Vital Stats

Engine:
Permanent-Magnet Electric Motor
Power:
140 HP / 400 LB-FT
Transmission:
Single-Speed
0-60 Time:
7.6 Seconds
Top Speed:
90 MPH
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,967 LBS
Seating:
2+2
Cargo:
9.6 CU-FT / 23.4 CU-FT
MPG:
128 City / 109 HWY (MPGe)
Base Price:
$26,685
As Tested Price:
$27,820
Side Effects May Include Grinning and Tire Chirping



For anyone who has yet to experience the joys of indoor go-karting, you're missing out. Electric karts race around the inside of former big-box retail establishments, warehouses and the like delivering more excitement than you typically get from those rickety old concession karts powered by lawnmower engines. Since we can't afford anything wearing a Tesla badge, these usually come to mind when someone mentions an electric vehicle that's fun. After driving the 2014 Chevrolet Spark, though, our mental association might just be out of date.

Thanks to their instant torque, an EV being a hoot to drive shouldn't come as a complete surprise, but Chevy's all-new Spark EV is making its bid to rise to the top of this growing class, a field that includes the Fiat 500e, Mitsubishi i-Miev, Nissan Leaf, Scion iQ EV and Smart Fortwo ED, and it's doing so with more torque, better efficiency and a lower price. With a name like "Spark," it would be easy to assume that this small car was conceived with an EV model in mind from the beginning, but that's not the case.

Even entering its third generation in 2009 (the first two weren't sold in North America), General Motors admitted that the Spark was not designed with an EV drivetrain in mind. Just four years later, though, the Spark EV is hitting America's roads – in California and Oregon – so we headed to scenic Portland, OR to check out Chevy's new battery electric vehicle (BEV) and the first EV for General Motors since the controversial EV1.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV side view2014 Chevrolet Spark EV front view2014 Chevrolet Spark EV rear view

The Spark EV doesn't have just instant torque, it has gobs of instant torque.

The first order of business in transforming the Spark from a standard gas-burning car to an EV involved replacing the Spark's adequate-yet-anemic 1.2-liter inline four-cylinder engine with a permanent-magnet electric motor produced in-house and a 21-kWh lithium-ion battery pack sourced from B456 Systems (previously known as A123 Systems). The result is a small car with an impressive output of 140 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. No, your eyes aren't deceiving you – this car has almost double the horsepower of the base Spark and, more importantly, about five times the torque. That's not just instant torque, it's gobs of instant torque. With this setup, the Spark EV has an EPA-rated range of 82 miles to go with MPGe estimates of 128 city, 109 highway and 119 combined.

Getting the Spark EV from concept to reality didn't take long – just three years – thanks to lessons learned from the Chevy Volt, including the designs of the charging system, the trio of heating and cooling systems (for the car, electric motor and battery pack) and battery validation. The research, engineering and parts sharing from the Volt also helped lower costs, making it more competitive against other small EVs. With an MSRP starting at $26,685, the Spark EV's base price effectively starts at just over $19,000 after factoring in the $7,500 federal tax credit, and as low as $17,495 for California residents (who receive even bigger tax breaks), which means there's about a $5,000 premium to step up from the Spark to the Spark EV. The only options available on the Spark EV are limited to choice of paint color and two trim levels (1LT or 2LT), leaving our Electric Blue 2LT tester with a $27,820 MSRP. By the end of this year, Spark EV buyers will also be able to outfit their cars with the DC Fast Charge system for $750.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV electric motor

Chevy's "confidence gauge" provides an expected range as well as minimum and maximum range estimates.

As we've come to expect from modern gas-turned-EV models, the styling changes made to the wedge-shaped Spark have been rendered in the name of aerodynamics. The most obvious change is the runabout's Volt-like upper grille, which is blocked with a silver trim; the lower grille is a little sneakier with its aero improvements, adding active shutters behind the air intake. Other noticeable EV-specific changes include lower and wider side sills and a rear fascia with diffuser-like ridges. The whole aero package is finished off with underbody panels and air deflectors in front of each tire. Just in case the Spark EV didn't look 'electric' enough, though, Chevy also added matte black stickers above the rocker panels, EV logos on the rear valence and hatch as well as staggered-width, 15-inch aluminum wheels.

