When we think of Cadillac, we don’t usually think of economy cars or frugal A to B transportation. This company built its reputation (such as it is) by producing opulent, occupant-pampering luxo-barges with comfort and convenience trumping fuel economy and performance every time. I once drove a 1990s-era DeVille and, just for the hell of it, did a count of the number of badges and insignias throughout the car. There were 27.
But things change. Cadillac has been on the receiving end of significant – and relevant - research and development over the past few years, with GM pouring millions of dollars into its flagship division. Clearly, a decision was made by General Motors brass to highlight Cadillac and try to regain the position of prominence it once had.
It’s been uphill sledding, though. Cadillac just couldn’t let go of the cheap bling, and went through some pretty tough times back in the 1980s and 1990s (who could forget the Cimarron?). In the interim, other manufacturers, such as Lexus, Hyundai, Kia, and so on, have taken up residence in the upper end of the market.
But with the ELR, Cadillac is aiming at upscale buyers who are environmentally conscious in one fell swoop. In Cadillac’s own words, the ELR “is the provocative embodiment of imagination and inspiration…..it’s for those who seek opportunities to move the world forward.” Huh?
So what is the ELR, exactly? Briefly put, it’s an upscale sport coupe that features hybrid technology, GM-style. Which means that this is a battery-powered car that has its own on-board generator. It runs on pure electric power for about 65 kilometres – at all speeds – and then the internal combustion 1.4 litre four cylinder “Ecotec” engine cuts in to replenish the lithium-ion battery pack and extend the range….which is a purported 540-plus kilometers.
If this sounds familiar, that’s because this technology is essentially the same as that found on the Chevy Volt, and it works well enough. During cold starts, the engine fires up first, but once underway, the electric drive takes over. You can also plug this one in and re-charging time is between 12 and 18 hours with standard 120-volt current, and about five hours with 240 volts.
With this set-up, the ELR will deliver a combined power output of 207 horsepower, with 295 foot-pounds of torque. This latter figure is more relevant, and the ELR has good off the line acceleration. One of the nicer things about electric drive is that power is pretty much instantaneous, with no “spooling up” while the drivetrain gathers momentum. It’s not a hot rod, but the ELR can definitely keep up. That said, fuel economy isn’t where it should be for a car of this type; Cadillac is putting it at 7.1 L/100 km combined rating. Plugging in regular helps mitigate this.
Pity it’s not as pleasing behind the wheel. Despite its state-of-the-art technology and stratospheric price tag, this is an annoying car to drive. For beginners, the stereo and climate control functions are a kind of touch-slide arrangement….Cadillac’s so-called Cue system. Touch sensitive, it is supposed to give you more volume with a swipe of your fingertip along the dashboard. Ditto with fan speed and temp control. In a nutshell, this system doesn’t work worth a damn and is arguably dangerous because it takes your mind off the job at hand, which is driving the car. Yes, there are steering wheel-located controls, but it doesn’t help.
Second, the seat belts are fussy and hard to get along with. Squirreled away down beside the centre console, they don’t fall readily to hand and I seemed to spend a lot of time fighting with them. The ELR was one of those cars I just could not get comfortable in, despite being chock-a-block with convenience and comfort features, such as heads-up display, multi-setting heated seats, the aforementioned climate control system, remote start and on and on. It is a Cadillac, after all.
Stylistically, the ELR’s origami/transformer visuals strike a chord or they don’t. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground here; either you really like this one, or it hurts your eyes. Put me in the latter camp. That said, it does have presence; when it pulls up, you definitely know it’s arrived. Cadillac has made a conscious effort to get away from the current streamlined jellybean look prevalent throughout the industry and this is what they’ve come up with.
All of this comes with a price. My tester, with various extras, before taxes, is nudging eighty-six large. Out the door, with everyone paid, you’re perilously close to a hundred grand.
That’s a lotta green.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: Lithium-ion battery-powered electric motor w.1.4 litre “Ecotec” four cylinder engine
Transmission: Four-mode automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Horsepower: 207 hp, combined
Torque: 295 ft. lb. combined
Base Price: $78,250; as tested $86,505
Fuel Economy: 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres, combined rating. Regular fuel.
Alternatives: Porsche Panamera Hybrid, Tesla S, Lexus CT200h, Lexus GS450h, Infiniti Q50 Hybrid, BMW ActiveHybrid5.