2014 Cadillac ELR test car in New York's Hudson Valley, March 2014

2014 Cadillac ELR test car in New York's Hudson Valley, March 2014

Let's get one thing out of the way up front: The 2014 Cadillac ELR is rather more than a "tarted-up Volt," in the words of more than one commentator.

It's a quiet, smooth, adequately powerful and very stylish coupe with a luxurious interior, and it runs on GM's most advanced range-extended electric powertrain.

2014 Cadillac ELR at Detroit-Hamtramck

2014 Cadillac ELR at Detroit-Hamtramck

On the other hand, it's effectively a two-person compact car--and it appears to be priced about $30,000 too high.

As Consumer Reports concluded in December, the ELR coupe is simply "priced out of its league."

MORE: Cadillac Scrambles To Defend 'Provocative' ELR Ad: Not 1-Percent At All!

Cadillac says it's meant to appeal to self-made entrepreneurs who makes $200,000 a year or more, and are willing to treat themselves to a luxurious $80K car.

We're skeptical, however, that anyone who may be considering, say, a BMW 640i Coupe (base-priced just $400 more than the ELR), with its 315-hp twin-turbo straight-six engine, will cross-shop a Cadillac. If that happens, we suspect the CTS Coupe would be a far more likely comparison.

2014 Cadillac ELR revealed at 2013 Detroit Auto Show

2014 Cadillac ELR revealed at 2013 Detroit Auto Show

Striking shape, luxe inside

Still, the ELR's shape is striking, and it's a real eye-catcher to the public at large. We got numerous thumbs-up gestures on the highway, and pretty much everyone we showed it to was impressed, if not downright wowed.

The wedge profile of the Converj concept car shown way back in 2009 has been translated to a production car almost intact, and if you want a car to help you engage passers-by in conversation, this one is it. Maybe not as much as, say, a Fisker Karma--but close.

On the other hand, the roofline and two-door profile make the rear seat suitable only for small adults. We did manage to stuff a full-sized adult person back there, but he was unhappy and cramped--and to get any legroom at all, he had to bargain with the front-seat passenger. Like most coupes smaller than, say, a Bentley Continental GT, this is really a two-person car.

The interior is luxurious, with just enough irregularity in the leather and suede stitching to convey a hand-crafted look. (And the ELR smelled nice every time we got inside, too.)

Where the Volt uses hard plastic, the Cadillac has soft surfaces and far nicer materials--not to mention such luxury flourishes as LED headlamps, taillamps, and daytime running lights; Cadillac's CUE touchscreen display and voice-activated control system; and a variety of standard and optional electronic safety systems.

2014 Cadillac ELR test car in New York's Hudson Valley, March 2014

2014 Cadillac ELR test car in New York's Hudson Valley, March 2014

It's also more powerful than the Volt. While it uses the same 16.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, a more powerful electric motor along with the 1.4-liter range-extending four-cylinder engine gives a maximum output of 162 kilowatts (217 horsepower).

In other words, this isn't a Chevy Volt with new badges.

Winter takes its toll

Our test drive came in another of this winter's Northeast cold spells. Over a total distance of 299 miles driven--two-thirds of it long stretches of highway--we ended up driving 96 miles on grid electricity and 203 using the gasoline range extender.

Over that period, the range extender consumed 6.3 gallons of gasoline, for fuel efficiency of 32 miles per gallon. That's only fractionally below the ELR's EPA combined rating of 33 mpg.

On grid power, however, the ELR was slightly disappointing: It used 40.0 kWh to cover 96.2 miles, not even 2 miles per kWh.

2014 Cadillac ELR revealed at 2013 Detroit Auto Show

2014 Cadillac ELR revealed at 2013 Detroit Auto Show

There's an obvious explanation for this, however: It was cold, and one night, it was quite cold indeed (8 degrees F at the low point).

Like all batteries, the ELR's pack is less efficient when it gets cold--and that was reflected in charging times of more than 12 hours using the accessory 120-Volt charging cord and the ELR's built-in 3.3-kW charger.

Not being able to leave the car stationary for more than that time, we didn't get an entirely full battery recharge either night we plugged in the car, adding 30 and 31 miles respectively (and another 10 miles during a 5-hour stopover at a friend's).

