELRs. But the fact that someone, somewhere, at some point along the line actually believed this car could sell for $76,000 is mind-blowing.
When I returned the ELR, I took a good, long look at it, because it’s probably the last time I’ll see one for months, if not longer; after all, this is certainly one of the rarest modern cars that isn’t made by some exotic brand like Ferrari or Lamborghini. And now you know why. Find a Cadillac ELR for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.