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When you say Spark EV it comes out Sparky Vee, and that's this car's personality. It's sparky and spirited around town, and has the torque of a V8, a big V8, with 400 foot-pounds. The Sparky Vee flat shoots away from stoplights. The new BMW i3 costs nearly twice as much and only has 185 foot-pounds.
Chevrolet Spark EV has an EPA-rated range of 82 miles and gets 119 MPGe using the federal government's formula to determine fuel economy equivalent. With these numbers, Chevrolet claims that the Spark is the most efficient among the 10 EVs available for 2014. It's for sale in California and Oregon, with other states planned to follow. Those states have the most EV charging stations.
The Spark uses the same power system as the Volt, and many of the same components; in fact some of its parts are improved over the Volt's, with ongoing development. Technology is moving fast in the EV world (maybe a good reason to wait).
The 21 kWh (kilowatt-hour) lithium-ion battery pack (more juice than the BMW) has a warranty of 8 years of 100,000 miles, whichever comes first. If you drove a full charge per day, it would take 3.4 years to put 100,000 miles on your Spark.
Chevrolet says if you drive 15,000 miles per year in the Spark EV, you'll save $150 per month in fuel costs, after paying your electric bill (based on 23 mpg gas vs 12 cents per kWh of electricity). You can lease a Spark EV for $199 per month for 36 months, with $999 down.
Average electrical consumption, let's call it juice use, when you're driving around town is about 4.7 miles per kilowatt hour, according to Chevrolet default settings on the instrument panel. According to the EPA sticker, it's 3.57 miles (28 kWh per 100 miles). In Portland where we drove the Spark, electricity is cheap thanks to the Northwest's power-generating dams and windmills, at 8.5 cents per kWh. Our own number-crunching says the fuel cost is about 1.8 cents per mile according to Chevy, or 2.4 cents per mile according to the EPA.
Standard charging is by the 120V cord that comes with the car; it takes 16-18 hours to do a full charge. If your garage is wired for 240V (easy for an electrician to do), you can cut the time to 6-7 hours. For fast charging, meaning an 80 percent charge in 20 minutes or 50 percent charge in 12 minutes, you need to buy the optional $750 DC charger, and find an SAE-standard fast-charging station.
There is a growing pain in this industry, as most existing charging stations are built to a Japanese standard. They'll charge a Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi MiEV or Honda Fit electric, but not the Spark. However the new SAE standard is expected to prevail, and converters are coming.
Charging can be managed remotely using the Spark EV smart phone app, provided by OnStar for three years. This way, charging can be done in the middle of the night when rates go down.
The Spark, General Motors' regular subcompact, was designed and is built in Korea (74 percent parts source), but the EV's motor and drive unit are built in the Baltimore (US and Canada parts, 8 percent). It's a 105 kilowatt hour motor, equivalent to 140 horsepower, good enough to give the Spark the best acceleration among current EVs, with a 0 to 60 time of 7.6 seconds (the lighter BMW i3 will be about 7.0). That snappy acceleration smokes the Honda Fit EV and Fiat 500e, with their times of 9.0 and 9.1 seconds.
The Fiat 500e is awfully fun too, with less torque than the Spark but still plenty, featuring Italian handling and style.
So if you drive an EV off a bridge into a river, will you get electrocuted? We wondered when we drove across one of the five bridges that cross the Willamette River to Portland.
The debate about whether or not an electric car makes sense is getting narrower. With costs and range like this, you can say they make sense if you live in a small town and never drive more than about 30 miles away, or if you live in the city and have a two-car garage. We know tons of those.
You can feel good that your Spark emits zero emissions, but you have to not feel guilty about using $7500 of taxpayers' money, the amount of the federal tax credit against the list price. Plus California gives you another two grand. EV buyers are the middlemen and women in Uncle Sam's purchase of clean air and its subsidy of electric technology. Also, the electricity used to charge the EV often comes from fossil fuels.
Spark 2LT adds heated leatherette front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a steal.
Standard safety equipment includes 10 airbags, OnStar with crash response, tire pressure monitor, stability control with traction control, anti-lock brakes with assist, and LATCH child seat system.
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If electric vehicles turn out to be all the rage, in our vague clean transportation future, it'll be largely because they're fun. How can 400 silent foot-pounds of torque not be fun? Sparky Vee is the stealth burnout king. The sexy new BMW i3 EV, all carbon fiber and aluminum, is getting attention that's burying the blue-collar Chevy, but it costs a lot more and only makes 185 foot-pounds of torque, so there.
The Spark's motor, equivalent to 140 horsepower, is good enough to give the Spark the best acceleration among current EVs, with a 0 to 60 mph time of 7.6 seconds (the lighter BMW i3 will do 0-60 in about 7.1). That snappy acceleration smokes the Honda Fit EV and Fiat 500e, with their times of 9.0 and 9.1 seconds.
Our mileage was better than the rated mileage, without our using hyper-mileage techniques, driving around the city, with only a couple miles of freeway. It's those higher speeds that suck sparks (spark sucker is the new gas guzzler). The EPA rating is 82 miles, and we drove 66 miles in downtown Portland, with another 32 projected on the gauge. The record among GM engineers during their testing is 138 miles.
In the electric world, range is all about what engineers call TTT: technique, temperature and terrain. If you live somewhere cold and mountainous, an EV is probably not for you.
The Spark EV squirts away from stoplights, so no worries about getting in anyone's way. In fact its one-speed transmission and quick getaway will have you zipping in city driving, with the other cars getting in your way. Especially those big, slow-moving, gas-guzzling SUVs.
Unlike with a gas vehicle, an EV doesn't use a lot more juice to get from 0-20 mph, so jackrabbit starts don't hurt range the way they hurt fuel mileage in a gas car. There is a Sport mode that quickens acceleration response, but we're not so sure it needs it.
Out on the freeway at 55 mph, the speed of the electric motor is a very low 2600 rpm, a good thing. The BMW spins way higher.
The Spark EV is 600 pounds heavier than the gas Spark, because the lithium-ion battery itself weighs 560 pounds. So the handling might be less nimble than the gas Spark, but nimble is relative, and it felt pretty nimble to us.
The weight helps the ride, which is firm and comfortable. None of Portland's patches, bumps or edges made us wince in our seats.
The transmission has one speed, but has two ranges, Drive and Low, which adds regenerative slowing. It's often referred to as regenerative braking, but that's a misnomer because the brakes aren't used.
To use or not use Low gear, is the question. It gets down to driving style. Even GM engineers can't say how much it might increase the range. If you like your car to slow down hard when you lift off the throttle, you'll like Low. If you're a smooth driver and glide more, you won't use Low.
Here's where we think we are, driving-wise. An EV is the funnest city car. But now factor in cost and range, and your environmental commitment level. Everyone asks, Is it worth it? It's a question that can't be answered without asking questions back.
Chevrolet Spark EV nails it, with an 82-mile range, 400 foot-pounds of torque, comfort and cargo space. It's unfortunate that the grille doesn't meet the sporty character of the car.
Sam Moses filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Sparky Vee near Portland.
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