Over the past decade, Cadillac has been trying to build--or rebuild--its reputation as a world-class luxury brand.

Style, luxury, and performance all play into the mix of its new products, but it may take another decade for the world to think of Cadillac in the same category as German luxury brands--if ever.

That means the 2014 Cadillac ELR, its first plug-in electric car, has to deliver not only more style, but a higher level of features and notably better performance than the Chevrolet Volt whose Voltec powertrain it uses.

The range-extended electric sport coupe, first shown in January 2009 as the Cadillac Converj concept car and approved last summer for production, has sleek and well-received coupe lines.

And it will almost surely have the requisite luxury features, leather interior, and sound deadening of the more soothing side of the Cadillac portfolio.

Voltec doesn't scale?

But all of that adds weight, and as Car and Driver points out, the Voltec powertrain--T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack, electric motor driving the front wheels, and gasoline-driven range-extending engine--doesn't scale all that well.

2011 Chevrolet Volt with hood open, showing range extender engine and Voltec drive

2011 Chevrolet Volt with hood open, showing range extender engine and Voltec drive

The magazine nonetheless suggests that the 2014 ELR electric car will have a more powerful range extender, derived from a newer Ecotec four from GM's Opel unit, so it can deliver higher continuous power to the drive wheels.

The Cadillac ELR may also have a larger battery pack, giving it more stored energy so that what may be a heavier car can have an electric range at least as good as the Volt's. For 2013, the Volt's ratings were raised to 38 miles and 98 MPGe as the car also received a few other feature upgrades.

To keep the weight gain as low as possible, the ELR will use more lightweight materials--some aluminum body panels, for instance.

2013 Chevrolet Volt

2013 Chevrolet Volt

Volt engine swap too?

At least one site has suggested the 2014 Volt will get a different range-extending engine too, replacing the current 1.4-liter four. The current unit is a non-turbo version of the engine used in the popular Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan.

We're not so sure we believe that. The Cadillac ELR needs better performance than the Volt to justify a higher price, which the magazine says could be around $55,000.

But we suspect the Volt may carry on with a refined version of the current powertrain until a new generation is launched around 2016.

ELR bragging rights

And if it does get a new engine for 2014--which would slightly simplify production on the shared Detroit-Hamtramck assembly line--the Volt may use a lower-power version of the one for the ELR, to ensure bragging rights for the luxury coupe.

We've heard through the grapevine, by the way, that General Motors thought long and hard before approving a new generation of the Volt. We'll leave that rumor to dedicated Volt fans to parse.

We're curious to know what you think about the Cadillac ELR. Will it succeed in small numbers? Is the current design attractive?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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