Cadillac ELR Test Drive Reviews

A couple of GM plug-in car enthusiasts over on GM-Volt have test driven the Cadillac ELR (a plug-in hybrid electric car that comes with a lot of luxury and a hefty price tag). Kindly (and I’m sure enthusiastically), they have shared their own reviews of the Cadillac ELR over on the GM-Volt forum. I’m reposting them both below for more curious eyes (images added).

cadillac elr

Test drove an ELR today… (short)

OK, so I will apologize right now for this review – you won’t get my usual novel write-up. My test drive was way shorter than I had hoped and on mostly crowded streets. I can also completely kick myself for NOT trying the regen paddles or hold mode acceleration! In fairness, the “paddles” are hidden and not like traditional paddles that stick out from the sides of the base of the wheel…ok, yeah, that’s an excuse.

Anyway, some of my takeaways:

Like a lot of you I have stared at pictures long enough that there were no surprises here. It looks like it looks in the pics, but it does have more presence in person. The rear haunches in particular appear beefy and overall the car has that sloped forward NHRA funny car look about it (in a good way). I really liked the head on grill view and those headlights are really slick. The side view could have a little more interest as it is a little slab-sided. Probably didn’t help that it was black and dirty from all the rain we’ve had.

Even in black (which I find to be the least interesting of the interior color choices), it looks sharp. There is leather and suede everywhere (except in the lower section of the rear seat area side panel). The multiple layers and textures are perhaps a bit overwrought, but its nothing you can’t get used to, and really a matter of taste – I love the suede headliner. I have never used CUE before, and I’ve read the 18 billion reviews criticizing every Caddy with it. However, I found it IMMEDIATELY usable, and the screen and graphics were very nice. Touch screen was actually easier to use than the Volt in many respects. I was a bit mesmerized by the sleek screen and general sharp look of the console. The haptic feedback feature was fine and the thing it does when your fingers get close to the screen (i.e. menu of icons pops up) was slick too. Now, admittedly, I tried many of these features out in the parking lot before I pulled away, so use “in flight” might not be as easy. Heck, even after having owned the Volt for a year I find myself hunting for “buttons” on its crazy center stack. The navigation was slick too – just a richer looking map layout than the Volt’s more “cartoon like” layout.

The seats were comfortable, and reasonably supportive (as best I could tell on this limited drive) and electric of course. There was no sliding under thigh bolster like you find on BMW’s sport seats, but I didn’t miss it.

Visibility is typical of a sport coupe (i.e. somewhat limited), but more than tolerable. You want to feel like you are in a German gun turret at Normandy…get a Camaro.

The doors were typical of this class of car – that is to say a bit too big, and heavy. Hardly a deal breaker, but understand that’s what you are getting yourself into…think more 6 series BMW and less two door Miata. As a frameless door, the windows do the little pop down a 1/4 inch and pop back up when you open and close the door (for a tight seal). For some reason, I’ve never liked that on a car…but that’s just me.

The Drive
As noted, it was short. According to Google Maps, it was exactly 4.0 miles and a square (i.e. pull out of dealership and make right onto frontage road, turn right at first light, drive a bit on city street, another right, etc. back to dealership). All told there were 4 right turns not counting the ones out of or into the dealership. I provide this detail so you’ll understand what I was up against in trying to determine anything. The salesman was a bit hesitant about a test drive at first, but I purposely go on week days so as not to waste their time when there are “Saturday buyers” walking onto the lot. I was up front with him when I said my lease wasn’t up for quite a while, etc.

My first impression was when I shut the door…heavy solid thunk. I then pulled out of the parking lot and felt the next defining characteristic as compared to the Volt…the weight. You can really feel the weight difference. It is immediately apparent. I feel the weight of passengers in the Volt and its impact on performance, but this was different. It was more of that big heavy “German” feel. I had the car in Low immediately (since that’s what I drive in with the Volt), and I didn’t notice anything unusual which probably tells me the regen was similar (sorry, we were talking and driving so I didn’t pay nearly as much attention to this). The brake pedal itself seemed to feel a bit spongy…so much so that I noted it…take that for what it is worth. When I pulled out of the dealership I hit the go pedal (dang, its in tour or whatever mode is like “Normal” I thought) so I planted it. Its kind of weird. I could tell this drivetrain felt stronger than the Volt, but with the added weight the end result was similar. The torque didn’t appear to drop off a cliff quite as dramatically as the Volt, but again, hard to remember.

