Posts Tagged ‘Spark EV’


The 2014 Chevy Spark EV won Car & Driver‘s big comparison test of electric vehicles, so while I’d normally cross the gasoline (ICE) version of the Spark off any list of cars I’d ever own, I had to at least give the electric version a go.

2015 Chevrolet Spark EV in Electric Blue

2015 Chevrolet Spark EV in Electric Blue. It just screams Econobox, doesn’t it?

Of the six vehicles Car & Driver tested – Chevy’s Spark EV, Nissan’s Leaf, Ford’s Focus Electric, Fiat’s 500e, Smart’s fortwo ED and Honda’s Fit EV – the tiny Spark, the smallest Chevy made, was only the third smallest. Naturally the Smart was the smallest car tested at 106.1 inches; but it doesn’t have a back seat. The 145.6 inch Spark is only 4.1 inches longer than the Fiat 500e, but it feels just as small.

On paper, the Spark looks pretty good. The 2015 version is slightly different from the 2014. It’s packing a 140 HP AC permanent magnet synchronous motor (down 1 hp from 2014) with a whopping 327 pound-foot of torque (down from 400 lb-ft) at zero RPM. It has a smallish 21.3 kWh liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack positioned on the floor, so there is no loss of interior space. Of course, the lower center of gravity helps  the Spark handle far better than the gas version.

And let’s be clear, that 327 lb-ft of torque sounds great but there is no way the motor’s electronic nannies would allow that much torque to spin the front wheels from a dead stop. The Spark’s puny 15 inch aluminum alloy wheels would fly off and kill someone.  By comparison, the 4.6L V8 in the 2015 Toyota Tundra pickup truck pumps out 310 hp and 327 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels (where monster torque belongs). Exactly how the Spark’s computers dole out the torque isn’t clear, but the Spark feels fast (C&D clocked the 2014 version at 7.9 seconds from zero to 60 mph) and with gobs of torque available from zero, it’s very entertaining zooming in and out of traffic. Take that Mazda!

The EPA rates the Spark EV at 128/109 city/highway MPGe (equivalent). As I’ve said before, while the EPA figures let you know the electric Spark is pretty efficient compared to gasoline, it’s the range that really matters to any EV buyer. Chevy quotes a range of 82 miles while Car & Driver observed a range 66 miles – not exactly a tonic for the dreaded psychological condition known as “range anxiety.”

I can’t say I’m a fan of the exterior styling of the Spark, although the electric version has subtle styling changes that look better than the ICE version. Still, it practically screams rental from all angles.

The grille of the Spark EV is sealed off because it doesn't have a conventional engine or radiator anywhere in sight.

The grille of the Spark EV is sealed off because it doesn’t have a conventional engine or radiator anywhere in sight.

The little EV badge lets people behind you know you're driving with electrons, and if one looks closely, there's no tailpipe.

The little EV badge lets people behind you know you’re driving with electrons.

Step inside the Spark and the word “Spartan” comes to mind. The plastics are cheap and hard. The switchgear is from the bottom of the GM parts bin.

Ergonomics are a mess. The side mirror adjustment switch too far forward and hard to reach from a ledge on the left side of the instrument panel and the adjustment dial and switches for the instrument panel display are impossible to reach behind the steering wheel on that same ledge.

This switchgear is hard to reach and nearly invisible, hidden by the steering wheel, from the driver's seat.  Did the engineers have the week off when this was designed?

This switchgear is hard to reach and nearly invisible, hidden by the steering wheel, from the driver’s seat. Did the engineers have the week off when this was designed?

The all-digital, motorcycle-inspired instrument panel is clear and easy to read, if not exactly bristling with innovation. A little green ball bounces up and down and changes color (watch for that angry orange!) depending on how hard you’re driving or if you’re charging the battery with regenerative braking energy.

Follow the bouncing green ball to a longer battery life and extended range.

Follow the bouncing green ball to a longer battery life and extended range.

The front seats barely adjust – the driver gets only 4 way adjustment. The cushions are short, but not as short as the ones in the Fiat 500e. The steering column only adjusts for rake, not reach, so, like the Fiat, I found it hard to find a comfortable driving position.

The 2015 Spark EV with the 2LT Trim.  The cloth is replaced by the leatherette trim. Hard to know on a short test drive if this would be comfortable sitting for a long time on a hot day.

