Cadillac ELR

Best American Hybrid Coupe

UNDER THE HOOD

Engine: 1.4-liter 4-cylinder gas + two electric motors
Horsepower: 207
Torque: 295 lb-ft
0-60: 8.1 seconds
Transmission: Multi-mode electric transaxle
Fuel Economy: 82 MPGe (electric), 31 MPG city/35 highway (gas)
Weight: 4,070 lbs
Drive: FWD

I’m whipping around the neighborhood in a Cadillac that looks nothing like the company has ever delivered to the public, and it’s getting looks from everywhere. And who can blame them? From a distance and without the benefit of my eyeglasses, the ELR doesn’t look too dissimilar from a Lamborghini Gallardo — and the neighbors look at the small Caddy like a concept car that’s somehow made its way to the northern suburbs of Chicago. It’s a polarizing vehicle. Those of the environmental ilk think it’s over the top but secretly want it. The ones who can actually afford it don’t much give a crap about its green leanings but love the technology and exclusivity. You can’t please everyone.

Yes, its $75k price tag is high, but by all appearances, the ELR communicates a price point that’s more than that. Maybe it’s the large shimmering chevron grille that reflects light like no other car’s fascia; perhaps it’s the long character line that slopes upward from front to rear. It’s only when the generally car-ignorant general public realizes the ELR is a GM product that the sticker price comes across as a bit of a shock.

And you simply can’t ask if the ELR is worthy of commanding Audi A8 prices until you get into the driver’s seat. Start up is perhaps a bit too futuristic, with a bright green, blue and white instrument cluster and a very audible “whoosh” that could double as a warp drive sound from a Star Trek movie. It’s all very intentional, as if to communicate that everything about the car is a deliberate departure from the Caddy of old. Fortunately, for the most part, it really works.

If it doesn’t earn your love, the ELR earns your respect.

High style in a way that only Cadillac can do makes certain aspects of the ELR shine. The wheeled spaceship’s cabin uses great materials, like wood and Alcantara, with a fit and finish that’s better than anything Cadillac has done before. The exterior is crisp and tight, unlike the folded awkwardness of the first CTS. The big grille is composed of flush-mounted panels that help reduce drag, but the look comes across as more of a styling element than anything purposeful. The numerous “Cadillac” scripts around the car are embedded gracefully and without too much fanfare.

What’s clear is that Cadillac is taking risks, but whether or not the ELR is a wise one remains to be seen. It’s been wrongly accused of being an severely overpriced Chevy Volt, false because the two cars only share a power train and battery. Whereas the Volt seems almost toy-like, the ELR exudes quality, albeit in a space-age manner.

On paper, the ELR is no land rocket, but it dupes you into feeling like it is thanks to immediate torque from its two electric motors. Even when the electric power runs out, the ELR still moves. But best of all was the ELR’s fantastic steering, which was light and responsive — first, for a front-wheel-drive car and second, for an environmentally conscious one.

Helming the ELR elicits American pride in a fresh new way. It certainly makes no sense for someone who cares about driving green but has limited capital, but it makes complete sense when you realize Cadillac is making a brand statement. If it doesn’t earn your love, the ELR earns your respect.

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