It is definitely quiet, and appeared to be a whole notch above the Volt in this area – maybe a notch and a half (how’s that for being scientific). Unfortunately, I drove my wife’s SUV to the test and wasn’t able to 100% A/B against the Volt when I left. I can say it was a heckuva lot quieter than her small luxury SUV!

When I got to that first light I scrambled to find the drive mode switch (on the console, FYI) and quickly moved it to Sport (which I think is the mode that firms up the dampers and sharpens throttle response). I then proceeded to drive in slow traffic on the city street….not the best test of “sport” mode. I left it in this mode for the rest of the journey since the “drive” is one of the areas I want to address on my next ride. A railroad track was a bit bumpy as I crossed it – no more so than the Volt though – perhaps more isolated. I would have liked to drive over it again in normal mode to see if damper settings make a difference.

I did some accelerating (foot to the floor) on the last two roads and swapped lanes a few times to try and get a feel for the handling. My last impression after this (limited test) was the same as the first. This is a heavier luxury car as opposed to a more tossable fun coupe. Steering was light – since I had drive the wife’s SUV which is a heavier than the Volt it might have seemed lighter than it was, but I think it is fair to say it was comparable to the Volt. The acceleration was modest and didn’t really inspire me to any kind of hooliganism. Indeed, because of the weight, it probably inspired a bit less. Instead, I was more inspired to simply enjoy a nice luxury coupe.

Ultimately, the ELR is a nice car and we all know electric offers a “luxury” driving experience. In 10 years, we’ll see a ton of cars with electric drive trains and they’ll all have that benefit. Today, however, there are a handful and none are as luxurious as this ride. If the acceleration were stronger, the steering feedback a bit tighter and the handling sharper, I might be inclined to streeeeeetch for one of these – but those are my priorities. Not all prospective buyers might agree. In reality, I might still be inclined if the General released ridiculous lease deals. The used car market is another option, but low production numbers will probably keep the values a bit higher than I would like.

A few weeks ago I posted my test drive review of a Tesla Model S…put that car’s acceleration in this body and tighten the handling and I’m trying to find a way to justify a purchase to my wife.

Well, lookie there, I almost got a novel after all… 🙂


Blastphemy has driven an ELR, and he’s very impressed…but not sold

I had the unexpected pleasure of test driving an ELR today. On a whim this afternoon, I checked Cadillac’s inventory in my area and discovered that a nearby dealership had received two. When I arrived at the dealership, I was told the first one had been sold, but the second was available for a test drive. The salesperson got permission from his manager to let me drive a few exits on the highway, so I was able to reasonably put it through its paces.

Some quick answers to questions I’ve seen posted here:

1) The volume of the range extender engine is about half as loud as the Volt’s. The mainstream reviewers who complained about the volume of the 1.4L DOHC I-4 engine were exaggerating and inaccurate. The harsh treble and overtones have been successfully muted and those frequencies do not intrude into the cabin. Yes, you can still hear the engine at higher RPMs, but the noise is absolutely not as loud as the Volt’s.

2) The rear seats do fold forward to allow more room in the trunk, but the center section between the seats does not. So you’re always going to have an obstruction in the middle when the seats are folded down.

3) The stereo system power button works exactly as it should, turning off the stereo but not the entire C.U.E. infotainment system.

4) The reverse camera is better than the Volt’s, and includes the directional guide lines that are missing in 2013/14 Volts. However, I did not have the opportunity to test the backup camera at night or in a dark garage to see if it automatically sets the brightness and contrast properly regardless of the nighttime dimness setting of the instrument panels. It’s still not as good as the camera in my wife’sRav4 EV, but it’s definitely an improvement over the Volt’s.

5) The navigation system does not zoom in to a “building scale” mode like systems in most other ~$80k cars.

6) The ELR does not offer the option of cooled front seats like most other ~$80k cars.

7) I did not see a CD player in the car as part of the C.U.E. system.

