There's no question that Portland, Ore. is a place full of people who care about the environment. As we have previously reported, Portland is home to numerous examples of electric vehicle infrastructure, such as Electric Avenue near Portland State University and the West Coast Green Highway. That's why Oregon was the perfect place for General Motors to host a test drive of their new Chevrolet Spark EV, GM's most recent foray into electric vehicles.
The Spark EV offers a driving range of 82 miles and an EPA-estimated 119 MPGe combined city/highway, comparable to EV competitors like the Nissan Leaf. With a suggested retail price of $26,685, the Spark EV costs more than a base Leaf, but less than a Ford Focus EV.
The Spark EV makes use of a digital instrument cluster that displays everything from available range, to the percentage of power being used on air conditioning. The vehicle can also provide driving tips to help the driver get the most out of their charge.
With 400 pound-feet of torque delivered to the front wheels in an instant, the Spark EV is capable of keeping up with most sports cars off the line...at least for a few yards. We were even able to chirp the tires from a standing start.
The Spark EV is also surprisingly roomy for being such a small car. It seats four adults comfortably, thanks in part to the placement of the battery, which straddles the rear axle.
The Spark EV may be GM's first all-electric vehicle since the EV1-era, but it isn't the first plug-in in the company's current portfolio. That title belongs to the Chevrolet Volt, which is now entering its fourth year of production. It's that vehicle to which the Spark EV owes much of its technology.
"The traction power inverter modules, the control system for the motor... and the power electronics. All of these are built off learnings from the Volt," explains Trista Schiefer, the Lead Development Engineer for the Spark EV. "The first time we plugged in our [Spark EV] development vehicle we got the green light and that's because we were building on the learnings from the Volt."
For all of the innovation that Chevrolet has poured into the Volt and Spark EV, they seem to have set a limit as to what customers should expect of their all-electric vehicle. During our time in Portland, Chevy indicated that taking an EV on a long road trip is just something that isn't reasonable now, nor would be in the future.
While we agree that driving across the country in an EV today would require a lot of time stopped charging, it would be nice to think that one day it could happen without the hassle. That's precisely what other EV-makers are aiming for, namely Tesla Motors with their Supercharger network and battery swap option.
The Spark EV's biggest disappointment comes in its limited release. As far as the U.S. is concerned, the vehicle will only be available in California and Oregon, with no plan for further distribution anywhere on the horizon.
Despite these drawbacks, Chevy has done what they set out to do: make an EV with surprising performance and roominess for its size, while keeping the price reasonable when compared to the competition.