Sunday, July 28, 2013

EV Review: A Game-Changing Electric Small Car

Introducing the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV
The Chevrolet Spark EV appears to be a game-changer in the all-electric small car market.
At least that might be the case if you’re living in Oregon or California, the only states that Chevrolet will be selling the Spark EV in for now. No mention of any expansion has been made, and we probably shouldn’t expect a decision to be made anytime soon.
For one, there still aren’t a lot of these models around and it can be argued that sales of the Spark EV will be on a limited basis. If the model proves to be a hit, like Chevrolet is banking on, then we might see more states get their hands on the all-electric Spark.
For now, it’s Oregon and California, two states that look to be perfect markets for the Spark EV. One of these places is a blessing to drive, with gorgeous scenic routes everywhere you look, while the other is -- well, let’s just say if you want to make the most out of an EV, California’s the place to be.
As far as the car itself, we love the overall makeup of the Spark EV, so much so that we’d be very surprised if this model isn’t a success sooner rather than later.
Exterior
The exterior of the Spark EV does not look drastically different from the standard Spark model. There are a number of aerodynamic modifications that have been made to the Spark EV that people may not even notice.
For one, full-length underbody panels were installed to help reduce drag and improve handling abilities. The grille, which normally serves as much a cosmetic requirement as aerodynamic purposes, comes with an automatic shutter system that helps to reduce drag and guide airflow around the vehicle.
And since the Spark EV is an electric car, it was important for Chevrolet to have enough space for the battery pack without compromising the cargo space, so it packaged the whole setup under the car, saving that valuable space while keeping the car’s looks intact.
One of the most surprising details about the Spark EV is the hidden rear door handles on the C-Pillar. This not only accomplishes the feat of making the car look more streamlined, but there’s also that added element of welcome surprise when you find it and say, "Hey! It’s a five-door!"
Interior
With the exception of a few details, the Spark EV’s interior doesn’t change a whole lot from its gas-powered counterparts. Of the few differences, the most notable is the smaller cargo capacity for the Spark EV, a pretty big deal given the already tight dimensions of the car as it is. The Spark EV offers 1.8 cubic feet of cargo space when the rear seats are up and 7.8 cubic feet when they’re folded.
The two trims of the Spark EV are the 1LT and the 2LT. They come with some interior differences, too, albeit not significant enough to make them two completely different cabins. Cloth seats are used in the 1LT, while the 2LT has the added treat of leatherette and a leatherette-covered steering wheel.
The use of plastic on the interior isn’t something we’re going to worry about. It is a Spark, after all. And besides, the way Chevrolet designed the consoles gets some nods of approval from us. It’s neither too complicated nor too tacky; it’s cleanly balanced with all the buttons, especially the added EV-related ones, and they're spaced out just fine so it doesn’t look befuddling to the driver. The steering wheel could be uncomfortable for some people, but it’s something that we all have to deal with on other cars anyway.
Performance
The powertrain on the Chevrolet Spark EV is a little complicated, in part because the system Chevrolet used is similar to what it has on the Volt, albeit with a few nips and tucks here and there.
In the case of the Spark EV, the battery takes the form of a 21-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion unit that comprises 336 cells. If that doesn’t get your attention, the compact EV’s performance numbers surely will.
The Spark EV is capable of producing 140 horsepower and a staggering 400 pound-feet of torque. That’s serious power, folks -- power that doesn’t hide behind falling torque curves instantaneously. The Spark EV’s torque numbers stay intact until you hit the upper rev range, at which point it falls back down. Chevrolet claims that the Spark EV can hit 60 mph in just 7.6 seconds, which, if accurate, means that it blows most other EVs out of the water in that regard.
There are numerous ways for the Spark EV’s battery to be charged; chief among them is plugging in to a regular 120-volt household outlet, which takes 17 hours to fully charge from empty. If you can’t wait that long, you can opt for a Level Two 240-volt charger that takes just 7 hours, or a Level Three fast charger that can bring up your battery life to 80 percent capacity in just under 20 minutes. The last option, however, is still not available and will probably be treated as an option by the time it hits dealerships later this year.
Suspension and Braking
The Spark EV relies on a MacPherson strut front suspension and a compound crank rear suspension to handle its tough duties. Brakes, on the other hand, come in the form of four-wheel disc brakes with ABS.
Pricing


The base model of the Spark EV costs about $26,685, $27,495 if its "competitively equipped." Using the latter price as an example, that number will most likely drop further down due to federal tax incentives and, in the case of California’s added state tax incentives, could see the Spark EV costing a little as $16,000, give or take.
Competition
The EV market is a tricky segment these days, in part because of the wide variety of models currently being offered to the public. That being said, only a handful of these EVs can be considered as competitors to the Spark EV.
2013 Smart fortwo electric drive
Smart has never been known to be conventional when it comes to its design and the fortwo electric drive definitely embodies that innovative spirit. The car looks pretty good to us, both in an economical and environmental sense.
But if there’s one aspect where the fortwo electric drive falls short in comparison to the Spark EV, it’s in the performance department. It can only produce somewhere around 75 horsepower and 100 pound-feet of torque, good enough for an 11-second run to 60 mph, but not good enough to even come close to sniffing the Spark EV’s performance numbers.
2013 Mitsubishi i-MiEV
The i-MiEV from Mitsubishi is another interesting competitor. Looks-wise, it can more than hold its own against the Spark EV. It’s also got enough space to accommodate as many as five adults, something the Spark EV can also do, but with less space in which to do it. It could also be a drawback for Mitsubishi that the i-MiEV has a higher base price of $29,125. That’s not something you can just sweep under the rug, especially considering the market these EVs are supposedly catering to.
Conclusion
There’s a lot to like about the Chevrolet Spark EV. Even for a car characterized as an EV, it’s got some serious performance capabilities under its hood, something you normally don’t find with EVs of this class. It could’ve looked better than how it’s being presented, but other than that, the Spark EV can arguably lay claim to being the best electric small car on the market today.