The 2015 Spark EV with the 2LT Trim. The cloth is replaced by the leatherette trim. Hard to know on a short test drive if this would be comfortable sitting for a long time on a hot day.

The Spark – gas or electric – has two rear doors with handles hidden in the C-pillar. The rear doors and back seat are best suited for gnomes, small children, or groceries. I could barely fit in the back seat with my knees splayed, but the 60/40 split folding seats could fit two adults for a short drive.

It's cramped quarters in the back seat. However, one thing Americans do well is cup holders. Big Gulp in the back seat?

It’s cramped quarters in the back seat. However, one thing Americans do well is cup holders. Big Gulp for the kids?

The infotainment system should be called Chevy WeakLink, not MyLink. No navigation system on this standard 7 inch color display. The salesman will tell you that you can get turn-by-turn navigation by OnStar, but who does that? The best you can do for navigation is download the BringGo App for your smartphone (iOS and Android) for around $50. The navigation maps display on the MyLink screen. If you have an iPhone, it also features voice commands with Siri Eyes Free. Anyone who knows Siri knows that she doesn’t always understand what you say (but she’s working on it). Still, for an EV, I like the onboard navigation systems that are customized to show public charging stations around you.

The color screen does everything but navigation. The stereo system is kind of weak, but it's adequate and since the car is very quiet inside, you don't need tons of power to drown out a noisy ICE. At least the Spark EV has single-zone automatic climate control that seemed to work well.

The color screen does everything but navigation. The stereo system is kind of weak, but it’s adequate and since the car is very quiet inside, you don’t need tons of power to drown out a noisy ICE. At least the Spark EV has single-zone automatic climate control that seemed to work well.

What’s good:

  • Keyless entry and ignition
  • Automatic climate control
  • Automatic headlights
  • Strong “B” – regenerative braking mode
  • Linear braking
  • Very tight turning radius
  • Convenient 4 doors makes it easy to throw stuff in the back
  • Terrific electric drive motor
  • OnStar and 4G LTE built-in Wi-Fi (If you pay for the service)
  • Heated front seats
  • Obligatory smartphone app to monitor charging and do other remote functions
  • 10 Airbags
  • Optional SAE combo DC fast charger

Not So Good:

  • Cheap, flimsy, low-rent, hard plastic interior surfaces, finishes and switchgear
  • Seats don’t adjust enough and are uncomfortable
  • No telescope feature on the steering column
  • Lack of onboard energy consumption diagnostics – only the basics
  • No auto-dimming mirrors
  • No leather option
  • No backup camera
  • No HomeLink option
  • No one-touch window switches
  • No sun roof available
  • No onboard navigation
  • No digital compass
  • Chevy MyLink infotainment system

The Chevy Spark EV is most definitely a Compliance Car – it sucks electrons from the grid SOLELY to satisfy California’s Air Resources Board Zero Emissions regulations. I think that the engineers got the electric drive component right, but the overall package just creeps me out with its cheapness.  It’s one thing if you’re paying $14,000 for your kid’s first car, but it’s another if you’re paying $30,000 for new technology.

At least the lease deal is cheap. With a MSRP of $28,580, a 3 year, 10,000/mile/year lease, the drive offs were $1,887 and the payment, including sales tax, was $205.97/month. That’s less than my cable bill and many people have a higher phone bills. With the savings you get on avoiding gas stations altogether, the financial proposition of the Spark EV is tempting. I just couldn’t live with the crappy interior every time I got in the car and the seats that barely adjusted.

This is the standard cloth interior on the Spark EV 1LT. It's so cheap it looks like it's going to catch on fire if you leave it too long in the sun.

This is the standard cloth interior on the Spark EV 1LT. It’s so cheap it looks like it’s going to catch on fire if you leave it too long in the sun.

There are rumors that Chevrolet is working on an electric version of the slightly larger Sonic. There is also a 2nd Generation Volt coming in 2016. If you must have an electric car from The General, I’d wait a few more years for something better to come to market.

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The 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show opened today with a slew of introductions. I’ll try and go through as many as I can with some color commentary:

Art Center College of Design always has some excellent concepts that the automotive design students present.  This Hybrid Sports Bicycle (HSB) caught my eye. The concept design and body fabrication was done by Tomas Bubilek and the chassis design and fabrication was done by Michael R. Bowser.

Concept Hybrid Sports Bicycle presented by Art Center College of Design students.