Inside, the gas Spark's cabin has carried over almost untouched with the biggest change being a revamped instrument cluster. The cluster is still mounted atop the steering column, but the motorcycle-like layout has been replaced with a new display very similar to what is found in the Volt. Moderately reconfigurable, the main information displayed on the cluster includes the battery pack's state of charge, vehicle speed and an indicator to let the pilot know how efficiently he or she is driving. The Spark EV's display does introduce a new "confidence gauge" feature, which provides an expected range as well as a minimum and maximum range if the vehicle is driven most and least efficiently. There is also a new screen added to the standard Chevy MyLink home screen for "electric info" that provides further information regarding the battery's level, charging times, energy details and tips for how to drive more efficiently. This screen can be selected from the home screen menu, but there is also a leaf button on the right side of the center stack for quicker access.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV grille2014 Chevrolet Spark EV lower grille2014 Chevrolet Spark EV side splitter2014 Chevrolet Spark EV rear fascia

We finished our drive with 31 miles left on the gauge – barely surpassing the EPA-rated range of 82 miles.

The rest of the interior receives less noticeable upgrades mostly centered around the center stack, including slightly different heating and ventilation controls,which can also be controlled through the MyLink screen; a glowing blue keyless push-button starter; and circuit-like etchings in the piano black center stack trim. The conventional parking brake lever found on standard Sparks been eliminated on the EV thanks to an electronic parking brake button mounted behind the shift lever (adjacent to the Sport mode and traction control buttons). Like other Spark models, the exterior color spills over into the interior on the instrument panel and front door panels, and the 2LT gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel and dark leatherette seats with blue stitching; the base Spark EV gets cloth seats with color matching inserts.

Fortunately, the packaging of the battery takes up about the same amount of space as the conventional Spark's fuel tank and exhaust system, so passenger space is not affected. Most of the time we spent in this Spark EV, there were three passengers aboard, with all having sufficient headroom and legroom. The only space that is affected by the battery pack is the cargo volume, which drops to 9.3 cubic feet behind the rear seat (down from 11.4) due a taller load floor, and a total 23.4 cubic feet (down from 31.2) due to the fixed rear bench seat. On the other hand, the lack of a folding rear seat bottom actually makes it easier to lower the seatbacks, since they do not require the removal of the headrests.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV interior2014 Chevrolet Spark EV gauges2014 Chevrolet Spark EV electric info display2014 Chevrolet Spark EV rear cargo area

0-60 mph is estimated at 7.6 seconds, making it the quickest EV among rivals.

We started the day with a full charge, with the confidence gauge showing a range between 75 and 90 miles. Throughout the day, this gauge proved to be a useful tool, as it accurately showed the expected available range based on driving style and surrounding road conditions. At one point, while going up a fairly steep grade, our stated range dropped by eight miles, but the upper and lower limits remained the same. Within the constraints of testing an EV, our modest time with the Spark EV was limited to just under 57 miles, but we finished our drive route with 31 miles left on the gauge – barely surpassing the EPA-rated range.

During our review of the 2013 Spark, we noted the hatchback's balance and ease of driving, and despite a curb weight increase of 700 pounds, most of which comes from the 560-lb battery, the 2014 Spark EV still accelerated well and felt nimble on twisty roads. As we saw in its recent commercial, Chevy is enjoying the fact that the Spark EV puts out more torque than a Ferrari 458 Italia, but more than just a marketing gimmick, this abundance of torque makes the EV surprisingly quick and fun to drive. In fact, the bounty of torque was enough to get the low-rolling-resistance Bridgestone tires to chirp on a couple occasions. Acceleration from 0-60 mph is officially estimated at 7.6 seconds, a time Chevy says makes it the quickest EV among rivals by almost a second and a half. The aforementioned Sport mode tightens up responses a bit but doesn't add anything to the overall acceleration or performance. The balance of the Spark EV is surprisingly good – the car has a 52/48 weight distribution – and the steering is downright commendable, with good weight and a surprising lack of torque steer when trying to send all 400 lb-ft from the motor to the front wheels.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Test Drive

The Spark EV is cursed with the worst brakes we've felt from an electric or hybrid production car.

