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2014 Cadillac ELR Review: The Perfect 33-Mile Car

I have no clue how many of these things Cadillac intends to sell, but at a base price of $75,000 and an electric-only range of 35 miles, it’s not going to be many. Nevertheless, the Cadillac ELR is an intriguing car, both in its gorgeous looks and its fun — yes fun – driving characteristics. It makes a compelling case for itself if you don’t live too far from the office, and don’t drive around much during the day.

Let’s start with the price. It’s spit-take-worthy. Even in base form, it’s the single most expensive vehicle in Cadillac’s line, including the massive, luxurious Cadillac Escalade ESV– even if you select all-wheel drive. It blows any idea of saving money on fuel out the window.

MORE ELR PHOTOS: Click here for Full Galleries from Cadillac

Consider this: If you compared the fuel cost savings in an ELR (with a combined MPGe rating of 82), and a CTS-V (with a combined MPG rating of about 16), it would take you more than five years of driving 15,000 miles a year to save enough fuel to add up to the cost difference between the ELR and CTS-V. You don’t buy a $75,000 car to save money, though.

2014 Cadillac ELR Review: The Perfect 33-Mile Car

The other thing to consider is that this isn’t just a Volt. It’s longer, lower, wider and has a longer wheelbase by significant dimensions. It’s also decidedly a coupe, which you’ll notice if you bothered trying to fold yourself into the rear seat. The powertrain might be the same – with reprogrammed software to generate up to 217 hp and 295-lb.ft. of torque – but the car around it is a significant improvement.

Engine

Looks-wise, it’s stunning. While I was out taking photographs in MetroWest Massachusetts, a salesman from the local Toyota dealer on his way home spotted me in traffic, followed me to where I parked, and sheepishly asked me to take his picture sitting in the driver’s seat. That has happened in exactly zero times in the Volt, and only in one other press vehicle I’ve driven in 15 years. It says something for this beautifully styled coupe’s appeal. As you can see from the photo link below, it’s strikingly similar to the Converj ELR Concept that Cadillac showed in 2011.

UR-ELR: Full Galleries of the 2011 Cadillac Converj ELR Concept

HIGH

There’s a big jump between the $75,000 base price and the $83,130 as tested price (including $995 in destination charges). That’s largely in part to the $2,450 Kona Brown leather seats, with a million different adjustments. Our tested ELR also came with adaptive cruise control and intelligent brake assist ($1,995), and a luxury package including massive 20-inch wheels, rear cross traffic alert and side blind spot warning ($1,695). Throw in another grand for the Crystal Red “Tintcoat” paint.

It’s gorgeous inside, and offers all the comfort you’d expect out of an expensive Cadillac. Nice features include a bay behind the HVAC interface with a USB port inside so you can keep your devices safe. The startup cycle includes a series of synthesized crescendos like “Deep Note,” the “audio logo” you recognize whenever the THX logo appears on the screen at the movies. It’s neat the first time. After that you want to dig out the manual to figure out how to turn it off.

DASH

The driving characteristics – which are sort of an afterthought in every other hybrid – are without peer in this class. The suspension is unique to the ELR. Up front, you get GM’s terrific HiPer Strut front suspension, which isolates the up-and-down movement provided by the spring and damper from the steering motion of the steering knuckles. With the ELR’s 295-lb.ft. of torque, torque steer would be an issue without it. It’s proven itself already in the Regal GS and the LaCrosse CXS, and it works extremely well in the ELR.

The ELR also features a Watt’s linkage rear suspension that does an exceptional job of reducing any lateral movement in the rear. Throw in the 20-inch wheels, and even with the ELR’s low rolling resistance tires, it adds up to great handling. Not just great for a hybrid. Great for most other cars, too. We haven’t driven a Tesla Model S to compare – hello? Tesla? – so we have to say that this is the best-handling vehicle of its kind we’ve ever evaluated. Most people aren’t out for fun when they buy a car like this, unless hypermiling is your idea of a good time. But this thing truly is a blast to drive. Trust me.

What you also get is a level of tranquility that even the Cadillacs of the 1950s and 1960s can’t compete with. When it’s in EV mode, you hear nothing other than a faint whine and the rolling of the tires, as you’re whisked out into traffic like you’re riding a magic carpet.

Instruments

It’s also fun to figure out just how to drive it. It has four different driving modes including three of the same modes you’ll find in the Volt – Tour, Sport, Mountain – and a new mode that’s not in the Volt called Hold. Instead of automatically figuring out when to turn the gas generator of and on, Hold allows you to determine how and when you’re running solely on electric power.

HEADLAMP

And this is super cool: The “Regen on Demand” function is initiated by squeezing and holding either of the steering wheel paddles. Pull back and hold and the system activates the ELR’s regenerative braking mode. It’s powerful enough to act as your around-town braking system up to the point where you actually need to come to a full stop. Over an hour or so, I learned to use it to cover most of my braking needs, reserving the actual brake pedal for full stops. Learning how this all works is part of the fun of owning one.

Rear Drivers side

I took the ELR to Providence, Rhode Island on a Saturday night. I had the idea that I could get there completely on electricity and charge it up in the garage adjacent to where we were having dinner, since I’m about 30 miles away from downtown Providence. That would allow me to visit Providence without ever having to hit the gas station at all.

2014-03-15 18.01.32

Only problem? The sole charging station in the garage we parked in was out of order, exposing the real weak point in EV usage. If you buy one of these cars and have a Chargepoint card and the app on your phone, you can usually find one relatively close by, but I didn’t have either, and wasn’t going to drive all over town looking for another garage a half a mile away from where I was having dinner. Rhode Island just got 50 new charging stations thanks to a $750,000 grant from the government, but it’s not like an Esso station on every corner.

VIDEO: The Cadillac ELR Promotional Video

The ELR’s sole competitor, the Tesla Model S, features more spacious rear seat accommodations and 235 miles of electric-only range. But the difference is, when you run out of volts to power the ELR, the gas engine kicks in and takes you wherever you need to go. You’re free to drive the ELR anywhere that gasoline exists.

Wheel Cover

Using the gas engine as a constant backup is inefficient. Over four days’ driving we were able to manage about 39 miles per gallon, factoring in about 50 pure electric miles when the engine wasn’t running at all. Chalk that up to some highway driving, and the ELR’s 4,000-pound-plus curb weight

HVAC

To make the ELR a wise choice, you’d really need to have a quick charge station at home, a quick charge station at your office, and live no more than about 30 miles away, never taking the ELR any further than its EV range allowed. That’s a stretch for a vehicle that costs more than any car, crossover or SUV in the entire Cadillac product line.

There is a federal tax credit available toward the purchase of an ELR of $7,500, effectively lowering the base price to $67,500, but it’s still about as pricey as a Cadillac gets.

Front Thirds

Did I like driving it? Abso-effing-loutley. It’s a terrific handler, the electric motor delivers deceiving acceleration and the interior appointments are beautiful. But it’s hard to justify just what makes this an $82,000 car, other than interesting technology. If you have a very specific commute, and a means of charging on either end, the Cadillac makes a more compelling case. But if you drive the way most of us do every day, there are likely better choices, even looking no further than the Cadillac dealership.