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2015 Chevrolet Spark EV Overview
Based on the gas-powered version of the Chevrolet Spark subcompact car and now in its second year, the Chevy Spark EV sells in very small numbers of only a few hundred annually and in limited markets, including California and Oregon, although it recently launched in Canada as a fleet vehicle. However, that's not unusual, with the electric-vehicle market segment still in its infancy, and GM reportedly remains very positive about the rollout of the Spark EV, saying it's difficult for dealers to keep the vehicle on the lot. Helping GM's cause and providing a spark for the Spark, the U.S. Department of Energy recently named the 10 most fuel-efficient vehicles for 2014, and the Spark EV topped the list, thanks to its combined fuel economy number of 119 mpge (miles per gallon equivalent). Specifically, the Spark posted numbers of 128 mpge around the city and 109 on the highway, with a range on a single battery charge of about 82 miles. That makes the Spark EV well-positioned for the coming years as electric vehicles, and the infrastructure to support them, continue to develop and expand their sales.
If you can get your hands on one, the Spark certainly has a lot to offer to fuel-conscious owners. Built in South Korea and rolling into 2015 unchanged from the previous year, the 5-door plug-in electric vehicle offers impressive safety features, with a total of 10 airbags, as well as GM's StabiliTrak stability control system and standard OnStar with such features as automatic crash response, roadside assistance and turn-by-turn navigation. It sits on a small footprint, with a wheelbase of 93.5 inches and an overall length of 146.5 inches, but it offers 86.3 cubic feet of passenger space, more than the Fiat 500e, the Scion iQ EV or the Smart fortwo Electric Drive coupe.
Its short length also makes the Spark EV easy to park and maneuver around town, which Chevy sees as its target environment. Inside, cargo space tops out at 23.4 cubic feet of space with the rear seat folded down, but a relatively minuscule 9.6 cubic feet with the rear seats up, due to the battery pack under the floor. The Spark EV comes well-equipped with such standard features as two 7-inch touchscreens, SiriusXM satellite radio, a USB port and a rear spoiler. And, finally, it delivers more torque than the Ferrari 458 Italia or the Porsche Carrera S.
That last point might raise some eyebrows, but the Spark EV's electric powertrain, which features a GM-designed coaxial drive unit and a 110-kilowatt permanent magnet electric motor delivering 130 hp, puts out an impressive 400 lb-ft of torque. With all that torque available right from the get-go, the front-wheel-drive Spark EV delivers spirited acceleration, although its 0-60 time of about 7.6 seconds puts it roughly on par with the rest of its class. The new BMW i3 electric vehicle, for instance, makes the jaunt to 60 mph in about 7 seconds, though it's priced about $18k higher than the mid-20s figure for the Spark EV, before rebates. For the record, rebates can lower the Spark EV's starting price to under $20k, and additional rebates in California can drop the price even further.
The Spark EV's powertrain also includes a 20kWh square lithium-ion battery pack, which weighs in at 560 pounds. Owners can charge the battery using the supplied charge cable and a standard household 120-volt outlet in about 20 hours, which drops to about 7 hours with an optional 240-volt cord and dedicated 240-volt outlet. Owners who would like a faster charge time can opt for an available SAE Combo Fast Charging system (priced at $750), which charges the battery to 80 percent in 20 minutes and a full charge in about 30 minutes. Chevy says the Spark EV is the first electric vehicle to offer this capability, although the new i3 electric vehicle from BMW offers a similar fast-charging system. Owners can access the on-board charge port via a round door above the front driver's-side wheel. The Spark EV also includes a regenerative braking system, which charges the battery when braking. The battery comes with an 8-year/100,000-mile limited warranty.
Early test drives of the Spark EV confirm the fun-to-drive factor associated with all torque-happy electric vehicles like the Tesla Model S, the Mitsubishi i-Miev and the Nissan Leaf. The Spark EV accelerates quickly and smoothly, with plenty of pedal for a spirited ride. Like the base gas-powered Spark, the Spark EV feels stable and balanced, with good handling and agility. The electric power steering system provides good feedback and responsiveness, but the regenerative braking system results in a spongy feel from the brakes and a lack of stopping precision. A Sport mode tightens up the powerplant and steering settings for a sportier feel. Staggered-width 15-inch wheels come standard. A tight turning radius of 33.8 feet makes the Spark EV especially maneuverable in urban environments.
Outside, the wedge-shaped Spark EV receives a number of exterior features not found on the gas-powered Spark, designed to help improve aerodynamics and efficiency. Its silver closed upper grille, similar to the one found on the Chevy volt, features an automatic shutter system, which helps reduce drag. Full-length underbody panels serve the same purpose, while wheel deflectors and a rear spoiler direct airflow around the vehicle, improving overall aerodynamics. The Spark EV also gets lower side sills and a unique rear bumper, as well as air deflectors for each wheel. Halogen headlights, daytime running lights, power-adjustable side mirrors and hidden rear door handles are among the other exterior features. Chevy offers the Spark EV in 5 exterior colors, including Summit White, Silver Ice, Electric Blue, Titanium and Black Granite.
Like the exterior, the Spark EV's cabin borrows heavily from the gas-powered Spark with a few updates, including the addition of two 7-inch touchscreens. One, located in front of the steering wheel, essentially serves as the instrument cluster and provides details about the battery charge and driving range, as well as speed and other driving data. A second screen, located in the center stack, incorporates Chevy's MyLink infotainment system, which includes a 6-speaker audio system, a single-zone climate control system, Bluetooth, a USB port and the OnStar system. Drivers have the ability to configure both screens to some degree. Chevy also adds push-button start and an electronic parking brake as standard features.
The dash displays the swooping design of the one in the gas-powered Spark, and the exterior color continues inside as accent color around the dash and along the front doors. The Spark EV seats four, and passengers should generally find plenty of legroom and headroom in the front and back.
Chevy offers the Spark EV in 2 trim levels. The 1LT comes standard with remote keyless entry, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split rear seatback and cruise control. The 2LT adds Dark pewter leatherette heated front seats with blue-ray stitching and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with silver accents. In addition to 10 airbags and the StabiliTrak system, standard safety features for both trims include traction control, a Hill Start Assist system and 4-wheel antilock brakes.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.