A major downfall for the Spark EV is that it is cursed with what may be the worst brakes we've ever felt on an electric or hybrid production car. This, friends, is saying something. We get that regen adds a little sponginess to the pedal feel, but even low-speed stops routinely took an extra foot or two longer than expected ­– not a confidence booster when constantly moving the car near to the edge of a sheer dropoff for the pictures you see here. Better braking in city driving can be obtained by dropping the shift lever into "L," which creates what amounts to a one-pedal driving mode in urban traffic. Like in the Volt, it also improves brake regeneration when coasting down a hill.

As for the battery, Chevy says that it will take about 20 hours to charge using the standard 110-volt cord supplied with the car, or a more palatable 7 hours from a 240-volt source (which it offers a discount of up to $500 for customers to purchase). The big news is that the Spark EV will offer the capability of a DC quick charge option that will be able to charge an empty battery to an 80-percent charge in about 20 minutes (the remaining charge taking an additional 10 minutes). Moreover, Chevy says that the Spark EV is capable of receiving multiple quick charges per day. Interestingly, Chevy reps admit that BEVs are still an urban solution, noting that the focus of charging locations should be on the home and workplace rather than public charging stations – officials say more than 90 percent of charging takes place at home.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV rear 3/4 view

Genuine fun in a small and relatively affordable package.

By their very nature, economy cars aren't supposed to be entertaining, and perhaps neither are most electric vehicles. Yet here sits the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV, delivering genuine fun in a small and relatively affordable package. No, it can't lay claim to the longest range (Fiat 500e), the lowest price (Smart Fortwo ED) or the best efficiency (Scion iQ EV) in its class, but it's about as much entertainment as you'll find in a mass-market electric car.

