PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
2013 Chev Spark EV 121713 030

Roadbeat

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV has sparkling performance, but…

By December 30, 2013

Pure electric cars are becoming more prolific. The Chevy Spark EV is the newest entrant along the electron highway. It is basically a Chevy Spark mini-compact reengineered for electric propulsion . It was not designed to be pretty; it was designed to be practical: maximum room in a minimal space or footprint. The outcome was a modern-looking car with sharp angles and lines, almost high-tech looking and high-tech it is.

First let’s dispense with the size. Wheelbase is a long for its size — 93.5 inches. Length is a minimal 146.5 inches, making it about as long as a Mini-Cooper. And width is a narrow 64 inches. You could almost park two nose-to-tail where you park a crew cab pickup. With a height of almost 63 inches, you could wear a top hat. Even with its tall practical design, because it uses most of the aerodynamic tricks in the book like shutter grilles, rear diffusers and underbody panels, the coefficient of drag is a relatively low 0.326.

You won’t find an engine under the hood but a 140 hp electric motor that also has 400 pounds of twist, which is as much as a 6.0-liter 2005 Chevy C6 Corvette. But torque does not necessarily make a car quick as that is horsepower’s job. The diminutive Spark has plenty of that, too, especially at low rpm. Instead of a gas tank, the Spark EV gets its energy from a nearly 600-pound , square shaped, 5-cubic-foot case filled with 336 lithium-ion battery cells that have their own liquid cooling system. If the battery case was filled with gasoline, it could hold over 35 gallons. Thirty-five gallons of gasoline weighs 210 pounds and in the gas version of the Spark, that would take you half way across this country (1,400-plus miles; try that without stopping.).

Instead of gasoline, the Spark EV’s energy storage capacity is 21kWh of electricity and the battery can send up to 120 kW at any time. But with “only” 140 hp, the maximum discharge will be about 105kW, which is equal to 140 hp. In normal mode, the Spark EV hustled to 60 mph in a quick 8.03 seconds. Although acceleration is instantaneous, there seemed to be a lag in initial tip-in. In Sport mode this lag is eliminated, bringing the 0-60 mph time to an estimated 7.8 seconds. It will smoke most compact and midsize cars. Passing times were equally quick as 50-70 mph required just 4.98 seconds. Top speed is limited to 90 mph. Normal mode has plenty of zip for any sane driver and maybe a few who are on the cusp. It simply leveled the steepest hills San Francisco had to offer. And with hill hold assist, when you take your foot off the brake for the rheostat (throttle), it will not roll backwards.

Range is claimed to be 82 miles and the Spark should come close to that number. In 43 miles of actual driving the Spark EV used a bit more than 50 percent of its charge and had used 44 miles from the range gauge. It started at 81 miles and after 43 miles of actual driving it was down 44 miles with 37 miles left. That would calculate to about 78 miles of real range, slightly better than the Fiat 500e. The Spark EV also had marginally better acceleration times. But range anxiety is still a problem.

Recharge times are 17 hours on 120V and 7 hours on 240V. Optional is an available 80 percent charge in 20 minutes sometimes called ChaDeMo.

Under foot, the Spark EV is fun to drive. Again it is eerily silent and smooth. It is quick under foot and very responsive and linear to throttle inputs.

Ride and handling are small-car-like except and, perhaps this is because of the EV system, the ride is very smooth and solid. It is not a busy ride, but it is reasonably supple, except over large bumps where damping feels insufficient. Not a big deal. Wind noise is very subdued as is tire or road noise but less so.

Handling is good. The battery pack is located below the load floor over the rear axle. Steering is an electric rack and pinion with a quick 2.8 turns lock to lock and the turning circle is a tight 33.8 feet. It is a bit numb. Its suspenders are MacPherson struts up front with a stab bar and torsion or twist beam in the rear. Coils are at all four corners.  It rides on staggered wheels and tires (as does a Corvette) with 15X6-inch alloy wheels up front shod with 185/55 special Bridgestone low rolling resistance tires and 15X6.5-inch alloy wheels and larger 195/55 tires. Turn-in is crisp and understeer is mild. Cornering attitude is relatively flat.  In everyday driving it is an enjoyable car to drive even if the road bends.

Regen braking is strong with ABS four-wheel discs and there are 10 airbags.

Inside is seating for four in a copious 86-cubic-foot cabin. Fancy it is not, but simple and clean it is. The dash binnacle provides info on battery state, range left, and recharge rate. You can drive like a video game, maximizing range. Seating is on leatherette (or sometimes called plastic, pleather or Naugahyde) and it is comfortable. And as to electronic wizardry, it probably has more connectivity than the Space Shuttle. Full power is standard except for the seats.

How much you ask? It stickers for $26,695 but there is a taxpayer subsidized non-refundable Federal Tax Credit of $7,500 and state tax credits as well. So the price could be as little as $16,695 if you owe enough income tax and the government can sell more government bonds to China (they already hold over a trillion dollars of U.S. debt.). A cheaper way is to lease a Spark EV for 36 months at $199 a month, plus $999 due at signing plus tax, title, etc. There is a mileage limit of 36,000 miles and if you drive more there is a $0.25 charge for each mile over 36,000 miles. GM is losing money on every one they sell or lease, so the price of other GM cars are higher as a result. Whether that’s fair or not, it is because of government mandates. Batteries carry an eight-year, 100,000-mile warranty.

Notwithstanding, for a bit less than $7 a day, it wouldn’t be a bad city car that at $0.15 a kWh for electricity will cost about 5 cents a mile to run. It might be a good alternative for your driving teenage son or daughter. All you have to do is remember to plug it in when not in use and limit your operating radius to about 75 miles and then have a place and time for recharging. If this EV could be made and sold for under $20 large at a profit with a true 120-150 mile range it would be a real alternative. Getting to that point however appears highly unlikely.

Specifications

Price $26,695

Motor

Permanent magnet electric drive motor 140 hp

400 lb.-ft. of torque

Battery Pack

21 kWh Lithium-ion

Transmission

Single-speed automatic direct drive

Configuration

Wheelbase 93.6 inches

Length                   146.5 inches

Width 64.0 inches

Track (f/r) 55.5/54.8 inches

Height 62.6 inches

Cabin volume 86.3 cubic feet

Trunk capacity 9.6 cubic feet

Fuel capacity 21 kWh

Curb weight 2,967 pounds

Steering lock to lock 2.8 turns

Turning circle 33.8 feet

Performance

0-60 mph 8.02 seconds

50-70 mph 4.98[i]

Top Speed 90 mph governed

Fuel economy Estimated range of 78 miles

Larry Weitzman

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