Cadillac ELR Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle (2014 Model REVIEW)

Written By: Andrew H.

                                                        2014 Cadillac ELR Plug-in Hybrid

Resting 12,000 feet above sea level, sandwiched between the Bolivian Amazonian rainforest and the Chilean Atacama desert, is the Salar de Uyuni salt flat. White, almost featureless, the rich crusted salt of the Salar secretes almost half the world’s lithium. Miners pack the salt into six-wheel trucks, and a few thousand miles later, that salt becomes, just maybe, a 435-pound lithium-ion battery pack nestled in the bottom of the 2014 Cadillac ELR.

Make no mistake: the 2014 Cadillac ELR was not inspired by tree huggers or off-grid survivalists. Equipped with everything from cut-and-sewn leather to active noise cancellation, the ELR promises guilt-free luxury. Its solution to “the oil shortage” is not to do without oil. Rather, it hopes its active grille shutters – a quick nod to hypermilers – will obscure its hedonism.

This strategy has proven controversial. Sales are comatose. Should the Cadillac ELR be snubbed, or does it deserve a second glance?

Understand this: The Cadillac ELR is, at heart, a Chevrolet Volt wrapped in the Converj body. It is an extended-range plug-in hybrid vehicle, a Rube Goldberg assembly of internal combustion engine, motors and batteries. It has one purpose: Squeeze the most miles from the least fuel – and don’t let anyone notice the difference.

The ELR is General Motors’ attempt to make an electric vehicle drive like it’s not. Thoroughbred EV’s are plagued by two problems: limited speed and limited range. The ELR works until it’s blue in the face to protest otherwise.

The ELR coupe can drive for 30-55 miles on electricity alone, averaging 37 miles. Why 37? Because that’s how far Average Joe America drives to and from work. Considering the $75,000 price tag, that’s about the only average trait this car can claim. Charging the battery takes 12-18 hours with a 120-volt outlet and 4-5 hours with a 240-volt outlet.

2014 Cadillac ELR Plug-in Hybrid

Once the battery juice is drained, the coupe reverts to a 1.4-liter, 83-horsepower four-cylinder generator that supplies the 157-horsepower electric motor. On rare occasions, the engine can power the wheels directly. The ELR’s prodigious 295 pound-feet of torque are available from a standstill, but as the speedometer needle climbs, the motor quickly loses steam – hence the comparatively slow 9-second 0-60 mph race.

“Nine seconds? Bah!” spat the engineers at Cadillac. So the ELR also comes with a “Hold” function (of unknown R&D cost) that automatically engages the gas engine, no matter the battery charge, allowing for a 0-60 mph dash time of just eight seconds.

To be frank, nobody outside of Brooklyn needs anything faster than a 9-second 0-60. In the same way, nobody needs an expensive HiPer front strut suspension to reduce torque steer and understeer. But the ELR isn’t about what people need; it’s about what people want.

Consider the coupe’s body. It looks like the Chris Hemsworth-version of the Cadillac CTS, all 20-inch machined-faced rims and LED exterior lights. It looks good and knows it. But at what cost? The two vestigial rear seats, more suited for cats than kids? The smallish 10.5-cubic-foot trunk with an even smaller slot opening? The abysmal rear visibility and half-folding rear seats? The ELR is more Art than Science, something designed for a wall poster rather than the road.

The ELR caters to drivers who want to save the world one charity banquet at a time. Its look-at-me interior is a jigsaw puzzle of faux suede, olive wooden inserts and carbon fiber trim, all highlighted by mood lighting. Active noise cancellation blasts sound frequencies to mitigate stray noise from the engine.

In fact, “mitigation” may be the overarching interior theme: a heated steering wheel to mitigate the cold, 20-way adjustable seats to mitigate leg cramps, OnStar for roadside emergencies, Sport driving mode for late commutes, etc. Push a button, and your concerns will be mitigated.

Perhaps its most impressive toys are the safety gadgets. Every ELR comes with a rearview camera, blind-spot monitor and three-year OnStar subscription. Available options include adaptive cruise control, a pulsating safety seat and other gizmos.

Yet for all its lust and lacquer, the 2014 Cadillac ELR does not sell well. Legend has it, however, that future iterations may come with an upgraded brake package. Perhaps Cadillac hopes to boost sales by boosting horsepower.

Does this make sense, trying to boost sales of an eco-friendly coupe by boosting mph? Listen to potential buyer “Carmaggedon,” who first spied the “jaw-dropping” ELR at Pebble Beach. He needs a solo vehicle for California’s HOV lanes in order to cut his daily transit time by 30 minutes. Rather than splurging on a Tesla Model S, which are “a dime a dozen” in Silicon Valley, Carmageddon prefers the ultra-exclusive ELR. When he wants a weekend frolic, he’ll drive his Porsche 911.

With buyers like so, the Cadillac ELR would likely sell best if it simply had no battery.