Cadillac Creeps Up on Tesla With a Plush Plug-In

The new CT6 hybrid pairs a little electricity with a lot of swank.

From

QuickTake: The Drive Towards Cleaner Cars

Cadillac, it turns out, does a great Tesla impression—for about 30 miles at least.

That’s roughly when the battery runs dry on its new CT6 hybrid sedan. For the next 400 miles, the stately vehicle uses gasoline to mimic a BMW, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

As the auto industry’s luxury giants slowly turn their big guns toward Elon Musk and his factories in Nevada and California, they are launching a wave of machines to weaken his defenses. Cadillac’s new hybrid joins a growing field of plug-in leviathans, including BMW’s 740e, the S550e from Mercedes, and the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid.

Make no mistake: With all-electric ranges below 40 miles, these are in a different class than Tesla. They are more like the Toyota Prius, albeit with far more opulent fixings and much better performance.

Cadillac's first plug-in since it yanked the disappointing ELR from production.
Photographer: Mike Windle

I was 20 miles north of Cadillac’s Manhattan nerve center before I started burning prehistoric plankton. “Just tip into it a little here when you get a chance,” Mike Kutcher, lead development engineer on the car, coached from the passenger seat.

The car will hit 78 miles per hour on electrons only, but with a goose of the pedal, the combustion engine murmured to life. It was barely perceptible; With the stereo on, the only indication of which system was powering the car would have been a sliding scale on the cluster gauge.

The killer app, according to Kutcher, is an all-new variable transmission that seamlessly blends the electric input from the battery in the trunk with the old-fashioned explosions from the cylinders up front. General Motors Co. built the gear unit from scratch and the CT6 is the only vehicle using it at the moment.

The automobile offers 335 horsepower, and it gets from 0 to 60 in an urgent 5.2 seconds whether its burning gas or not—a testament to that magic trick of a transmission.

The hybrid has a purpose-built transmission to blend battery power with combustion output.
Cadillac

On our 31-mile trip to a restaurant in Tarrytown, New York, the combustion engine stayed asleep almost the entire time. If we stayed for 4.5 hours and plugged in, the return trip would have been almost entirely electrified as well.

Instead, I selected “sport” mode, nudged the gauge firmly into the gasoline zone and slalomed south on the Saw Mill River Parkway. The CT6, like all of Cadillac’s current sedans, is a joy to drive. The suspension and steering are firm and tight, respectively. For a big car, there’s little listlessness or body lean, and the heavy battery bolted on top of the rear axle planted the car as it pushed through turns.

The 2-liter turbo engine is eager and athletic, occasionally drawing a further boost from the dual electric motors. With the regenerative system set to the most aggressive of four settings, I seldom touched the brake.

The interior trimmings, meanwhile, put Tesla to shame. The seats, in particular, are sublime in cinnamon. The burled wood of the dash makes one feel as if they are piloting a vintage cello. It’s all a notch below Porsche’s new Panamera cockpit, but still pure luxury in the country-clubbiest sense of the word. 

Cadillac has dialed up the opulence inside.
Photographer: Mike Windle

Those in the throes of Tesla fever won’t care, of course. Cadillac knows the CT6 hybrid isn’t a Tesla killer. It already tried that with its ELR coupe, a gorgeous wedge of metal that despite slashed prices turned only a couple of thousand heads in its short time in production.

Ironically, the Cadillac brand is arguably better positioned than any of its rivals to take the fight to Tesla. Brand owner GM has already sourced a battery that can crack the critical 200-mile mark for its Chevrolet Bolt and is ordering enough of them to make the financial engineering work.

Cadillac says it’s far more focused on shape than sustainability—specifically SUV shapes. Its new XT5 quickly became its best-seller and it has three more crossovers in the works.

The flop of the ELR, though, still stings. There was nothing particularly wrong with the car; it just wasn’t quite a Tesla and it wasn’t quite a Cadillac (much of the guts came from the Chevy Volt).  The marque will be not making that mistake this time around. The CT6 plug-in is a Cadillac first and foremost, with the electric motors just an intricate and expensive option. The hybrid costs $75,095 and compares in features to the second-highest trim of the standard CT6, which is about $6,000 less.

“As a premium luxury brand, showing that we can do this stuff sends an important message to consumers,” Kutcher explained. In short, Cadillac made a big, beautiful, plug-in sedan because it can.

That sounds like something Elon would do. 

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