8) I’m 5’7″ and didn’t fit in the backseat without slouching uncomfortably or sliding my butt forward. However, it was still a little more spacious than I expected. My wife, who is 5’4″, fit comfortably. The problem is not a lack of legroom, but rather there’s a lack of headroom due to the precipitously sloping back window.

9) The regen paddles behind the steering wheel (which feel more like the large inset buttons you’d find below the trackpad on a laptopcomputer) are either on or off; there are no gradients of regen available. The left and right regen paddles perform the same function, as best I could tell. The paddles move around with the steering wheel, so holding them while turning is not easy (although by the time you’re into a 90-degree turn, you usually won’t need additional deceleration). To me, it felt like the paddles slowed the car a bit more than throwing the shifter into “L” mode.

I’ll start my review here so that it begins on a positive note: The regen paddles are an epiphany. The thrill of not having to reach over and shift into ‘L’ every time you want to slow down is more satisfying than I thought it would be. The placement on the steering wheel is ergonomic, the regen engages instantly when pressed, and it’s very smooth. If you’re a Volt owner like me who typically drives in ‘D’ but shifts to ‘L’ every time you want to slow down, this feature will ruin you for the Volt.

But let’s go back to the beginning… As I walked through the dealer’s lot, I saw one CTS after another, wondering which one would turn out to actually be the ELR. But when I turned a corner and saw the ELR sitting by itself, it was obvious that it could never be confused with a CTS. It was jaw-droppingly gorgeous and will take your breath away. As others have said, photographs really don’t do it justice. This was the Converj concept car I saw at the 2009 auto show, at least on the outside.

Inside, the car is comfortable, has spacious front seats with reasonable headroom (if you lower the seat), and all controls are placed within easy reach of the driver. For the most part, button controls and the C.U.E. system act as expected and are intuitive. The steering wheel controls, though, may take a bit of practice to master because it isn’t obvious what certain things control, nor all the possible ways one can select a button. For example, the main selector on the right side of the steering wheel allows for left, right, up, down, and enter, although the tactile feel of the button only clearly conveys the ability to select left and right, and that selector doesn’t seem to have the ability to control selections on the center nav screen (i.e., it’s only for the instrument panel behind the steering wheel).

Entering a destination in the C.U.E. system navigation was very fast. Letters appear as quickly as you can type them, and you enter the address all at once instead of by city, then street, then house number. You can also use the voice controls to enter an address, which worked perfectly the first time I tried it. I even tried to throw it off by speaking “Navigation Controls” then “Cadillac” as the the point of interest, but it immediately found the dealership and allowed me to select it from the center screen from among additional choices.

My two big navigation system disappointments are that it can’t zoom in to “Building Scale,” and that the sound of the navigation voice is terrible. IMHO, an ~$80k car should not have such a cheap sounding voice. My $62k 2011 Infiniti M56, and all 2012+ Infinitis, have a natural system voice that is pleasant, articulate, and was nearly indistinguishable from a real person. But the ~$80k ELR’s nav voice sounds more like the robotic computer from a second-generation 2004 navigation system. It was worse than the Volt’s.

Regarding battery information, I couldn’t find a physical “leaf” button anywhere on the instrument panel to bring up battery information. The only way I found to get to that screen was to press the virtual leaf button on the C.U.E. screen, and it wasn’t on every screen.

When I tried to pair my iPhone 5 to the C.U.E. system, it worked like a charm. Took fewer than 20 seconds for the whole process.

Once my phone was connected, I played some lossless hi-fidelity tracks from iTunes. Speaking as a professional musician, I didn’t think the sound system was remarkably better than the Volt’s. It sure as heck didn’t perform to the level of the Mark Levinson audio systemfound in the ~$80k Lexus LS460.

The Lane Departure Warning system was as annoying in the ELR as it was in my Infiniti. Trying to convey everything by buzzing the seat under your thigh is not very clear or efficient. I was getting buzzing for lane departure, for Cross Traffic Alert, for obstacles when parking in reverse, etc…. it was useless! You couldn’t differentiate what it was trying to tell you, nor which system was activating it. Give me localized beeps and targeted light warnings any day!

I didn’t have the opportunity to test the Adaptive Cruise Control system, although my test car did have that option installed.

