It should be enough to make you want to hug a tree.
The 2014 Cadillac ELR is a smart "hybrid of a hybrid" that runs for about 41 miles in all-electric mode. After that, the gas engine works like a mini-generator and pumps power to the electric motor. (In a true hybrid, the gas engine actually propels the car forward.)
In a recent test, I wanted to squeeze out every last drop of electric power. I set off to Fargo, North Dakota, in search of an EV charging station, a matinee movie, and some Green Mill pizza. What I found was a serious conundrum for the electric car industry.
First, the good news. The ELR drives like a dream. There's a Bose noise cancellation system that removes background noise as you drive--it's like living in an acoustic chamber. The ELR is much peppier than the Chevy Volt, and it doesn't seem to notice potholes.
Eventually, I found a charger at (ironically enough) a Nissan dealership. The EV battery on the ELR was nearly out of juice, so I grabbed the cord at the dealership and connected up. No one seemed to mind or inquired about charging up the car, and there's no cost involved. Pizza and a movie ensued.
Using the free OnStar RemoteLink app, I could check the charge level all afternoon. By about 5 p.m. that day, the status finally read 98 percent--or about 41 miles of EV range.
According to Cadillac, using the 240-volt charger should have taken about four to six hours. At home, connected to a standard 120-volt wall outlet, the charge time was about three times that, or about 12 hours.
(You can select whether the charge runs at 8 amps or 12 amps. The setting is shown under the Energy tab. Using 12 amps drains more power at a faster rate. Cadillac told me the cost will run about $1.75 on average to charge from a zero state up to a full charge. Also, the setting kept defaulting back to 8 amps each time I turned the car off, a safety feature in case you're using an older electrical system.)
After picking up the ELR, we headed to a video game store and went looking for some coffee. There are two main tricks to increase the range in the ELR. One is to go to the climate settings and select ECO mode, which tends to keep the AC running at about medium. Second, there are pads that look like paddle shifters located behind the steering wheel. As I drove around town, I used them to slow the car down, which regenerates some power into the battery. Cadillac says you can increase the range up to 45 or even 50 miles using both techniques.
Surprisingly, the range did increase to about 43 miles. After spending five hours charging up the ELR, and increasing the range by driving smart, we finally depleted the battery.
There's some question about whether anyone buying a car for $75,000 would do any of this. Gas prices are astronomical, but who has five hours to charge a car? It makes more sense if you drive less than 40 miles round-trip in an urban setting each day. Or if you have a 220-volt charger installed in your garage. Or if you really want to save the planet and hug trees.
For me, the Volt is a better buy at $34,170 (minus a federal tax credit of up to $7,500), has about the same EV range, and even felt a little sportier for urban driving. The RemoteLink app I used to check EV charge level requires the OnStar service, free for three years, and then $20 per month. My nephew enjoyed the movie and the pizza; I still spent a lot on gas.