We've driven a number of EV's over the years -- from the Ford Focus Electric to the Tesla Model S -- but none have been as affordable as the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV. It costs $19,995, including the $7,500 federal tax credit, and just $17,495 in California, thanks to an additional $2,500 credit. The Spark EV is GM's first pure electric car since the company scrapped the EV1 program in 2002. It's a five-door supermini designed to carry four people plus luggage in comfort. While it's primarily a city car, it's perfectly at ease on the highway. We recently got the chance to take one for a spin in lovely Portland, Oregon, so hit the break for our impressions and hands-on video.
Chevrolet Spark EV hands-onSee all photos
Performance is quite impressive for an EV this size: it sprints to 60mph in just 7.6 seconds with a top speed of 90mph. The 21kWh nano-phosphate Li-ion battery pack is liquid cooled / heated and is located in the floor, fore and aft of the rear axle. It offers a range of up to 82 miles and takes less than seven hours to fully charge using a level 2 (240V) charging station. Better yet, with a DC fast-charging option coming to the Spark EV later this year, you'll be able to charge the battery to 80 percent capacity in just 20 minutes. Chevy's managed to keep the weight down to 2,967lbs, which is pretty svelte for a pure electric car. This, combined a low center of gravity and a close to 50/50 weight distribution makes the Spark EV nimble and fun to drive.
In terms of powertrain, the Spark EV is motivated by a 140HP permanent magnetic drive motor that generates a whopping 400 ft/lb (!) of torque. It's mated to the front wheels via a single speed gearbox with a low 3.17 final drive. This means the motor never spins faster than 4,300rpm and there's no loss of power at higher speeds, unlike some other EVs. Compared to the gasoline version, the Spark EV gains rear disc brakes and wider 195mm tires in back (185mm in front). Many of its electronics (like the charger and motor controller) are shared with the Chevrolet Volt, which saves cost. It's available in two models, 1LT and 2LT -- the latter adds heated leatherette seats and a leather wrapped steering wheel. Standard equipment includes power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, remote keyless entry, ten airbags and stability control.
The Spark EV comes with Chevy's MyLink infotainment system which features a seven-inch resistive touchscreen, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth / USB connectivity and smartphone integration -- including support for Pandora, Stitcher, TuneIn and Siri Eyes Free. While there's no built-in GPS option, navigation is available via the BringGo premium app, which can be controlled directly from the MyLink head unit. The system also displays information specific to the electric drivetrain, such as battery status, energy details and usage history. Rounding up the tech functionality is OnStar's remotelink app which provides a way to remotely monitor and control the vehicle's locks, climate settings and charge level -- amongst other things.
Overall, we enjoyed driving the Spark EV. It's a zippy car that's smoother and more powerful than anything else in its class. Sports mode is particularly entertaining thanks to a revised throttle mapping -- it feels downright fast. Handling is sharp and dynamic, as we already mentioned, but Chevy's also done an excellent job with the ride, which is compliant without being soft -- this despite a rather simple torsion beam rear suspension. As is often the case with electric power steering, the setup could benefit from more feedback and precision, but it's not a deal breaker. The computer modulated brakes could definitely use some tuning, however: there's a slight delay between pedal application and caliper response at very low speeds which is a little unsettling when you're accustomed to a more responsive setup. Still, we appreciated the inclusion of a "low gear" which increases the amount of regenerative braking on throttle lift-off.
The Spark EV is available for sale or lease now starting at $27,495 (before credits) in California and Oregon. Take a look at our hands-on gallery and video above.