First Look Review: 2023 Cadillac Lyriq 450E
The New Standard of the World. The New Measurement of Greatness. Cadillac ads have been promising buyers something new for so long that the whole line has gotten pretty old. Except that this time they really mean it. The all-electric Cadillac Lyriq is so new that it is quite literally unprecedented, an entirely fresh rethink of how an automobile should be constructed around a wholly new form of propulsion, wrapped in an absorbing design largely unlocked from the handcuffs of overbearing brand-identity templates. The Lyriq is as new as new gets.
However, it won’t be so new by the time you get one. The 2023s are all sold out, so folks getting in line now won’t receive their 2024 Lyriq for almost a year. That’s the forecast, anyway. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. After Cadillac executives boasted how the Lyriq’s engineering timeline was yanked forward an incredible nine months—this despite the pandemic shuttering GM for a crucial stretch—it was obvious from our brief drive in Utah that this bun, while yummy, could stand to bake in the oven just a little longer.
We’re not surprised; we did say this car is unprecedented, and even getting it out the door after two years of Covid was a feat. GM has been promising us new vehicles on its Ultium electric architecture for a while, and, technically, the Lyriq isn’t the first. Technically, the first one out of the gate was the gonzo GMC Hummer EV, a $110,000 leviathan weighing three-and-a-half tons and able to out-accelerate a Lamborghini. The first of those are just now reaching buyers. Here on planet Earth, however, the Lyriq is the first real mass-market Ultium-based vehicle. It also marks a turning point for Cadillac; the division says it will not introduce another new internal-combustion-engine vehicle after the Lyriq, as it marches toward an all-electric future.
Aimed at the heart of the midsize luxury crossover segment, the Lyriq 450E (the number roughly approximates the drive-motor’s torque in Newton-meters) carries a base price for of $59,990, with a projected EPA range of 312 miles. These first 340-hp Lyriqs will be rear-drive, but an as-yet unnamed 500-hp all-wheel-drive version with a second motor up front—the 900E?—will hit dealers starting next January priced at $64,990.
As with the Hummer and other EVs, the Lyriq is no featherweight. The base model weighs 5610 pounds by the factory specs. Unlike some other EVs, this five-seat hatchback offers no front trunk, depending instead on its generous interior acreage which includes 28 cubic feet of cargo space with the 60/40 back seats raised, and 61 cubic feet with them folded to near-flatness at the push of a button. Anyone getting out of a sedan or similarly sized crossover will not feel at all shortchanged in this department. In fact, under the load floor is another hide-away storage area, and the cargo shade also stores under the floor in a handy holder so you don’t have to leave it in the garage during trips for bulkier items.
Aside from the vertical light bars in the front and rear, the Lyriq presents as something new for Cadillac. From the side it reads more like a slightly tall wagon than an SUV, with a long hood and low roof reminiscent of recent Volvo products. The “grille” is not a grille at all, but a piece of translucent polycarbonate that has been painted black on the backside and then etched by a laser to create a pattern that, from a distance, resembles pinstriping on a Savile Row suit. At night, these stripes are backlit via LEDs to create some arresting patterns, part of a whole kinetic-light motif for the Lyriq with simulated “movement” elsewhere in the car’s external lighting.
Another bold design element is the wrap-around tail lamps that sweep all the way up into the roof, creating the illusion of a conical rear glass and evoking the aft profile of the Jensen Interceptor, of all things. The otherwise clean and windswept shape becomes a bit fractured in back where panels both vital and decorative come together in a riot of intersecting parting lines. It’s down to the eye of the beholder, but this is not the singular droplet of sculpted metal that some cars are, such as the aforementioned Volvos.
Another wince point is the Lyriq’s door latches. Instead of conventional pull-handles, Cadillac just had to be different with a touch button that causes the door to unlatch and be pushed outward a few inches by a mini motorized plunger that deploys from inside the door. Then, on the front door, you must move your hand to a little finger pull at the base of the glass that lets you draw the door open, thus making what is a one-step process in every other car into an annoying two-step action. And there’s no such pull for the back doors, meaning you must wrap your fingers around the door edge or glass to pull open the door. Smudgy fingerprints ensue, and more than a few baby Jills will get their digits smashed by evil baby Jacks throwing themselves at the door just at the wrong moment. How this design blort got past GM’s usually overcautious lawyers is beyond us.
Inside, the designers went all the way downtown, gussying up the organically shaped cockpit with a myriad of materials and treatments, not all of them harmonizing. For example, in the center stack, the enormous, curved, 33-inch high-res touchscreen is backed up by a panel of what looks like frosted aluminum with an interesting diamond-pattern texture. Directly below is another bezel, this one of bright chrome that clashes with the one above and beams an incandescent reflection into your eyes when the sun shines through the glass roof.
The metal brightwork for the interior door releases features a third, deep-brush finish that isn’t used anywhere else. And more diamond-pattern knurling rings the cupholders and the vent controls. The designers, who perhaps did the whole job over Zoom between binges of Mad Men, also couldn’t agree on a shade of black. You get glossy piano black on some bits, a sort of black-ash wood on the doors and center console which doesn’t feel real if it is, and the dull flatness of hard, molded black plastic in a few too many places. Eye-catching laser cuts in the wood door trim means more opportunity for light shows. However, unfinished mold flashing on the steering column and the telltale creak of plastic-pushing-on-plastic in the center console are painful screams of cheapness. Overall, it is not GM’s best effort.
