Sparks fly in a smooth Chevy encounter

Easy on the ears but with some super acceleration, the iconic American carmaker has produced a shining addition to the EV market.

Can an electric vehicle be powerful, cheap, and fun to drive? The answer to all three questions is yes in the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV.

I took a test drive of Chevy’s all-electric mini car after my tour of the newly expanded General Motors Global Battery Systems Laboratory, and let me say one thing – I was surprised by this EV.

During a quick spin around Warren, Michigan, I set out to see exactly what the Spark EV had under the hood. (Full disclosure – while GM sponsored my trip to Michigan, it had no involvement in the editorial process of this post)

By the numbers

The Spark EV is an all-electric version of Chevy’s gas-powered Spark mini car, and it debuted for sale in California and Oregon in summer 2013. It’s Chevy’s first pure EV and with an EPA-estimated 82 mile driving range, 119 mile per gallon fuel economy equivalent, and 0.326 coefficient of drag, the company claims it’s the most efficient retail EV in America.

A 21 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack powers the Spark, and can be charged via three available levels of recharging capability including the first application of the SAE combo charger for DC fast charging, able to recharge 80% of the battery in 20 minutes. While on the road, regenerative braking transfers power back from the wheels to the battery pack when traveling between 10 and 90 miles per hour (mph).

GM engineers completed more than one million miles of testing and four million hours of validation on the Spark EV’s battery pack technology, but it’s covered by an eight-year/100,000-mile drive battery warranty – just in case.

Quiet but powerful

But enough about what GM says about the Spark EV – how does it drive? I had been looking forward to my test, and three electric blue Sparks were lined up outside the battery lab, ready for a run. 

My first impression was silence. The Spark made absolutely no noise when I got in and turned it on. In fact, I initially wondered if I had missed something when pressing the power button – apparently a common impression. While the color touchscreen and dashboard heads-up display came to life, the car felt and sounded exactly the same as when I got in.

I cautiously shifted into drive and pressed down on the pedal, and the Spark jumped forward. There’s a lot of power under the hood – about 440 pound-feet of instant torque, according to GM.

After cruising out of the GM grounds, it was time to see how the Spark did in real-world driving conditions. Roads around Detroit are largely flat, straight, and wide, so I knew I’d be able to open it up a bit even on my short test drive.

I accelerated slowly out of my first stoplight and merged onto a busy road. So far, so good. Spark’s quiet interior extends to a quiet running sound, with that cool EV 'whirring' noise. At my second stop light, I decided to see what happened when I accelerated fast out of the gate.

Spark would have blown my hair back if I didn’t use too much styling product. GM claims it goes 0-60 in less than eight seconds with a top speed of 90 mph, and while I didn’t try for that goal, I was literally pushed back in my seat. This car is fast. I was on short local roads of no more than a mile each, so I topped out around 50 mph, but Spark got there in seconds.

Okay, I officially have EV envy

In addition to being fast, Spark is smooth. The roads in metro Detroit tend to be a little rough, with plenty of bumps and potholes, but I barely felt them.

Meanwhile, the cool dashboard display kept track of how efficiently I was driving, with a spinning green ball that tilts toward use when accelerating, and recharge when braking. It’s a nice reminder of how you’re using power, and as I drove 5.5 miles but only used 2 miles of range, apparently it works.

The Spark EV retails for a starting price of $19,995 minus the maximum federal income tax incentive, and GM estimates it saves $9,000 in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle.

I’ll admit that I’ve got EV envy. I would love to drive one, but live in a pretty urban area and don’t have a driveway or garage to host a charger, so owning an EV isn’t an option. But in a perfect world, I’d be in the EV market, and definitely would consider the Spark EV.

Graph for Sparks fly in a smooth Chevy encounter

Silvio Marcacci is principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington DC.

Originally published by CleanTechnica. Republished with permission.