While there are plenty of reasons to enjoy the Spark EV – even for people who don't use "hypermiling" in their daily vernacular – the bad news here is that GM currently has no plans to release the car anywhere in the US outside of the "key influencer markets" of California and Oregon, although sales are eventually planned for Canada, South Korea and China.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 117 Comments
      Jerry
      • 1 Year Ago
      Wow, very impressed! Have driven standard Sparks before and was not too impressed. This little thing sounds like fun though! I wonder how much they could extend the highway range by giving it a 2-speed gearbox? Regardless, I would consider one of these if not for the price tag! Do not doubt that EV prices will come down as more enter the market. If the Leaf can sell, this should really sell!
        CarNutMike
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jerry
        Tesla tried a 2 speed transmission in the early Roadsters but had reliability issues and claimed they were able to ultimately meet their targets without it. Electric motors are efficient over a very broad range of RPM and don't "need" multispeed gearboxes like ICEs. A random motor/inverter efficiency chart I found on the internets suggested a 2 speed gearbox might bring efficiency up from 88 to 92% under the right conditions BUT you have to factor in additional losses through the transmission. Also, Chevy may have geared the Spark EV so that it's already at an efficiency sweet spot cruising at highway speeds. In any case, it's obviously near enough a wash that noone has seen fit to do it. My guess is that a fractionally bigger battery is cheaper than a transmission.
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jerry
        You don't need a gearbox with an EV. The motor is likely already tuned for maximum efficiency on the highway
        SublimeKnight
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Jerry
        It probably wouldn't increase it at all, maybe 1% or 2%. The efficiency across the rev range of an electric motor doesn't change much, unlike an ICE. An ICE can be 30% or more efficient at one RPM than another at a different throttle position to maintain the same speed. Not so with a motor.
          montoym
          • 1 Year Ago
          @SublimeKnight
          Actually, electric motors do start to get much less efficient at higher RPMs. A multi-speed gearbox would likely be helpful, it's just that no one has really made a unit that is acceptable. Also, considering that even with a single-speed gearbox, and EV can still reach high enough speeds for most consumers (90-100mph), there's not a lot of reason to offer a multi-speed unit. EVs aren't really designed to be highway cruisers for the most part, so their high speed characteristics and efficiency are less of an issue.
      Gordon Chen
      • 1 Year Ago
      I just hope they manufacture these with the intent of selling, not to make EPA happy. People will buy this car. I see the gas version of the Spark everywhere. Where I live (bay area) there are tons of Tesla S's. I hope Chevy understands there is a demand for 100% EVs. The spark EV would be the perfect San Francisco/city car.
        stumpy
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Gordon Chen
        maybe that's what they'll find when they "study the disruptive nature of tesla" ... that people EVERYWHERE want EVs... not just in select markets
        Rotation
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Gordon Chen
        A couple SAE combo chargers on 101 and over on 880 and it can be used to get all around the Bay Area too. I'm not so sure about the idea of a "perfect SF/city car" given a lot of SF people don't have garages, they street park and charging on the street is a rarity right now. But I would love to see more street EVSE parking.
      Puck
      • 1 Year Ago
      Pocket Rocket taken to a new level.
      purrpullberra
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is quite an achievement for GM which is somewhat scary. Is it freezing in hell? But good for them. And Chinese owned B456 and Cali and Oregon. I'd have 3 friends in 3 of these if they were available in WA. Oh well. 400 torques!?! Damn I bet that is a blast to throw around the city at lower speeds and zipping up some nearby curvy hills. Such an affordable all-electric run about is a small miracle. I guess they're losing money on them or else they'd sell them in more places. That's too bad. I wonder what they'd need to sell for for GM to break even. And will the small number of sales be enough for GM to not need to buy credits from Tesla?
      Kuro Houou
      • 1 Year Ago
      At least it looks better then the BMW i3!
        Ducman69
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Kuro Houou
        Sarah Jessica Parker looks better than the i3, so that's not setting the bar very high.
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Ducman69
          [blocked]
          Phil B
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Ducman69
          The transvestite donkey witch!
      bonehead
      • 1 Year Ago
      seems like with a name like Spark it was meant to be electric.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bonehead
        Seems like the way the EV performs compared to the gas version, it was meant to be electric.
      bonehead
      • 1 Year Ago
      That black stripe makes the car look like the new 435i coupe ;)
      Captain Stu
      • 1 Year Ago
      Wow, I'm really surprised about the long-term availability.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Year Ago
      Oh cmon guys, where is the 0-60 video, are you serious!!!!!!!! Guess i'll wait for MPGomatic to take up the slack.
        EVSUPERHERO
        • 1 Year Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        I bet this car is a lot of fun. I been hammering on a Leaf for close to two weeks now. I get 60 miles to the charge as I am always hammer down, leave gassers way back. The Leaf is fun but this Spark car sounds like more fun. Spark should be more inexpensive than the Leaf, not more, less car for the money. Would be fun to drive the Spark as it is sportier and peppier than the Leaf.
      otiswild
      • 1 Year Ago
      Add at least 6.6kW L2 charging and it's a winner. 3.3kW is anemic, and 13.2kW would be even better!
        Rotation
        • 1 Year Ago
        @otiswild
        There is nowhere you could get a 13.2kW charge. So why bother? Get the DCFC option, at least that will work in some places some day. And it's even faster. I agree 3.3kW is outmoded now.
          otiswild
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          Au contraire, I have a Clipper Creek CS-60 in my garage on a 60A circuit. Alas my Volt uses only a quarter of its capacity, but someday I'll get a Model X..
          Rotation
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          You're supposed to put a 60A EVSE on an 80A circuit. A 60A circuit only supports a 48A EVSE. That's 10.8kW. So why do you need a 13.2kW charger in the car? I'm glad you have a (miswired) high power charger, but for a car that costs this little, it makes no sense. Almost no one will use it, it'll add cost to the car which doesn't add value for people. Because in their home they won't have over a 7.2kW charger and on the road they won't see over 6.6kW. You could charge this car in 4 hours at 6.6kW. Is 2 hour charging really all that much more important? Especially since to make much use of the 2 hour charging would mean charging it in the day when it costs more. Higher powered charging for a Tesla is more important since it has such a large battery, you might need 10kW charging just to charge it up overnight.
          EVSUPERHERO
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Rotation
          All good points, Rotation Made me laugh when you mentioned the (miswired) . One of your points about 6.6KW limitation is important to remember. Most public charging stations will limit their level two chargers to 30 amp breakers. I think they should raise it to 50 amp breakers.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @otiswild
        Gotta save something to add to next year's model.
      Rob J
      • 1 Year Ago
      Why must there be so much glossy plastic on that dash?? I really can't stand it, it is a dust/finger print magnet!
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
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