I also liked this Mazda concept 3-D mock up:

Mazda Design Concept

Acura: Honda’s luxury brand has a lot of work to do to regain sales that its lost over the past decade by not focusing on a brand image and just phoning in the cars and going a little off the range with the famous Acura Beak aluminum grille.  Acura introduced a new flagship, the 2014 RLX. No, it’s not rear drive, and in some ways it seems like a face lifted all-wheel drive RL, but it does look better. I’m simply not impressed. Maybe it drives well.

2014 Acura RLX – Front. I do like the all-LED headlights.

Rear taillight detail for the 2014 Acura RLX. I like the light show in the rear too, if not the overall look of the tail.

The interior of the 2014 Acura RLX, the brand’s flagship.

Audi: Audi really had nothing new to show the world at the LA show, so instead we were graced with the announcement that Audi would sell the A6, A7, A8 and Q5 with a 3.0L V6 TDI engine. The clean diesel power plant will likely sell well given the significant increase in fuel economy over the gasoline analogs.  This lovely A8L TDI should get 24 mpg city and 36 highway — stunning numbers given the heft of Audi’s flagship.  The diesel engine is rated at 240 hp and 406 lb-ft of torque and powers all four wheels through an 8-speed ZF automatic.  Audi says it will do 0-60 in 6.4 seconds.

The 2014 Audi A8L TDI

This A8 had the rear seat package that makes for a very comfortable passenger. Check out the controls for the passenger!

The driver of this 2014 Audi A8L TDI is in the lap of luxury. Audi still sets the bar high for luxury interiors.

Bentley: If you want something a bit more rarefied than an Audi, the Volkswagen Group owns Bentley too. Not much new for LA, but we got another iteration of the company’s Continental GT. This is the “Speed” version with Bentley’s 6.0L twin turbo W12 engine making 616 ponies with 590 lb-ft of gut-wrenching torque to go from zero to 60 in 4 seconds flat and top out at 212 mpg. It’s at least $225,000.

2013 Bentley Continental GT Speed.

If you have a bit more money to burn, Bentley also showed the 2013 Mulsanne. It’s sort of the old school Bentley using a thoroughly updated 6.7L V8 making a healthy 505 hp and a stunning 752 lb-ft of torque. It is all channeled thorough the ZF 8-speed automatic used in several other VW Group products.  You get the feeling of a locomotive when you’re behind the wheel because the Mulsanne weights in at 5,700 lbs. Yikes! But if you can afford the $296,000 (before options), who cares?

2013 Bentley Mulsanne. Check out those Gatling Gun headlights!

You may not mind being stuck in LA traffic if you are sitting behind this wheel. Beautiful real wood and top quality switchgear.

BMW: Our friends from Munich showed off the latest iteration of their upcoming i3 electric car. The i3 Concept Coupe is really just the standard i3 less two doors and some length. Still, it looks nice. I’d love to know what the final production version will look like when it shows up sometime in 2014.

BMW i3 Concept Coupe, front.

BMW i3 Concept Coupe side, from the rear.

If you’re not as interested in the i3, BMW dragged out the i8 Concept that was last seen a year ago in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. So just to tease you again, here are some pictures. It won’t look quite this amazing and flamboyant when it finally shows up for sale, sometime after the i3 goes on sale.

BMW i8 Concept Hybrid.

The i8 Concept Hybrid certainly has the futuristic interior to match the great exterior.

How about a BMW you can actually buy? This 2013 Gran Coupe is certainly a looker, particular in this expensive matte finish:

This lovely 2013 BMW 650i Gran Coupe starts at $87,395. The Frozen Bronze Metallic paint is a $3,500 option.

The Gran Coupe has one of BMW’s most sumptuous and well-crafted interiors. You won’t (and shouldn’t) find any cheap plastics inside here.

BMW likes to show off expensive cars, and this auto show is no different. How about the M6 and M5 in the background? If six digit prices offend you, avert your eyes.

The price of the 2013 BMW M6 starts with a six digit number.

Buick: It was kind of lonely at the Buick booth. I mean, LA is not very friendly to Buick. There aren’t many Buick dealers and the brand hasn’t sold well here in decades.  GM’s wants its near-luxury marque to appeal to a budget-minded Lexus customer.  That’s a tough hill to climb, given the years of neglect and the 25 years Lexus has been honing its luxury credentials.

