With its giant statue of Marilyn Monroe and homes designed by the likes of William Cody, Palm Springs, California, feels like an open-air museum of 20th-century aesthetic—an observation made more apparent when experienced behind the wheel of the decidedly 21st-century Cadillac ELR Luxury Coupe ($75,000; cadillac.com), which relies heavily on electric power.
Pairing electric motors with a small gas engine, the ELR (pictured here) isn’t purely electric, like the Tesla Model S or BMW’s forthcoming i3—a relief to drivers worried about how far it can go. The car has a driving range of about 300 miles, so if you forget to plug it in overnight to recharge the battery, you won’t be stranded in the morning.
A plug-in isn’t the only feature that will make you feel like you’re learning to drive all over again. The gearbox has four driving choices, including a tour mode (normal driving), a sport mode (increased responsive handling), a mountain mode (extra power on steep grades) and a hold mode (the ability to run on gas only). It can hit zero to 60 miles per hour in just under eight seconds with its extended-range operation and under nine seconds using electric power alone.
The car has a wide stance and a low center of gravity, and the port just north of the driver’s door is for recharging, not refueling. There are two sets of brakes: the pedal on the floor for heavy stopping and the flippers on each side of the steering wheel for gentle turns. Using the secondary brakes puts electrical energy back into the car’s battery. And since your braking strategy directly affects your gas mileage (at the end of the day our readout was 150 miles per gallon), the car gets you thinking about energy in a new, almost addictive way that will change your driving habits.
Cadillac’s offering goes on sale this month, marking the beginning of a coming-out party of sorts for luxury cars heavy on electricity. Here’s a look at what is coming down the road…very quietly.