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First Drive: 2017 Cadillac CT6 Plug-In Hybrid

Quiet, effortless luxury

CULVER CITY, California — Full-size plug-in hybrid luxury sedans are a peculiar breed. On one side, well-developed plug-ins offer financially blessed buyers a very quiet and refined driving experience thanks to near-silent electric motors. However, their ethos is a bit strange, considering the fuel cost saved is inconsequential when lined up against the initial purchase or lease price. In the end, the motivation for full-size luxury plug-ins is two-pronged. One purpose is to introduce electrification to the upper crust, who can actually afford the technology, in hopes that things will later trickle down into the mainstream when costs come down and acceptance goes up. Secondly, the elite in places like China, London, or Paris still want to ride in size and style despite rising restrictions on emissions.

Regardless of purpose, big-body plug-in sedans have wormed their way into nearly every luxury lineup, most recently manifesting in the form of the 2017 Cadillac CT6 Plug-In hybrid, a car we briefly used to cruise through scenic Southern California.

It takes a discerning eye to differentiate the Plug-In from the rest of the CT6 lineup. Aside from slim chrome script on the lower-rear portion of the rocker panels, a tiny "2.0E" badge on the trunk, and smaller 18-inch wheels, it appears as a regular, non-hybridized CT6. This is a good thing - the CT6 is a handsome, well-defined design that wouldn't benefit from additional tinsel and trim.

It's only when you start poking around when the physical differences surface. Peer into the trunk, and you'll notice storage suffers for the additional bulk of the big battery. Inside, CT6 savants will notice the absence of the special reclining seats that are optional on the CT6 Premium trim, thanks again to the battery pack. The neat rear-seat infotainment system comes standard, but the top-end 34-speaker Bose Panaray system is noticeably absent. Audiophiles will have to enjoy their 'tunes through the mid-level sound system. You can't special order the Panaray from the factory, either - the CT6 Hybrid offers just one trim level.

That doesn't mean the CT6 hybrid is ill-equipped. The $75,095 Plug-In is plenty cushy and is outfitted standard with a panoramic sunroof as well as a full suite of active safety features, a night vision display, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats, rear seat infotainment, and adaptive cruise control.. Cadillac is quick to point out the CT6 Plug-In presents quite the bargain compared to the similarly equipped Mercedes-Benz S550e ($115,525) and BMW 740e xDrive iPerformance ($98,500). Even without adding options to the Germans, the CT6 stickers for $9,400 - $14,925 less than the Mercedes and BMW, respectively.

Inside, the Caddy serves up a classy enough environment, but the attention to cost compared to the Germans is palpable. While the CT6 lineup has by far the best interior we've seen from Cadillac up to this point, BMW and Mercedes both offer interiors more reflective of their respective price tags. The 7 Series, for one, is loaded to the kidneys with tech, while the S Class is an exercise in gorgeous design and top-of-the-line materials. In this way, the $75,000 CT6 Plug-In is a more compelling purchase than a maxed-out, gas-powered $92,000 CT6 Premium, which might not meet the same level of quality and design as a similar sedan from Audi, Mercedes, or BMW. At this price point, the only competitor the CT6 Plug-In has to look out for is the forthcoming Volvo S90 T8 Plug-In, which should arrive bearing a similar price tag and level of standard equipment.

Driving around clogged L.A. streets, the Plug-In was exceptionally quiet and smooth. The suspension is the fixed, non-adaptive base one, beefed up in the rear to handle the extra weight of the 400-pound battery pack, but we were no worse for wear. It soaked up potholes and expansion joints, leaving us to enjoy the very hushed cabin.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder working in tandem with twin electric motors mated to the transmission. Combined power is a strong 335 hp and 432 lb-ft of torque, allowing the Plug-In to quietly hustle from 0-60 mph in an impressive 5.2 seconds, right on par with other cars in the segment.

We didn't get a chance to huck it around any Malibu canyon roads, but the extra 400 pounds in the trunk was noticeable even on regular city streets. Cadillac claims the two-ton Plug-In is 1,000 pounds lighter than the 5,000-pound S550e, but the extra weight and smaller wheels aren't doing the usually athletic CT6 any favors when things do get twisty. High-level agility isn't what luxury plug-in buyers necessarily expect, but it would be best to save any enthusiastic driving for highway on-ramps rather than your local back road.

It adds bulk, but the Chevrolet Volt-sourced battery pack provides an excellent 31 miles of all-electric cruising range, usable up to 78 mph. This bests the Mercedes and BMW, both of which offer an EV range of 12 miles and 14 miles, respectively. Transitions between gas and electric power were seamless, and usually occurred without our noticing. Cadillac claims 62 MPGe, putting it at the higher-end of the segment when compared with the Mercedes (58 MPGe) and BMW (64 MPGe). Tethered to a 240V source, the Caddy will reach full charge from depletion in 4.5 hours.

In regular driving, the engine and motor work together automatically, draining the battery until the engine is used to supplement power. If you want to conserve battery power for use later, the EV Hold function uses just the 2.0-liter. This is a popular feature for drivers in city zones that restrict emissions, especially in China.

After our quick drive, we came away largely impressed with the Cadillac CT6 Plug-In, especially as an early entrant to a still-budding competitive arena. From an eco-friendly, cost-effective standpoint, it still doesn't make much sense considering the hefty cost of entry, but there are few full-sized sedans that provide as smooth of a powertrain and drive.

2017 Cadillac CT6 Plug-In Specifications

PRICE $75,095 (base)
ENGINE 2.0L turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4/265 hp @ 6,200 rpm,

295 lb-ft @ 2,750 rpm

TRANSMISSION Continuously variable
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan
L x W x H 204.1 x 74.0 x 57.9 in
WHEELBASE 122.4 in
WEIGHT 4,050 lb
0-60 MPH 5.2 sec