However, to entice younger buyers, Buick is introducing a small crossover called the Encore.  Opel sells a version of it called the Mokka in Europe and, like the Mokka,  the Encore is imported from GM’s South Korean subsidiary.

2013 Buick Encore

2013 Buick Encore – from the rear.

The interior of the Encore is nice, but built to a price. I mean, this is a car in the $20,000 range, so you can’t expect top quality plastics. GM did go to great lengths to make the colors pleasing and the dash is distinct, if not a stand-out.

Space isn’t bad for a little CUV. I’m not sure if a young family with no kids and a dog will want this of if empty-nest retired baby boomers will go for it. Time will tell.

Cadillac: Another GM division that’s got fresh product is Cadillac.  The all-important, all-new rear-drive ATS was introduced earlier this year to much fanfare and pretty good reviews. The ATS’ stated target is the BMW 328i and it’s the first time Cadillac has real skin in this game.  While the press is slobbering all over the ATS, I’m not impressed by the interior. The plastics feel cheap, the wood looks fake (even if it is real) and the shiny digital center console with the “Cadillac User Experience” (CUE) featured prominently only looks good when it’s turned on and the sun isn’t shining on it.  The hepatic touch-control feedback is overrated and feels clumsy. Certainly not something I’d like to futz with while driving. Maybe I’ll enjoy the driving experience.

2013 Cadillac ATS

The cockpit of the 2013 Cadillac ATS with CUE. This one looks better without the wood inserts.

The rear seat of the ATS isn’t any worse than the BMW 328i or the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.

Chevrolet: Not to be left out, GM’s mainstream division, Chevrolet, has new product too. First, the “big deal” is the 2014 Impala. It’s basically the Chevy version of the Buick LaCrosse and Cadillac XTS. It’s big and it looks it. No more rental fleet for this Impala, right? Time will tell.

The 2014 Chevy Impala. Big. New. But I just don’t care, sorry, guys.

Chevy picked LA to show off its new 2014 Spark EV.  The Spark is the smallest car Chevy’s ever sold. It’s a product of GM South Korea (a.k.a. Daewoo). It’s better than the Aveo, but still a bit too rental for me. The EV is a big deal because California requires all the major manufacturers to sell zero emissions vehicles by a certain date. I think the first two markets for the Spark EV will be California and Florida. What it has going for it is price. It’s cheap, as far as EVs go – below $25,000 after a federal tax credit.  The electric motor is good for 120 hp and a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque. The Spark EV is quick too – GM says zero to 60 is 8 seconds.  But the big news is the fast charging system. The Combo DC Fast-Charge system promises to deliver an 80% charge in just 20 minutes.  We haven’t seen range figures yet, but the magic target is usually 100 miles per charge.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

The 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack adds a whopping 560 lbs to the Spark. But that weight on the floor should make for a great low center of gravity and add to stability.

The 2014 Spark EV is a bit spartan, but interior parts painted in the exterior color ads some visual interest. It’s not bad for the price point, but there are lots of hard plastics.

This 2013 Corvette ZR-1 is always a crowd-pleaser with its striking good looks, carbon fiber bits and a 6.2L LS9 V8 supercharged engine producing 638 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque. It can go from zero to 60 in 3.4 seconds and its top speed is 205 mph. Take that, Viper! A bargain at a base MSRP of $112,600.

2013 Corvette (C6) ZR-1 from its sexy rear.

The front end of the 2013 Corvette ZR-1. Next year, the all-new C7 (7th Gen) Corvette will be introduced to the world.

Prepare to yawn.  Here is the 2013 Malibu. It should be a contender in the large mid-size family sedan segment, doing battle with the likes of the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Fusion and Hyundai Sonata; however, I think the Malibu will continue to find its place in the rental fleets.

Here it is: The all-new 2013 Chevy Malibu.

The best viewing angle for the 2013 ‘Bu is definitely from its rear.

It’s the best interior of any Malibu in the past 40 years, but that might be damning with faint praise.

Chevy recycled some concept cars too. Both the Code 130R and Tru 140S appeared nearly a year ago at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit last January. Nice to see them in the flesh, but they are old news. What remains to be seen is if GM will do anything with these concepts. Of particular interst is the small rear-drive platform for the Code 130R.

Chevy Code 130R Concept. Love the paint.

Chevy Tru 140S Concept

More to follow…..