Hated the Commercial, Loved The Car: 2014 Cadillac ELR Plug-In Electric Hybrid Review

Hated the Commercial, Loved The Car: 2014 Cadillac ELR Plug-In Electric Hybrid Review

Pros:

  • Zero noise, zero vibration, full torque at zero RPM make the Cadillac ELR fantastic to drive
  • Plug-in hybrid technology gives great mileage while removing range anxiety
  • Gorgeous and luxurious driving experience

Cons:

  • $83,000+ price tag for the model I drove
  • For the price, it's not the top of the luxury food chain
  • Effectively a two-seater car, due to unfit-for-humans backseats.

Bottom Line:

This is a car for a select niche—but if you are in that niche, I found the Cadillac ELR tremendously satisfying to drive.

First, let's talk about that ad, get it over with, and then move on to electric vehicles and the car itself. You remember the commercial that aired during the Winter Olympics and the Oscars? The one with (admittedly great acting by) Neal McDonough extolling the virtues of workaholic Americans accepting luxury cars as our reward in place of vacations like those lazy French bastards, n'est-ce pas?

"Poolside" was designed to cut through the advertising clutter during those high-profile advertising showcase events and drive awareness for Cadillac and, to that end, it succeeds wildly. While some found the commercial a stirringly patriotic ode to the United States' brand of capitalism, others (like me) hated it. Cadillac's CMO was sufficiently concerned about the tone of the ad to substitute the plug-in electric hybrid ELR for the original car—an unnamed, nonelectric model—to try to make it's "snobby" tone more "palatable."

While you might have passionately argued for or against this commercial's message, the actual car got lost in the noise. And that's a shame, because the Cadillac ELR is a terrific car that (despite being a super-niche offering) more people should know about.

2014 red Cadillac ELRCadillac ELR Beauty Shot © General Motors

Cadillac offered me the opportunity to drive ELR for a week, and I leapt at the chance. Part of me was curious simply because I was so fascinated by "Poolside." Despite my distaste for the message, it is a brilliant piece of advertising and it succeeded in making me take notice of Cadillac as a modern automaker, in a way that even the elevation of the Escalade to a hip-hop and pop culture status symbol hadn't. I also have a deep interest not only in cars, but also in green auto technology. I currently drive a conventional hybrid Ford Fusion, but plug-in electric hybrid technology has moved to the top of my next-car wish list. I have range issues that make me a bit nervous about a purely electric car, so a plug-in hybrid seems like a good compromise.

And that is where the Cadillac ELR shines. I live in Northern California, which is the epicenter of green automotive technology adoption, so I've seen pretty much every hybrid and/or electric car on the road. By the completely unscientific methodology of using my eyes, the popularity of plug-in electric autos seems to be growing rapidly. Sales data confirms my hunch—and, in fact, plug-in electric vehicles are outselling conventional hybrids at the same point in time from when they were introduced. In other words, even though hybrid and electric vehicles are a tiny fraction of the vehicles on the road, there is a growing chance your next car will be electric rather than a hybrid.

The hottest of the electric cars in this part of the world is our local superstar, the Tesla Model S. The higher-range 85 kWh battery is rated at a range of 265 miles. That would cover even some of the longest daily commutes here in the Bay Area, easing range anxiety for most. Coupled with the increasing number of charging stations available around town and Tesla's buildout of supercharging stations, you can easily re-charge while at work, out to brunch, on a Target run or at the movies. If you have $80,000+ to spend on a luxury car, the Model S could be your only car.

But with most other purely electric models (which have ranges under 100 miles), it is unlikely many owners could rely on an electric as their only vehicle, so many people also own an (at least partially) gas-powered backup for longer drives.

There are lots of reasons why luxury car buyers might be interested in electric car technology. Development of cleaner, greener automobiles relies on manufacturers offering the technology, sure, but it also needs early adopters to buy these cars. Electrics are usually more expensive than their gas-powered siblings and often are not eligible for rebates, discounts, and other deals, which means that even with local, state and federal incentives available, the initial buyers generally have deeper pockets and higher incomes. The luxury versions are also where manufacturers put in their latest and greatest bells and whistles. If you want it first, you have to start at the high end. Plus, higher-end buyers are more likely to have the ability to invest in adding chargers to their home, and in making it even cleaner and greener by installing solar panels to support charging. In California and some other locations, electric cars can sport a sticker that allows you to drive solo in carpool lanes, which is another big selling point. Another big benefit is not having to stop at a gas station (or having to stop less frequently, at least). I went from weekly to monthly fill-ups when I got a hybrid.

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