As reported by some mainstream reviewers, the visibility in the ELR is worse than in the Volt, but I wouldn’t consider it awful. Sure, it would be great if the rear window had a bit more size and the ‘A’ pillars were less intrusive to your line of sight, but I’ve driven cars with worse visibility.

Some high-end cars have a feature that automatically moves the driver’s seat back when the car is turned off (to allow for a more comfortable exit). The ELR does not have this feature. The ELR also doesn’t have a head’s-up display, nor did I see evidence of a Blind Spot Warning system (unless that was also the damned buzzing alert under my leg).

OK, so how did it drive? If you’re still with me at this point, I assume you’ve been wading through everything above to find out my impressions about that. Well, it felt like I was driving an expensive Volt. The ELR did not feel any faster than the Volt, even though I had Hold mode engaged. It makes me think that the 7.8 seconds from 0-60 is only available when you’re in range extending mode, not just in Hold mode or Mountain mode. If the faster acceleration actually was available in Hold mode, I didn’t feel the difference. The gas engine did eventually rev up when I floored it, but not right from a full stop. The gas engine in Hold mode appeared to engage exactly the same as it does in a 2013/14 Volt in Hold mode.

After trying Hold mode for a little while, I changed to Sport mode to see if that made any difference. Well, it did – the ELR was a lot more responsive earlier in the accelerator pedal travelBut it felt exactly like my Volt. And since there isn’t any discernible way to engage both Hold mode and Sport mode at the same time, I’m at a loss as to what the heck Cadillac was thinking when it decided to give the car some more oomph with the engine running, but then didn’t give the driver a way to use it while the battery still has a charge.

Perhaps the salesman and I were missing something, but there didn’t seem any way to duplicate Cadillac’s 0-60 number without first depleting the battery. Had the salesman been willing, I would have tried a head-to-head drag race off the line at some stoplight to see if the ELR was faster in Hold or Sport mode, but I did not have that opportunity.

As for the feel and comfort of the ELR in normal driving, it was exquisite. Quiet, comfortable, smooth, and refined. However, I still felt bumps in the road, although perhaps a bit more muted than in my Volt.

And that’s the crux of the problem I still have with this car: Unlike the Volt, the ELR has a HiPer strut front suspension to help lessen the effects of torque steer, a semi-independent rear suspension with a Watts Z-link for better stability in corners, and Continuous Damping Control that adjusts shock dampening every two seconds according to the current driving situation. But because the ELR didn’t improve its overall performance, it’s all wasted! It feels like I’m driving a Buick (which is not necessarily a bad thing, as I find Buicks very comfortable) rather than a Cadillac because there’s nothing in the acceleration or front-wheel drive that allows me to take advantage of the upgraded struts, suspension, and damping!

Sorry, folks – I pushed the ELR as hard as I could, and while it felt more refined, the driving experience was not so markedly better than my Volt’s to make it worth twice as much money to me. Even more than before, I give this car a 10 out of 10 stars… if it were priced at $60,000. But at $76-84,000, it’s just a 6 out of 10 for me.

One note about the dealership experience… if you’re expecting one like you’d get at Keyes Chevrolet or any other savvy Volt dealership, forget it. While the salespeople definitely have been trained and know the ELR, there are still stark deficiencies. For example, get a Volt at Keyes or Rydell in Southern California and the dealership may have your HOV stickers at the time your Volt is delivered. The Cadillac dealership didn’t even know how one acquired those stickers, nor whether the ELR was eligible. (Forget about knowing the difference between green stickers and white stickers.)

And you still get comments like, “the left paddle shifter lowers the gear, and the right one shifts to a higher gear” because the salespersons don’t necessarily understand how the regen works or the finer points of EREV driving. But I’m sure they’ll learn, and if Cadillac chooses to support the ELR and adds more EREV vehicles in the future, I’m sure your local Cadillac dealer will eventually be as savvy as some of our better Volt dealerships.

Bottom line, I want the ELR more than the Volt. Even with the smaller back seat, two fewer doors, and a smaller trunk space, I still want it more. But I don’t want it so badly that I’m willing to pay twice as much for it. However, when leases are finally announced, if they’re in the $750-850 range, I will indeed replace my Volt with an ELR.


Head on over to the links on the subheadings above in order to check out responses to the review.

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