SHOW FLOOR UPDATE: While official pricing for the 2014 Cadillac ELR won’t be announced for some time, buzz on the show floor suggested our earlier hopeful estimate of $55-60K was perhaps $10K low. Needless to say, the calculator-obsessed among you needn’t bother attempting to justify the ELR’s purchase price on fuel cost savings relative to other tiny lux coupes. But might ultra-hi-luxe trim, raffish good looks, and a substantial fig leaf of environmentalism lure you (or your similarly well-heeled Chinese and European counterparts) into purchasing this Cadillac in greater numbers than have bought its Chevy Volt cousin to date?
Cadillac’s Converj concept, a darling of the 2009 NAIAS, is finally ready for prime-time. Rebadged ELR, the coupe has made the leap from concept to production remarkably unchanged. Cadillac design director Mark Adams says it’s 90 percent the same, with the steeply raked greenhouse, the big 20-inch tires, and the car’s general stance and proportion unchanged. And of course, it’s still powered by the Chevy Volt’s EREV drivetrain, mildly souped up, for Cadillac duty. Perhaps surprisingly, the slinky coupe’s drag coefficient slips from the Volt’s 0.280 to 0.305, while the 1.6-inch wider track and tires contribute to a slightly larger frontal area. The 1.4-liter engine and 16-kWhr battery are identical, but the electric motors now combine to produce 154 hp and 295 lb-ft, up from the Volt’s 149 and 273. This drops projected 0-60-mph acceleration times to around 8 seconds (from about 9 in our experience). Amazingly, all this extra oomph, a curb-weight gain of almost 300 pounds, and the fatter tires only drop the Volt’s 38-mile full-electric range by 3 miles. That’s because Cadillac is using a bit more of the ELR’s battery — maybe as much as 70 percent of it, compared to the Volt’s (recently increased) 60 percent. Based on 193 million miles of on-the-road EREV experience, this change was deemed to present no risk to the car’s 8-year 100,000-mile battery warranty, given the ELR’s expected duty cycle and limited volume. (Don’t necessarily expect the Volt to immediately adopt this depth of battery charge.)
Many other major improvements have been made to ensure Cadillac customers don’t feel they’re driving a tinseled Chevy (remember Cimarron?). Europe’s Opel Astra GTC donates its HiPer strut front corners, which help smooth road shake and allow for more caster angle and the enhanced self-centering steering feel that brings (they also reduce the perception of torque steer, but that’s not as big a problem here). Further improving steering feel is a new cross-car brace connecting the lower control arms. This is unique to ELR. In the rear, the “compound-crank” trailing arm and twist-beam setup is augmented with a Watts link, like the one on the Cruze. Brake rotors are upsized from 11.8/11.5-inches front/rear to 12.6/12.0. Continuous Damping Control tweaks the shock settings every 2 milliseconds and allows the driver to choose between Tour and Sport settings that also tailor the steering assist and throttle mapping. Another enthusiasts’ touch: a pair of shift paddles serve up even more regenerative braking than you’d get with the shifter in “low” range — but only for as long as you tug on either paddle, as when braking for a big corner.
The ELR is noticeably smaller than the Volt inside. That 0.7-inch lower roof exacts a headroom penalty of 0.9 inch in front, 1.3 in back. Rear shoulder room is 4.0 inches tighter. The interior is trimmed as opulently as any other Cadillac, however. Soleil Keisel leather 16-way seats are standard, with Opus semi-aniline full-leather 20-way seats optional (adding side bolster and cushion length adjustment). Sueded microfiber accents the door panels, dash, steering wheel, A-pillar and headlining. Depending on your color scheme (three are offered), you either get olive-ash and real carbon-fiber or a lighter open-pore wood and genuine piano-black trim (real wood painted and lacquered like a piano), separated in either case by a strip of “dark satin trivalent dusk chrome.” The dash pad and door panels are covered in leather-like material that is cut and sewn. The instrument cluster incorporates an 8-inch TFT display that presents essentially the same information as the Volt’s but with unique Cadillac graphics in four different display configurations. Adaptive cruise control and a 10-speaker Bose audio system are unique ELR options, and the latter includes active noise cancellation to mask the 1.4-liter engine’s note. The standard CUE system can read and reply to text messages via voice. The piece de resistance: a motorized cover for the cup holders.
The headlamps, the signature vertical blade daytime-running lamps and tail lamps–indeed every light source inside and out — is by LED. The side-repeater lamp on the driver’s side-view mirror serves as the ELR’s charge indicator, flashing green while charging. The doors seem excessively long, extending well aft of the actual door opening, but this was necessary to drop the window glass. The extreme fastback also results in a mail-slot trunk opening, and the deck-lid’s big goose-neck hinges consume some of the trunk’s 9 cubic feet (only 1.6 less than the Volt). Employing a hatchback like the Volt’s would place hinges right where the rear-seat occupants’ heads go, further compromising comfort. A 110-volt charge cord stows in a compartment in the trunk floor, and the rear seatbacks can be released electrically via buttons on the decklid to accommodate longer skis or golf clubs, but the middle 20-percent of the seatback area is fixed. ELR production will begin alongside the Volt in Hamtramck Michigan in late 2013 with sales starting in early 2014 in North America, eventually expanding to Europe, China and other global markets (the Volt sells in 21 countries.Pricing has not been announced yet, but with the Volt topping out at $45,640, you should probably start saving up at least $55-60,000 (less applicable tax credits).