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Auto review: Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid

The 2014 ELR is the most premium Cadillac

The 2014 ELR is the most premium Cadillac on the market, including far more upscale features as standard equipment than any other Cadillac to date. Photo Credit: General Motors

The most attention that Cadillac has so far received for its first electric range-extended luxury vehicle is an uproar over its price. The 2014 ELR plug-in-hybrid sports coupe starts at $76,990 -- almost $4,000 more than an entry-level Tesla Model S, and more than double the price of the Chevrolet Volt, the groundbreaking car that proved General Motors' series hybrid powertrain.

The hullabaloo has only served to highlight the question every potential buyer asks of any car: Is it worth the money?

Yes and no. The ELR is the most premium Cadillac on the market, including far more upscale features as standard equipment than any other Cadillac to date, such as LED lights, an 8-inch full-color LCD infotainment screen and 20-inch wheels. The leather, carbon fiber and wood that make up the interior are hand-crafted. And the driving experience is performance-oriented, having the instant torque of an electric motor and direct drive that negates the need for shifting.

So if the buyer's intention is to have the most deluxe, easy-to-drive, fuel-efficient Cadillac on the market, the ELR would certainly be it.

But if the buyer is more eco-oriented and seeking any kind of return on investment for fuel savings, there are better options. The ELR's true value is its all-around uniqueness.

The ELR is a plug-in-electric hybrid that uses the same propulsion system as the Volt. That means it can run as a pure electric vehicle for about 35 miles using the electricity pulled from the grid and packed into its lithium-ion battery, or as a series hybrid that employs a 1.4-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine as a generator to charge the batteries that drive the electric motor that powers the car. Combined, the ELR can travel 330 miles on a full tank of gas and a full charge.

My favorite feature of the ELR was its Regen on Demand. The patented system making its debut on Cadillac's latest uses steering-wheel-mounted paddles, similar in operation to paddle shifters, to brake and replenish power to the battery.

Clicking the paddle replicates the feel of engine braking and instantly decelerates the car, though for hard stops, the brake pedal is still needed.

Overall, the design mandate for the ELR seemed to be one of understated elegance. The ELR lets subtle design cues indicate its eco pedigree, such as a dramatic flush-mount grille topped with LED headlights shaped like princess-cut diamonds.

The question now is how many people will buy in to the ELR's alluring, if steeply priced, premise.

The ELR goes on sale in January.


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