First drive: 2015 Cadillac ELR gives us sticker shock

Sleek, luxurious plug-in hybrid is priced out of its league

Last updated: December 16, 2013 12:00 PM

Even after driving one for 10 days, it’s hard to define the Cadillac ELR. The rich brother of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, the ELR applies the same basic technology to a rakish luxury coupe. While the concept is compelling, the end result just doesn’t add up to the heady sticker price.

Like the Volt, the ELR recharges from the wall and will go up to 35 miles on battery power, and it has a small 84-hp gas engine to generate backup power for longer trips. The ELR also uses the Volt’s 16.5-kWh lithium battery pack.

In many ways, as a car, the ELR makes more sense than the Volt. With a cool-looking luxury coupe, it doesn’t matter as much that the rear seats are cramped. (They are a lot tighter than the rear accommodations in the Volt, already not suitable for adults.) And the buyers for luxury cars have a lot more in common with early adopters who buy cutting-edge powertrain technology, such as plug-in hybrids. To them, it is often worth the additional cost to make a styling statement or have the satisfaction of being a trend setter.

Photo: Steve Fecht

That brings us to the price. In theory, a head-turning Cadillac with all the trimmings should be worth more than a well-outfitted compact sedan, and thus help its maker cover the cost of the battery technology. That’s all well and good, but Cadillac set the base price of the ELR at $75,000, before adding in $900 for delivery, and deducting $7,500 for a federal tax credit. That’s $40,000 more than a Volt! And for that kind of scratch, you could buy a car in a whole different league, like an Audi A7 TDI or Tesla Model S. That leaves us wondering, who will buy this car?

Don’t get us wrong, it’s a lot nicer to drive than a Volt. You can barely hear the gas engine when it comes on. The steering is tight and responsive, although saying it’s as agile as the new CTS would be wrong. The interior is beautifully finished and sumptuous. Even Cadillac’s dreaded CUE infotainment system is less frustrating and more predictable than the sea of jumbled flat-surface touch buttons in the Volt, and the graphics are slick.

But, ultimately, driving the ELR feels rather ordinary. It lacks the zip one might expect from a high-priced coupe. Being a rolling sculpture, visibility is very limited.

Still, as nice as the ELR is, we couldn’t escape the feeling driving it around that for this kind of money, we’d a lot rather be piloting a Tesla, which is a lot quicker, sportier, and roomier, and gives you a whole lot more electric range. One staff member dismissed the ELR as a $75,000 version of the Chevrolet Cruze (on which the Volt and the ELR are, indeed, based). Ouch!

The time we spent in the ELR was with an example rented from Cadillac. We’ll see if the car leaves a better impression once we buy our own to test, after they officially go on sale in January.

Eric Evarts

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