Test Drive: New Cadillac 'electrifies' city

Test Drive: New Cadillac 'electrifies' city

March 15th, 2014 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

Cadillac ELR hybrid plug-in coupe

Photo by Mark Kennedy/Times Free Press.

FAST FACTS

Model: 2014 Cadillac ELR

Exterior color: Ashen Gray

Interior color: Jet Black

Engine: Electric motor with four-cylinder gasoline generator

Horsepower: 145 (electric), 84 (gasoline)

Transmission: CVT

Fuel economy: 82 mpg equivalent (electric), 33 mpg (gas)

Dealer: Integrity Cadillac

Price (as tested): $80,165

Pretend it's 1995 and all of your friends have big old cellphones the size of Claxton fruitcakes.

You, on the other hand, whip out an iPhone and everyone at your cocktail party promptly gasps with envy.

General Motors hopes that approximate scene will play out with its striking new Cadillac ELR hybrid plug-in coupe. The $75,000 ELR is indisputably one of the most luxurious, technically-advanced commuter cars ever built in Detroit.

Even though it's not expected to sell in high numbers - only about 1,000 will be distributed this year including only a handful in Chattanooga - the ELR is one of those "halo" cars designed to show what a brand's engineers and designers can do when they put their minds to it.

Bryan House, general sales manager of Integrity Cadillac here, says the buzz is so strong about the new electric Caddy that some folks are showing up at his store just to lay eyes on the ELR, which indeed is one of the sleekest little coupes we've ever seen.

Whether it's cool enough to steal customers from Tesla - the reigning charisma champ among electric vehicles - remains to be seen. Unlike the all-electric Tesla, however, the ELR has a useful back-up 1.4-liter gasoline motor that can extend its range between plug-in charges indefinitely, making it a much more practical ride.

DESIGN AND FEATURES

There are two show-stopping features about the ELR, its space-age design (it looks like it could take wing at any moment) and its fuel economy, the equivalent of 82 mpg when in all-electric mode.

Monday, during an early afternoon test drive, onlookers swarmed the car as I was taking photos near Chickamauga Lake.

"You need to buy that," said one passerby, who assumed I was kicking the tires.

Indeed, the ELR, with its gleaming 20-inch wheels and improbably low roof line, looks like a bullet on wheels. A huge faux grille announces the ELR, and the vertical LED head lamps complete the futuristic vibe.

Our test car came equipped with a luxury package ($1,695) which includes special machined aluminum wheels, premium paint and intelligent (auto-dimming) headlights.

Some in the automotive press have focused on the fact that the ELR is built on the Chevy Volt platform. You can almost buy two Volts for the $80,165 price of our ELR tester. But place them side-by-side and you'll quickly see that this is an apples to oranges comparison. The ELR is a trophy car, a car for the luxury buyer with great taste who also likes the idea of owning a machine that's easy on the planet.

Inside, the ELR envelops front seat passengers in a cocoon of luxury. Supportive leather seats are attractive, although the back seats are exclusively for young children or tiny adults. Top-shelf interior materials include stitched leather, suede microfiber, real wood and authentic carbon fiber.

Our Ashen Gray test car comes with a jet black interior for an ultra-modern, sporty look.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

With a zero-to-60 time of about eight seconds, the ELR is no race car. But that's somewhat deceiving. The torque-on-demand inherent in a vehicle powered by an electric motor translates into lightning-quick reflexes and bursts of speed. Unless you plan on drag racing your ELR, torque is more important than horsepower in most everyday driving situations.

It would take an advanced class in modern auto dynamics to fully explain the ELR's electric-gas propulsion system, but here are the basics. The guts of the system is a T-shaped, 288-cell, 16.5-kWh battery pack that can power the ELR on electric current alone for about 35 miles.

Recharging time on a standard, 120-volt outlet is about 12 hours, or 4.5 hours with a 240-volt charging station. A 1.4 liter internal combustion engine acts as a generator that recharges the battery pack when the juice begins to run low. With a fully charged battery and a full tank of gas the ELR has a max range of about 340 miles.

The car handles well and includes Cadillac's brilliant new suspension tuning.

BOTTOM LINE

The $80,165 MSRP of our test car does not take into account about $10,000 in state and federal tax credits, says Integrity sales consultant Bridget Sanders. GM also estimates that five-year fuel costs associated with the ELR will be $6,500 less than the average gas-only sedan.

If you haven't seen it, the television spots for the ELR feature a seemingly-wealthy American ticking off the virtues of the country's boundless work ethic. It ends with the tag line: "You work hard, you create your own luck, and you've gotta believe anything is possible." In the final seconds of the spot, Mr. Executive starts up his gleaming new ELR.

The first electric Cadillac is indisputably the product of hard work and the power of possibilities. And with any luck, the ELR with help Cadillac draw a new generation of stylish, affluent customers into its showrooms.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.