The wide-as-Cinemascope touchscreen is divided into zones and works like an iPad with menus that you can swipe right or left, either with your finger directly on the screen or via a do-everything knob on the center console. The graphics are super sharp and the processor is lightning quick. For navigation and tunes we plumbed Google apps off our iPhones through the screen using its phone mirroring function, which taps the mighty Googleverse (the best ‘verse) for navigation. Voice commands are one way to direct it, another is to just tap out what you want on your phone. Software glitches plus an external motorized charge door that wouldn’t motor properly punctuated our test drive, meaning the Lyriq’s bugs are still being exterminated. Why the charge door has to be motorized is a mystery. Will it even work when a layer of ice covers it?
One thing GM does seem to know better than most car companies is how EV driving is different from ICE driving. One-pedal motoring via regenerative braking is one area, and the Lyriq gives the driver precise control of it with both selectable regen modes plus a manual paddle on the back of the steering wheel. Unlike a similar paddle in the older Chevy Bolt, the Lyriq’s offers more capability, such that it can be used in conjunction with the throttle pedal to get the exact amount of regen braking desired. If you’re cruising an avenue at, say, 20 percent throttle and the car ahead is turning, you can pull the paddle—a little or a lot, depending on the situation—without taking your foot off the accelerator. If you need to brake harder, lift off the accelerator and/or pull the paddle harder. Or just pick an auto regen mode; you can one-pedal drive in both the low and high settings, though even the low setting is fairly aggressive such that it will bring the car to a complete stop. Basically, the Lyriq is like a Nikon SLR camera with respect to regen; you can just set it on auto and forget about it or take full control with the buttons (the accelerator and steering wheel paddle) to make your own magic.
Ultium is GM’s name for its slick new EV architecture, and it indicates how electric vehicles will be built in the near future by major car companies wanting to do serious EV volume. The core philosophy is stackability; the Ultium battery can grow or shrink as needed for a specific product. The basic building block is a rectangular box called the Cell Module Assembly which contains 24 flat, sheet-like lithium-ion battery cells. There are 12 of these CMA boxes crammed under the floor of the Lyriq, twice that number in the Hummer, and as little as eight CMAs in future smaller crossovers yet to be announced.
Each CMA is just 4.3 inches tall, meaning that a tray of them can be packed under the feet of passengers without raising the floor significantly. Moreover, the CMAs talk to each other and the car’s brain via wireless communication, a tricky bit of engineering that lets the car closely manage battery temperature and charge state—keys to getting both range and fast recharge capability—while reducing the amount of wiring and weight. Further, GM claims it has cut its usage of cobalt, a conflict mineral used on the anodes of lithium-ion batteries, by 70 percent, and reduced the pack’s overall cost by 40 percent.
Charge flexibility is another sales point for the Lyriq. You can plug the supplied cord it into anything from a 110-volt wall socket—it’ll need a few days to fully recharge—to a 240-volt dryer outlet. The latest DC fast-chargers can supply as much as 76 miles of driving in only 10 minutes of charging. Assuming you can find one (there are apps for that). As with other automakers, Cadillac has created a program to assist buyers in getting their garages wired up with a least a 240-volt Level 2 charger, which can pump in about 40 miles of range per hour.
Around the Lyriq’s guts, the plant at Spring Hill, Tennessee (remember those schmaltzy 1990s Hal Riney ads for Saturn: “It’s spring in Spring Hill…”) constructs a mostly-steel cage optimized for electrification, with far different load paths for managing crash energy than a conventional ICE vehicle. After 50 years of making cars that can manage the rearward thrusting mass of an engine being pushed backwards in a federally mandated barrier test, now the engineers must deal with a 1000-pound-plus, bolted-in battery pack that wants to rocket forward in the same test. Top of mind, as well, is preventing the battery pack from deforming or otherwise being damaged internally enough to cause a fire. It’s been a steep learning curve, but GM shows with the Lyriq, which shares virtually no parts with any other GM vehicle except the Hummer, that it’s well ahead in attacking the problem.
Between the motors and the 102-kWh battery pack, the assembly plant applies a thick layer of soundproofing as well as an active noise cancelling system, such that the Lyriq may just be the quietest vehicle you’ve ever driven. Until you light up the 19-speaker AKG audio system. Say what you will about the design, it does not generate discernible wind noise, even at freeway speeds. Cadillac engineers claim the 265/50R-20 and optional 275/40R-22 Michelins are bespoke to the Lyriq and the sidewalls were even shaped to reduce drag (though we couldn’t see much difference). Such wide, low-profile meats rarely offer low noise or a cosseting ride, but the Lyriq glides without any harsh chop to its movements.
The Lyriq’s acceleration is typical for an electric, meaning immediate and swift. But even in sport mode it’s only medium-spicy, not hot, and definitely not chasing Tesla. Not yet, at least. Expect an as-yet-unannounced V version to be the tire fryer. Meanwhile, no struts on this Cad, the suspension is more interesting with a five-link setup at all four corners. Cost considerations prevented GM’s killer MagneRide magnetic shocks from coming aboard the 450E. Yet the “Passive-Plus Premium Dampers,” with valving that lets them self-adjust their damping rates for low-frequency rollers or high-frequency slams, does a credible job of keeping it serene while providing good body and path control for this weighty machine. If you don’t wish to drive, SuperCruise, Cadillac’s name for its self-driving mode, will come a little later in the production cycle as an over-the-air update.
The biggest knocks against the Lyriq are its portly weight and an interior design that may not suit everyone. Plus a shortage of availability for pretty much the next year. However, it has a lot going for it, including respectable ride and handling, exceptional quietness, and fairly efficient interior packaging. It is the future—or at least an early draft of the future, and it is finally, without question, and most definitely “all-new.”
2023 Cadillac Lyriq 450E
Price: $59,990 base, as-tested price TBD
Highs: Quieter than a church on Monday, roomy, mod styling, an arresting use of light.
Lows: Some interior cheapness, silly door handles, almost three tons of heft.
Summary: The New Standard of Cadillac is handsome, quiet, and all-electric.