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BSN* Test Drive: Cadillac ELR at LA Auto Show 2013

While attending the LA Auto Show’s Press Days, we got a chance thanks to Cadillac’s Donny Nordlicht and Juan Carmargo to test drive the Cadillac ELR. For those that don’t know the ELR, it is Cadillac’s first plug-in hybrid vehicle and is actually built on the same powertrain as the Chevy Volt, but with some modifications for more performance and power savings.

The ELR is designed to be a much more aggressive, sporty but comfortable drive compared to the Volt. This is done with a modified suspension and some performance tuning as well as some interesting features like the regen paddles. In the ELR, where you would normally expect to get paddle shifters you have little pressure sensitive spots on the back of the wheel that do a very aggressive regen that allows you to either slow down during bank turns or to reduce speed when coming to a light. These paddles, when used appropriately can help many drivers to control when they regenerate battery power and recoup power from their aggressive driving in order to avoid needing a top up of the battery from the gas generator.

First, we took a look at the car front to back and then headed down to the garage for the test drive.

As you can tell, this car has no visible exhaust and Cadillac has done some interesting design things with the car to create the illusion of not having a tailpipe on the back of the car. Also, due to the flow of the car, it is much better looking than some of its other plug-in hybrid counterparts, including the Volt and probably has a lower drag coefficient as well.

Next, we walked down to the garage where we were allowed to drive the car as many times as we wanted around the area surrounding the convention center and LA Live.

After the walk around, it was time to get into the car and inside, the car felt a lot like the new ATS and CTS, especially with the CUE system. The interior felt a lot like someone had taken the interior from the new CTS and slapped it inside of a Volt. The car itself didn’t seem very cramped, but the back seat was definitely about the same size as it is in the ATS, not the CTS.

One of the things about the ELR I didn’t particularly like was the fact that when you turn on the car it doesn’t give you a sense that the car has started. A lot of electric and hybrid vehicles have this problem and it needs to be resolved because it creates a perception that the vehicle isn’t on without an engine sound turning on or the vibration of the engine. A simple tone could resolve this issue or a vibration on the steering wheel, I’m not sure what’s more important but I believe a combination of the two may result in the best solution to fix this natural perception issue.

While driving around, I was really amazed by the car’s overall performance and comfort. It is definitely a really great city car and doesn’t feel like you’re driving an EV at all. You don’t quite feel like you’re driving a gas car either, but it definitely sits somewhere in between. I would say that this car is overall pretty agile, but not necessarily a high-performance vehicle. It doesn’t have anything of the pickup that we’ve experienced with cars like the Tesla Model S or even the completely unrelated Spark EV. I would be nice, however, to see GM do something like they did with the Spark to one of their Cadillac vehicles, because that thing was surprisingly a lot of fun to drive. Don’t get me wrong, the regen paddles on the Cadillac ELR are great, but we simply didn’t have much of an opportunity to really open up the ELR and drive it around. We got more of a prolonged test drive, but that was enough to get us excited about this car’s prospects for people looking for a luxury alternative to the Telsa that isn’t as expensive and doesn’t ever run out of energy thanks to a gas generator.

The ELR has a list price of $75,995 (including destination). With the federal tax credit, the base price (including a $995 destination fee) can be as low as $68,495. There could also be additional state rebates and tax credits depending on the state that you live in. We asked about California and were told that those details will be available closer to the car’s availability in January. The ELR will also qualify for California HOV lane access, so you can zoom by traffic during rushour without needing a passenger.

While I do think the price is a bit steep, the ELR comes with a lot of generally optional features as standard ones. Such as the CUE system, backup camera and parking sensors. Those features alone already run into the thousands of dollars, so there is definitely some buried value within the car’s price when compared to other Cadillac and GM vehicles. But no matter which way you cut it, this is a pretty sexy car that has some potentially great economics and proven comfort. Now if only they could get CUE to work right, it may be contender for the best hybrid vehicle on the market.