NEW YORK, New York—It’s going to be a hard sell for Cadillac to convince North American drivers to buy its flagship plug-in sedan. The CT6 plug-in lists for $85,995, which is about a $9,000 premium over the equivalent trim level of the conventionally-powered version.
Its major market will be in China, where it’s assembled at General Motors’ Shanghai plant, and where there are numerous incentives to drive electrified vehicles.
Cadillac hopes to sell 2,000 CT6 Plug-Ins a year in China, compared to perhaps 600 in North America—and most of those will be in California, with probably only a dozen or so making their way up to Canada.
For the extra money, though, you get a hybrid car that can drive silently and swiftly for up to 50 kilometres on a battery charge, with all the extra advantages that might come with that. Could it be for you?
There’s no obvious way to differentiate the Plug-In CT6 from the conventional CT6, aside from a refueling flip-cover on each side and only one pair of exhaust pipes on the right. One flip cover is for the gas tank, the other for plugging in to a power socket. The engine is just a 2.0-litre four-cylinder unit instead of the regular 3.0-litre V6, but that’s all hidden away under the hood.
This is a considered decision by General Motors, to keep the sedan discreet and not tout it to the world as an electrified vehicle. It’s not that GM wants to hide it, but just that it doesn’t want to draw attention to the vehicle as being anything other than a premium limousine. The fact that it can run on electricity alone is more of a bonus than anything else.
Of course, the Plug-In also qualifies for a special licence plate that acknowledges it to be a “green” vehicle. You want to have this—it might give you preferred parking, and it will let you drive in most High Occupancy Vehicle lanes without those additional passengers. For some, especially in congested Toronto and Vancouver, that can easily be worth the additional price.
The CT6 Plug-In is only available in one trim level, and the only options are the colour of the paint and leather. Cadillac doesn’t expect to sell many Plug-Ins at this stage, so it doesn’t make business sense to break it down into different packages.
The package we get is roughly the equivalent of the mid-level Premium Luxury trim, which retails for $77,000. It’s very comfortable and spacious before the over-the-top bump to the $95,000 Platinum edition, with its 20-inch wheels and active rear steering.
There are a few key options for the gas-powered car that just aren’t available for the Plug-In, however. There’s no all-wheel drive, but only rear-wheel drive, and there’s no fancy 34-speaker sound system. There aren’t reclining rear seats, nor are there separate vents for a four-way ventilation system. There just isn’t the space for any of this stuff after cramming in all the technical wizardry of the hybrid batteries and electric motors.
The extra hardware means the Plug-In is much heavier than the regular CT6—the lithium-ion battery alone weighs 181 kg, which is the weight of two hefty American adults. That battery sits in front of and below the luggage area of the trunk, cutting its available space roughly in half, but the car is big enough that Cadillac insists there’s still the room in there for a couple of golf bags.
The CT6 has all the connectivity you’d expect of a premium model, and especially a flagship sedan. The latest-generation Cadillac Cue system works well and seamlessly, though it still takes a while to learn speech accents for spoken commands.
The unique tech is all in the sedan’s drivetrain, in making its performance similar to the 3.0-litre turbocharged car. The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine works with a 120 kW battery to create an estimated 335 hp and 432 lbs-ft of torque; zero to 100 km/h happens in a claimed 5.2 seconds. That’s very quick for such a large vehicle.
Cadillac feeds that power through GM’s special Electric Variable Transmission, which uses two electric motors to move three planetary gears that have an infinite ratio of synchronous shifting. There’s no “stepped” feel of a conventional gearbox, nor is there the potential whine of a continuously variable transmission.
The electric-only range is just 50 kilometres, but you can bypass that power and store it to use when most appropriate: if you live in the country but work in the city, you can leave home on gasoline power and then switch to clean electric power once you’re in urban traffic.
There are also four levels of regenerative power available at the press of a paddle shifter. If you’re in Level 1, for example, and take your foot off the throttle, the car will continue to coast forward just as it would if it was conventionally powered; in the other three levels, however, it will apply proportionately greater engine braking to help recharge the battery. In Level 4, it’s strong enough to automatically turn on the brake lights without needing to actually brake.
There’s no ability to recharge the battery on the fly, however, from the gasoline engine. The German competition offers this, but Cadillac sees no advantage in doing so.
You can drive the CT6 Plug-In exactly as you would the 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 CT6 and notice very little difference, but that’s not the point. It offers you a choice of three driving modes: Hold lets you bypass the electric motor without tapping into its supply, as mentioned above, while Tour allows regular driving and Sport allows “spirited” driving.
Despite its additional weight, the Plug-In swooshes through city traffic with quiet comfort and swings around country curves with precision. It has the superior suspension and stiff body of the CT6, after all. Power is down (by almost 70 hp from the 3.0-litre’s 404 hp) but torque is up (by 32 lbs-ft from the regular sedan’s 400 lbs-ft) and it’s torque that counts for acceleration.
What is really fun is to drive with barely any brakes, flicking the paddles through the regenerative levels to use engine braking instead of the calipers and discs. This didn’t grow old throughout my day with the car, and it’s possible this will become a lot more common in coming years: Hyundai’s all-electric Ioniq offers a similar three-level set-up.
It’s difficult to gauge fuel consumption with a plug-in hybrid, because it all depends how far you drive before plugging the car back in again. If you only drive 50 kilometres on any given day, you could conceivably never need to buy gas again; if you need to drive to the opposite coast, that 50 km of electricity is negligible.
However, there is an apples-to-apples federal rating that says the CT6 Plug-In has a consumption of 3.6 Le/100 km. Make of that what you will.
Unfortunately, there is really no financial benefit in Canada to buying a CT6 Plug-In over its conventionally-powered sibling. It costs $9,000 more than the equivalent trim level of the gas-powered car, and it permits no optional packages. It also cuts the luggage space in half, and replaces AWD with RWD.
In Ontario, which is the most generous jurisdiction in North America for rebates and subsidies for electric vehicles, the CT6 Plug-In only qualifies for $3,000 back—the real incentives kick in only for all-electrics, not cars that revert to regular power after 50 km.
This brings the premium over the gas car down to $6,000, and it’s highly doubtful you’ll save that much money in unused gasoline over the lifetime of the vehicle.
But it’s not just about the money: it’s about producing zero emissions while driving in the city, and it’s about having access to the time-saving High Occupancy Vehicle lanes even when you’re alone in the car. It’s also about having a clean conscience, and letting other people know – discreetly if they should be curious – that you’re doing your bit to save the planet.
If that’s your emphasis (and if so, thank you! Good for you!) then you can also consider the BMW 740e PHEV, the Mercedes-Benz S550e PHEV, and the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid PHEV.
All drive with similar set-ups and under similar circumstances, but only the Porsche can travel as far on its electric charge; the Bimmer and Benz each have less than half the range of the Cadillac. And all three cost literally tens of thousands of dollars more.
The Cadillac CT6 Plug-In is very much a niche vehicle. It will be most popular in regions where there are established incentives to drive such a car, and especially in China, where it can be next-to-impossible to register a conventionally-powered car.
There is a market for it with drivers who can afford to pay for the remarkable technology, and who are committed to helping keep our air clean. These aren’t even the kind of people who are looking for bragging rights—the CT6 Plug-In is too discreet for that.
Its main advantage, though, is the same as its German competition. Pay the money and you can have a clear conscience while driving as much as you like in great comfort—and save your valuable time in the HOV lanes while you’re at it.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.