Chevy Spark EV First Drive: the Affordable Electric Car

The consensus has long been that you’ll need some serious greenbacks in the proverbial coffers if you want an electric vehicle.  Which is to say few of the electric vehicles today are a practical investment for the average person.  Odd, because the everyday Joe commutes less than 40 miles a day, which easily falls under the range concerns of any of the non-gas burners of today.  So for now, if you want to save on your commute costs and maintain a piece of mind, you’ll need to keep dumping money towards a diesel or a hybrid vehicle, which really aren’t all that cheap.  Or will you?

Chevy Spark EV, based off the compact Chevy Spark, is no secret.  And guess what?  Chevy has already began to sell the vehicle to eager beavers.  And guess what again?  I’ve now driven a Chevy Spark EV.

Chevy Spark EV-006

If you’re not familiar with the Spark EV, it’s an all electric car that uses zero petrol to propel itself along highways and city streets.  Chevy says it can reach 0-60 in under 8 seconds, and boasts 400 lb-ft of torque directly off the line.  Unfortunately, it won’t snap your head back, and nor will you feel as though you’re laying down rubber, or so was my experience.  A sport mode does little to change things, but it does slightly sharpen up throttle response.

I drove my Chevy Spark EV, along with Auto Trader’s managing editor Brian Moody, though the streets of Portland, Oregon.  With the graces of the sun gods, or perhaps the rain gods, we we’re blessed with a beautifully sunny day in what is generally a rain soaked section of the country.   There we committed to 4 legs, stopping in the middle to chow down on BBQ chicken, corn bread and baked beans that were as tasty as the Chevy Spark EV is easy to drive.

Chevy Spark EV-011

Speed is not the Spark EV’s mainstay, but I’m sure you already figured that out.  If you’re looking for explosive power, you’ll need to turn to Tesla, a car that will easily cost north of $50,000 no matter what rebates you can chase down.  The Spark EV on the other hand can cost just $17,495 in California if you qualify for all of the rebates ($7,500 federal and $2,500 state), or less if you’re in Colorado,which supplies consumers up to $6,000.  Of course if you lease (not available in CO) you won’t see that money directly, but it will lower your cap cost and at $500 short of $18,000 you’re not in a for a wallet wrenching monthly payment.

Chevy says the Spark EV can do up to 82 miles on a single charge and reach a top speed of 90mph.  While I didn’t max the car out on the highway, and nor would I on a press trip, I can happily report, with some surprise, that it can move from lane to lane and pass cars with relative effectiveness.  In fact, it feels more zippy than the Nissan Leaf, though I drove that car more than two years ago.

Chevy Spark EV-012

Range anxiety, while not totally eliminated, is managed fairly well in the Spark EV thanks to a Confidence Gauge.  It in effect is a range meter, telling you how far you can travel.  However, what Chevy seems to have achieved is a more accurate representation based on your current and past driving habits to determine your real range.  And although I drove the car for perhaps a little more than an hour in total, I was, according to the range management meter, able to achieve more than 82 miles (the car’s total range on a full charge).  More over, range didn’t fluctuate too wildly and drop drastically when accelerating onto a highway – something I’ve seen before in other EVs.  Nevertheless, I was a bit disappointed that Chevy couldn’t calculate range based on topography factors (i.e. big hill coming up and you’ll need to use X more energy).  But to their point that might make for a less accurate range calculation since everyone could drive that road differently, and since many of us drive the same route week over week, historicals are probably a more accurate picture.

For now, DC fast charging is not available on the Chevy Spark EV.  Even if you buy one today, your car won’t come equipped with the ability, so if you’ve got some where you can accomplish this feat, or plan to travel to, you might want to wait until Q4 of 2013, which is when they’ll begin selling this add-on feature.  So for now, instead of boosting your battery up to 80% in twenty minutes, you’ll need to wait 20 hours for a full charge on a 120v connection, or 7 hours on a 240.

Chevy Spark EV-001

Furthering committing to the whole tech thing, Chevy has also included their MyLink infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen LCD, in addition to an LCD driver’s screen.   This also includes standard Bluetooth, remote keyless entry, a USB port, power mirrors, power locks, fog lamps.  I’ve covered MyLink in the past, but for brevity’s sake, it’s easy to operate.

Clearly Spark EV is no sports car.  Running below the car’s floor are a slab of batteries.  They add weight, just like fuel would, but they work to lower the Spark EV’s center of gravity.  Stopping happens with ample power and along with it a commensurate feel to the brake pedal that is anything but squishy. Slamming the accelerator to the floor can cause torque steer in either direction, though it’s easy enough to get under control, unless you’re a complete buffoon.    I’d be hard pressed to be entertained by the Chevy Spark EV’s drivability, but for what it is, it’s comfortable, speedy enough, and feels sturdy at highway speeds, something I can’t attest to when test driving Mitsubishi’s i-MIEV.

Chevy Spark EV-013

It goes without saying that the Chevy Spark EV is not a practical family car.  And that’s not because it feels unsafe, cheap, or large enough for a family of four.  It’s because of the Spark EV’s range.  At 82 miles it’s a reasonable range for traveling to work and committing to some errands afterwards.  Heck, it’s even enough to pick the kids up from school and tote them around for soccer practice.  But for folks that travel to see friends, commute for family vacations and holidays it will never get you there.  But that goes without saying.

The Chevy Spark EV is something wedged between practicality and affordable fun.  And some might argue that’s the pinnacle of car making.  And I’m inclined to agree.  I’m not saying that the Chevy Spark EV is for everyone, but I’d be hard pressed to find a single individual that didn’t walk away impressed after driving the zippy little car.

Chevy Spark EV Chevy Spark EV-005 Chevy Spark EV-008 Chevy Spark EV-009 Chevy Spark EV-002

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Christen Costa

Grew up back East, got sick of the cold and headed West. Since I was small I have been pushing buttons - both electronic and human. With an insatiable need for tech I thought "why not start a blog focusing on technology, and use my dislikes and likes to post on gadgets."

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