Engine on a lot

More disappointing yet, the vaunted all-electric running of the ELR simply wasn't there in the cold. The engine routinely started up soon after we powered up the car, even with 30 miles or more of battery range showing.

Cadillac's Brian Corbett confirmed that ambient temperatures below 35 degrees F will cause the engine to switch on, to provide additional cabin heat.

(Other reasons include battery temperatures either too low or too high, and of course a depleted battery.)

While we found the seat heaters--turned up to their top rating of 3--provided enough warmth within a few minutes to make the cabin tolerable, when combined with the heated steering wheel, it was nice to get that rush of hot air out of the dash vents. Hence, the engine.

2014 Cadillac ELR test car in New York's Hudson Valley, March 2014

2014 Cadillac ELR test car in New York's Hudson Valley, March 2014

We look forward to repeating our test in more temperate weather, when we presume that the ELR will largely leave the engine switched off until the battery is depleted.

Some random impressions from our three days at the wheel of the ELR:

  • The symphonic tones produced when the car is powered up definitely impress passengers
  • Figuring out how to operate the electrically-actuated doors, both inside and out, can baffle first-timers (on the outside, it's a rubber-covered switch inside the depression behind the door; inside, it's a small pushbutton on the vertical surface of the door armrest)
  • The digital instrument cluster and center touchscreen have excellent graphics that pack a lot of information into easy-to-parse displays
  • The speedometer ends at 120 mph, meaning that the highway-speed portion is top center--far more useful than the absurd 160-mph speedos on other luxury cars, where 30 mph is only one-sixth of the way along the scale
  • The right-hand door mirror is set so low that the interior trim blocks a portion of the glass--something we've never seen on any other production car
  • The black plastic key fob is far below the quality expected of a $75,000-plus car, with tiny lettering that's impossible to read in the dark
  • Aren't we done with shiny piano-black plastic yet? It still accumulates dust just as it did six years ago; can we move along, please?
  • The regenerative-braking-on-demand feature does in fact slow the car substantially when you pull back and hold either steering-wheel paddle, excellent for avoiding use of the brake pedal except for the last 10 mph (when regen declines toward zero)
  • The Sport mode definitely makes the car peppier, though we found Normal mode adequate for most driving circumstances

Overall, we enjoyed our time in the ELR. It's more luxurious than most cars we test, the seats were superb, and it proved a relaxing and comfortable place to spend time at the wheel.

Here's the problem: We asked a dozen different people what they thought the 2014 Cadillac ELR cost.

2014 Cadillac ELR

2014 Cadillac ELR

$30,000 over

The answers uniformly came back from the low 40s to about $60,000. The most common reaction when we revealed the $82,000 sticker price of our test car was stunned silence.

In our test car, the $75,000 base price was supplemented by the $2,450 interior package, comprising elegant Kona Brown full leather seats with black accents, including 20-way adjustment for the front seats (power on the seats and their lumbar supports, plus manually adjustable head rests and thigh supports).

Then came the adaptive cruise control, plus auto-collision preparation and brake assist, for $1,995. Another $1,695 added a "luxury package" of 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, premium paint, intelligent headlights, plus rear cross-traffic and side blind-zone alerts.

With a mandatory delivery fee of $995, the total sticker was $82,135. That's some pretty heady territory for a small car with 35 miles of rated battery range and a bit more than 200 hp.

It is, in fact, slightly more than the list price of an 85-kilowatt-hour Tesla Model S, which has 265 miles of electric range, fits four adults comfortably, and accelerate considerably faster--though as Cadillac highlights, the ELR has total electric and gasoline range of 340 miles.


2014 Cadillac ELR

2014 Cadillac ELR

Akerson's call?

One General Motors source who insisted on remaining anonymous told us that now-departed CEO Dan Akerson personally insisted on the $75,000 price to ensure that every ELR sold covered its marginal cost to the company.

If that's true, GM likely won't lose money on the low numbers of ELRs it expects to sell: 2,000 the first year, and no more than 6,000 a year thereafter, according to various executives at various times.

Perhaps no compact-sized car that isn't a supercar justifies a price tag above $75K in the minds of the public.

Certainly we can't imagine too many people paying that price for the ELR, as nice as it is.

But, as a different Detroit insider commented, it'll probably be a hell of a deal when the first ones come off-lease.


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