Review: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

By Nick Jaynes
Monday, Jul 22nd, 2013 @ 6:21 pm
 
If you had told us five years ago that today we'd be looking at a competitive EV market today, we probably would have spit our coffee out in shock.

And yet, here we are. Within the last few years we've seen a slew of all-new, all-electric cars hit the market. Although they've all received their share of positive press, none have exactly been a huge hit with consumers. Chevrolet, however, thinks it has checked all the right boxes. Not to give away any revelations too early, but the Chevrolet Spark EV just might have this whole EV thing sorted.

Rundown
The Spark EV is powered by a 105-kW/140-horsepower electric motor/generator that produces 400 lb-ft. of torque. This torque monster will propel the Spark from 0-60 in 7.6 seconds, which stands as the quickest 0-60 time in the EV market. From there, the Spark EV tops out at 90 mph.

The Spark EV weighs in at 2,967 lbs., which is only 600 more than the gasoline version. Although it might be heavier, its weight distribution is improved, as it now boasts a near perfect 50/50 weight balance thanks in large part to the 21 kWh lithium-ion battery pack comprised of 336 individual batteries, which clocks in at 560 lbs. and straddles the rear axle.

The Spark EV achieves an EPA-rated combined city/highway range of 82 miles. It's also been given the current highest EPA energy efficiency rating in the market at 119 MPGe.

On a 120V power source, the Spark EV can recharge fully in less than 17 hours. Step up to 240V and that time drops below 7 hours. Spark EVs fitted with an SAE Combo DC fast charger, which hits the market later this year, can snag an 80 percent charge in only 20 minutes. Notably, Chevy won't be able to retrofit the fast charger to Spark EVs, a bum deal for early adopters.

Looking mostly like its gas-only brethren, the Spark EV is slightly slipperier due to a few minor aero-enhancing add-ons.

Although the Spark EV is small on the outside, like the gas model, it's rather roomy on the interior. It offers 86.3 cubic-feet of passenger space with seating for four adults. When we tested it, we had two passengers - both over 6'5" - in the front seat and a six-footer in the back. All three fit reasonably well.

The instrument cluster in the Spark EV, just like the standard Spark, is attached to the top of the steering wheel. In place of analog dials, Chevrolet designers have placed a full-color screen to display most specs a driver could want at a quick glance, including speed, battery charge level, as well as high, low and average driving range. A "confidence" gauge displays virtual icons to indicate to the driver just how their driving style is affecting battery drain.

Chevrolet's touchscreen MyLink infotainment system and Bluetooth are also included. On the Spark, MyLinkincludes energy readout screens borrowed from the Chevrolet Volt, as well as an efficiency histogram and a chart of how onboard energy is being used. A $60 smartphone app called BringGo will let drivers run navigation through the MyLink head unit, too.

Spark squares off against the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV at the bottom of the EV totem pole at $27,495 for the 1LT and $27,820 for the 2LT (which adds leatherette seats and real cow hide on the steering wheel). That undercuts the Nissan Leaf by about $1,300, but you can only take home a Spark EV if you live in California or Oregon - at least for now.

On the road
In contrast to the rather remote and aloof Leaf and the golf cart-esque Mitsubishi i-MiEV, the Spark allows the driver to feel connected to the road without feeling flimsy.

Yes, the Spark EV does have 400 pound-feet of torque. But it isn't fast. And, dare we say it, it's not really quick either.

The best way to describe the Spark EV's acceleration is to say it's peppy. Even in Sport mode, the Spark EV isn't the lightning bolt we'd hoped it would be right off the line. Goose it at around 20 mph, though, and you'll get a brief glimpse at that sea of torque beneath the hood, as it'll rip your head back a bit.

The Spark EV is definitely the quickest of its competitors - but not substantially so. It'll never leave you breathless.

Instead, it shines brightest during cruising and cornering. Delightfully smooth, the Spark EV benefits from engineering work to the drivetrain, which dials in positive or negative torque as needed. The result is a degree of refinement we haven't seen before in an EV.

The transmission offer two forward driving modes: "Drive" and "Low." Drive, as you might expect, is for normal driving. Select Low and you'll acces addition regenerative braking. Come off the accelerator and the motor/generator spins backward, slowing the car and generating energy, which is sent to the batteries, effectively extending driving range. Drive, on the other hand, coasts like a standard car when the accelerator is released and regenerative braking is only engaged when the brake pedal is applied.

We preferred the feel of Low, but people who are new to EVs might be more comfortable with Drive, as it more closely resembles the normal driving experience. In the city in Low, we could accelerate and slow the car without ever using the brake pedal.

Here's the kicker: Though we were impressed with the Spark EV, just what we found impressive came as a surprise: It's not a rocketship, despite its 400 lb-ft. of instant torque. Yet it's vastly smoother and more refined than EVs that have come before.

Leftlane's bottom line
Taking its competitors into consideration, the Spark EV has got it all right: It does everything its competitors couldn't: make us feel we hadn't sacrificed anything in order to have an eco-friendly EV.

The only problem? You can't buy one in 48 of the 50 states.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV base price, $27,495.

Photos by Nick Jaynes and Chevrolet.