A Diamond Not Quite As Big As the Ritz. You don’t often think of cars as being presented in jewelry boxes—at least not full-size cars, not some sort of Faberge execution of an automobile. But jewelry boxes signify something special. And so Andrew Smith, who heads up Cadillac design, told me that he thinks the ELR is a car that would be well placed in a jewelry box, a car that has a certain specialness to it, a rarity. While some may make much of whatever the sales numbers for the ELR are—and chances are, the number isn’t going to be very high—that misses the point of this vehicle that is not only exquisitely designed inside and out, but which is a technological marvel the likes of which its competitors simply don’t have.
How You Arrive. Let’s face it: with the exception of those who are simply interested in reliable, predictable, affordable transportation, people for whom cars are nothing more than mobility devices that are pretty much a necessity, something required, not desired, it is not just about having arrived somewhere in your car, it is about arriving. It has always struck me as odd that some nouveau entries into the luxury space point out with Excel accuracy just how much better affordability they offer compared with something well established in the class. This is not about snootiness. It is about panache and pedigree. Cadillac has the pedigree. It goes back to 1902. And certainly with the ELR it has the panache. It is about arriving at the restaurant or country club, not just getting there. Imagine being in an ELR and pulling up by someone whom you haven’t seen in a long, long time. Cue the wide eyes. (Then, if you don’t own it, as was the case with me, the long-lost person begins to wonder about how you now roll, as you once owned a Civic or something, not a Cadillac. Which leads to a certain amount of explaining.) Clearly, the car helps telegraph a message. An interesting aspect of what it says is that not only is this a luxury car, but it is a luxury car with an environmental conscience. Which is a nicely crafted statement in many ways, something that old school individuals may think is irrelevant (“Damn it, man, it’s all about horsepower and tufted seats! Now where did Reginald get to with my scotch. . .?”), but which is really relevant.
Sounds Like the Future. You climb into the cabin of the ELR. And you discover that it is much like a cockpit of something that would be monitored by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (if NASA’s funding had been quadrupled). Of course, there are not many space crafts that have microfiber-sueded headliners that even wrap down the A-pillars. You push the “Start” button (or “Ignition switch,” in effect) and suddenly you a sound comes from the speakers, not of the actual engine starting (when conditions warrant the 1.4-liter engine to kick in), but of something that might be heard in the engineering bay of NCC-1701. Then there is another sound when the car is deactivated. (There are actually three distinct sounds that, according to Cadillac, are “Welcome,” “Power Up” and “Shutdown.” They really have to be heard to be appreciated, and just make sure you have the audio system off when you do for the full effect.) One of the things that many auto manufacturers (even Porsche) have been doing of late is to integrate a symposer into the vehicle cabin so as to provide the occupants with more of an engine rumble and roar. The ELR is far more futuristic in its handling of sound. As it should be.
Lean Forward. The coupe’s Cadillac-creased sheet metal exterior features a strong character line wedging up from below the side view mirrors to the top of the taillamps, which then quickly shear off. The car standing still seems to be moving forward. This is accentuated by the LED daytime running lights that are tacked vertically and leaning back, as though being aerodynamically forced. Although the large shark-fin antenna that’s located on the roof near the backlight mars the sweeping arc that starts at the base of the windshield and ends at the upper edge of the decklid mounted spoiler, in some regards it is so comparatively large it seems as though it might be something more than what it is.
Electric(ish). The ELR is not an electric vehicle like the Tesla Model S or the Nissan LEAF. It is what GM calls an “EREV,” or “extended range electric vehicle.” Meaning that the aforementioned 1.6-liter engine acts as a generator, with the electrical output being stored by the 16.5-kWh, 5.5-ft. long lithium-ion battery pack that consists of 288 prismatic cells. (This battery runs down the middle of the cabin, which bisects the car into a four-seater.) The electricity is then used to power the electric motor setup on the front axle that produces 157 hp. All of that said, the only numbers that you really should be concerned with are 340, which is the mileage range of a fully charged battery and full tank of gas; 37, which is the approximate mileage provided by electricity alone (there is a selectable “Hold” mode that allows you to keep the electric assist in abeyance until you really want to go electric-only); 12.5 to 18, which is the amount of time, in hours, that it takes to recharge the battery if you are using a 120-V outlet; 5, which is the amount of time, in hours, that it takes to recharge the battery if you are using a 240-V charger; 8/100,000 or 10/150,000, which represent the battery warranty, with the first digit referring to years and the second miles, with the first set of numbers for the warranty in non-CARB states and the bigger set for the CARB states; 75,000, the base price, in dollars. Maybe only the last number really matters. The ELR is built for drivers, not for those who are performing vehicular calculus.
No Tiffany Blue. The ELR comes in just four exterior colors: Radiant Silver Metallic, Black Raven, Graphite Metallic, and Crystal Red Tintcoat. Smith’s feeling notwithstanding, nothing even near Pantone 1837. But then again, you have to get your ELR at a dealership, not something that would be appropriate, say, on the Champs-Élysées. The ELR really is quite special.
Engine: 1.4-liter DOHC, I4
Horsepower: 84 @ 4,800 rpm
Materials: Aluminum head and cast iron block
Motor: 117-135 kW max drive power; 55-kW generator power
Total system power: 162 kW
Torque: 295 lb-ft
Steering: Electric-assist rack and pinion
Wheelbase: 206.1 in.
Length: 186 in.
Width: 72.7 in.
Height: 55.9 in.
Passenger volume: 83.4 cu. ft.
Cargo volume: 10.5 cu. ft.
Curb weight: 4,050 lb.
EPA: 82 MPGe; 33 mpg (gasoline only, combined)