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My First Hour in Cadillac's Tesla-Fighter

Stocks in this article: GM TSLA

I found the front seats to be a little better than the Volt's. They are also electrically adjustable, if anyone cares about that. The seating position is almost identical to the Volt, but on the margin I found that the tiny variances were in the ELR's favor.

The dashboard controls and electronics have been refined from those in the current Volt. In the end, I don't think most of the improvements are important, but the instruments look better for sure. It's a lot more classy and beautiful.

The one fundamental change that's noteworthy are the paddle-shifters behind the steering wheel. In the ELR, they perform the "heavy regen" function of the L position in the gear shifter. In the Volt, you have to move the coarse gear shifter to accomplish this, which is not the refinement worthy of any of these cars. The ELR solution is brilliant, and is in fact similar to what we experienced in the Fisker Karma.

The interior materials are very nice -- suede, leather and wood everywhere. In particular, suede. It is a major step-up from the Volt. However, is it ahead of the interior quality of the major $50,000 car competition from the major German and Japanese brands? I think it is approximately equal to, but not necessarily better than, many of those.

What else is different with the ELR when compared to the Volt? Two things:

1. Power. While the ELR is mostly based on Chevy Volt powertrain hardware, the parts have been tuned and refined -- much of it being in software -- too eke out a few more percentage points of power. If for no other reason, this enables GM to say that this isn't a Volt underneath. Technically it isn't. It's just 97% so.

2. Suspension. For those of you who have driven the Volt, you know the suspension has an odd feeling to it. Also, the car could use some soundproofing, especially from the front wheel wells. All of this has been reworked on the Cadillac ELR, and we will learn more about it when we get to drive it, hopefully very soon.

What about the inevitable comparison with Tesla? Gee, where to begin? There are two ways to look at the issue:

1. They don't compete. The Tesla is a car with huge luggage space and can fit at least five adults, with an optional two-seat situation in the trunk for small kids. The Tesla is faster, is all-electric, etc. etc. Fine! Clearly some people will not cross-shop the two.

2. Some people just want a car that's cool. And the Cadillac ELR is very cool, because it looks like no other car on the road, except another extreme Cadillac. The Cadillac has the inherent flexibility of the Volt, which can work on gasoline just like a regular car. No need to plug it in if you can't or won't. Drive to Vegas on a moment's spur without batting an eye; no need to stop and recharge -- just spend four minutes refueling, once.

The truth is that both approaches are true. Some prospective Tesla buyers would never consider the ELR; others will. I think the latter category is a minority, but it's not zero. Some will depend on price. If GM keeps the ELR's price below $50,000, they could take away more sales from Tesla; otherwise likely minimal.

One thing is clear: When you see a Cadillac ELR, your jaw will drop. It's that beautiful.

At the time of publication, the author had no position in any stock mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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