How GM Amped Up the 2016 Cadillac ELR

The 2016 Cadillac ELR won’t out-sprint a Tesla Model S, but General Motors’ now-quicker luxury 2+2 makes it another kind of upscale alternative to the Chevy Volt.

With gasoline assist, the compact coupe using an upgrade to the 2015 Volt’s powertrain can now hustle to a respectable 6.4-second 0-60 time, and somewhere in the 7s in pure electric mode . Both hardware and software changes went into a 2016 ELR update. Its price was also reduced this year by $10,000 to $65,995 including delivery fee.

With 40 miles all-electric range, opulent materials and design, and superior road manners, it is a plug-in hybrid with the second-highest EV range next only to the 53-mile range 2016 Volt.

As such, it is emphasizing luxury, comfort, style, and at least matches the 2015 Volt’s range, while delivering more speed. The $33,995 Volt meanwhile stands as the practical and yet more “upscale” than the first generation four-door alternative.

The ELR was launched as a very true-to-original concept version of a 2009 show car, the Converj. When released at $76,000 to dealers at the beginning of 2014, and even a couple months before it had been disparaged by some drawing comparisons to the 60-kwh Model S priced from the lower 70s at the time.

Disregarding criticism that the ELR was a “gussied up Volt,” fans meanwhile called it beautiful, appreciated it for what it was, and as dealers marked them down, folks have managed to snap them up steeply discounted. Model year 2015 quietly slipped by without Cadillac releasing any “2015 model year” version, but observers wondered what it would do for 2016.

Amped Up

At the Volt launch this month, we caught up with Tim Grewe, Cadillac ELR powertrain chief engineer, and Greg Hubbard, chief engineer, Electric and Hybrid Propulsion Systems, who highlighted a few things they did.

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In a press release, Cadillac only says: “All 2016 ELRs contain software upgrades to the battery system improving power and acceleration, with EV range growing on the base model.”

This enables the Sport mode to clip 1.5 seconds from its 0-60 time, as mentioned, and Grewe said mechanical changes were made as well. A spec sheet still lists 8.8 seconds 0-60 in EV mode, but Hubbard suggested this should be as low as 7 seconds or so with more power now in EV mode.

Included in the upgrade are several parts in the “drive unit,” as the gas-electric transaxle is called. It is still based on the former 2015 Volt’s setup with 1.4-liter engine needing premium gas, but the system is reinforced and set up for extra power. The 17.1-kWh battery is new, as the 2014 ELR had a 16.5.

The drive unit has a motor generator A and a motor generator B – two motors coupled to a planetary gearset and gas engine, and is an engineering marvel.

Some of the gears were changed and other components were strengthened to allow up to 233 horsepower (174 kilowatts) and 373 pounds-feet of torque from motor generator B, the larger of the two motors. The former 2015 Volt’s motor was rated 149 horsepower (111 kw).

The LG Chem 288 prismatic cell battery pack also saw some tweaks and an improved inverter was installed.

For 2016, the ELR’s battery can thus supply bursts in EV or “Touring” mode made of up to 215 horsepower (160 kW) for about 10 seconds compared to a maximum 149 horsepower (111 kW) for the Volt. The 2014 ELR was a bit more powerful than the Volt with between 157-181 horsepower (117-135 kW), but the 2016 ELR is more powerful still.

According to Greg Hubbard, when put in maximum-accelerating Sport mode, the 2016 ELR can send up to a full 233 horses (174 kW) to motor B in series mode during hard acceleration. In this mode, the car morphs to a full-on blended plug-in hybrid and will kick on the gas engine as needed with heavier accelerator input.

Power to the motor generator B is supplied by the battery plus the 55-kW motor generator A, which in turn is supplied by the gas engine. The gas engine is rated for 84 horses (63 kW) but there are some losses, so the precise breakout of power from gas engine and MGA and battery are not disclosed.

Still Moseying Along

Perception can mean a lot. Volt fans have said if a German automaker like BMW had introduced the ELR it might have been hoped to have received a better reception.

Whether that is true or not, people can speculate, but that the ELR was tripped out of the gate by the Volt’s legacy, pricing, and a certain company that makes large fast pure EVs in one of GM’s former plants in Fremont, Calif. appears clear.

Tesla is still selling circles around it, but the ELR has qualities as a niche among niche products.

As a 2+2, its back seat space is even less than the Volt’s, but it does not pretend to be more than that, and a legacy of 2+2s predates it.

In other arena people shell out many greenbacks for upscale personal transport with negligible rear seating, but comfortable accommodations for two.

If bought with discounting combined with incentives, people have reported 2014s taken home for below the $50,000 mark, or somewhat over, a massive net discount.

The new ELR has sold this year 740 units. Last year Cadillac delivered 1,310 2014s. It’s still down, so can a deal be had, or would a 2016 Volt make so much more sense? Or a Model S? Or something else?

Not sure, but perhaps telling also is while the automaker did update and cut the price, the ELR did not get the full 2016 Voltec powertrain with all-aluminum Ecotec 1.5 and superior 18.4-kWh T-pack.

Even more clear is this spring Cadillac brand president Johan de Nysschen essentially said there is a reason for that.

“The ELR will continue through its lifecycle,” said Nysschen in New York, “I don’t’ think we will create a next-generation, compact, two-door, gorgeously styled alternative powertrain successor to ELR.”

That’s pretty plain, isn’t it? But does that mean the ELR should be bypassed, or it’s ripe for another negotiated bargain, or fairly priced at full sticker? Only you can determine that.

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