2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Review and Quick Spin: Introduction
When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in Sun City, California, a desert retirement community where residents commonly owned a single car and, for running down to the drug store or hitting the links, a golf cart. For people on fixed-income budgets and lots of time to swing clubs, having the electric golf cart to run errands and pursue a favorite pastime made lots of sense, especially when whatever else was parked in the garage was most likely a mid-1970s gas-guzzler.
Fast-forward several decades into the dual-income, hour-commute future, and a similar arrangement makes sense for plenty of American families. The key word there is ‘similar.’ Obviously, a golf cart is a lousy choice of transportation anywhere except for a palm-lined retirement mecca. But this, the 2014 Chevy Spark EV, is the next best thing, perfect for commuting and running around town while the family SUV handles the heavy lifting of school shuttling, soccer practices, and box-box retailer runs.
For any other purpose, though, you’re gonna want a different set of wheels.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Review and Quick Spin: About Our Test Car
When choosing a Chevy Spark EV, you can get the 1LT trim level or the 2LT trim level. Upgrading to 2LT trim costs $325 and installs leatherette seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, neither of which you need. Both versions are available with a DC Fast Charger for $750, and it supplies an 80% charge in just 20 minutes.
Prices start at $27,495 including the $810 destination charge, but that’s before the $7,500 federal tax credit is applied, or any state and local credits. In California, the state tax credit is $2,500 until funds for the program are exhausted. So where I live, my Spark 1LT test car, equipped with a DC Fast Charger and a window sticker of $28,245, would ultimately cost $18,245.
Alternatively, I could sign the federal credit over to Chevrolet, write them an additional check for $969 out of my California credit, and lease a Spark EV for $199 per month while sticking more than 1,500 bucks in state cash into my wallet. That would allow me to drive the car 36,000 miles during the ensuing 36 months and never spend a dime on gas, thus lining my pockets with an additional $4,200 over the course of the lease compared to a gasoline-powered Spark. Factor in the Spark EV’s eligibility for California’s carpool lanes, and buying or leasing this car starts making lots of left-brained sense.
True, my electric bill would go up, but not nearly to the tune of $5,700 over three years. Plus, I’m on solar now. And if I plugged the car in at work, it wouldn’t cost me anything.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Review and Quick Spin: Styling and Design
Jaunty is the word that I think best describes the Spark’s appearance. In most respects, this genuinely cute little car just looks happy to be zipping about, heading this way and that, but the headlights are just ridonkulous in size. Especially when the car is viewed in profile, they exaggerate an already nose-heavy look. Subtle aerodynamic modifications give the Spark EV a 0.33 coefficient of drag.
As might be expected of a car that’s not much bigger than a golf cart, the Spark’s cabin is narrow, but surprisingly well done with excellent instrumentation and infotainment displays and graphics. I like how the screen for the gauges juts up from the steering wheel and not the dashboard, imparting a minimalist sensibility. The blue cabin trim and blue piping on the floor mats are a little over the top, but who am I to talk? My house is painted a slightly less vivid shade of this same color.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Review and Quick Spin: Comfort and Quality
You can’t approach a vehicle the size of the Chevy Spark and expect that it’s going to be comfortable, so when you get into one of the front seats and discover that it’s not bad, you’re impressed. Even after a couple of hours spent behind the wheel, burning through nearly all of the car’s battery charge, I was still happily sitting in the driver’s seat, which is positioned relatively high off the floor and provides an excellent view out. However, the floppy armrest, which cannot be adjusted to different heights, is utterly useless.
With the driver’s seat positioned how I liked it, I was able to fit into the Spark EV’s left rear seat, but legroom was really tight. Softly padded seatbacks sure help, though, and I had no trouble wrapping my legs around the sides for a modicum of comfort. Note that Chevy doesn’t even try to pretend that this car seats more than four people, what with a cupholder and plastic tray dividing the rear seat cushion in half. Smart move.
Underlining the Spark EV’s mission as a city car and a daily commuter, the trunk is sized to hold little more than a backpack. From the floor to the ceiling it measures 9.6 cu.-ft., but realistically you’re likely to use no more than the 6.4 cu.-ft. of space beneath the cargo cover. Fold the rear seats down, and they rest on an angle rather than flat, and maximum cargo volume is 23.4 cu.-ft. if you stack to the roof.
Unexpectedly, the Spark EV’s interior escapes looking and feeling low-rent, considering the price class in which it competes. The requisite acres of hard plastic are inescapable, of course, though the lack of padding on the door panel armrest is hard to excuse. From texture and gloss perspectives, though, the Spark’s interior passes muster even in direct sunlight, and some of the individual bits and pieces could serve double-duty in a Cadillac.
Better yet, this car provides cabin pre-conditioning via remote access, so you can heat or cool the cabin prior to driving. And heated front seats are standard equipment.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Review and Quick Spin: Features and Controls
Simple cars have simple controls, and that’s true of the Spark. For the most part, this car is ridiculously easy to use, featuring intuitive switchgear that is, admittedly, not always placed where you expect to find it. Take, for example, the humorous Sport button, which few people will ever push. Actually, that might explain why it is mounted on the floor of the car between the seats.
The standard Chevrolet MyLink technology is graphically excellent and offers large fonts for people with aging eyesight, like me. Unfortunately, I discovered that despite this clean, modern appearance I frequently selected the wrong item, and on many occasions the 7-inch color touch screen wasn’t responsive on the first, or even second, attempt. The result, of course, is unnecessary distraction for the driver.
MyLink’s clean, tablet-style aesthetic is appealing but I’d rather have a big power/volume knob and a big tuning knob for the audio system. Y’know, similar to the Spark’s idiot-proof climate control system. Tablets don’t need Etch-A-Sketch-style knobs because the typical iPad user isn’t hurtling down a street at the command of what could easily become a lethal weapon. Seriously, sometimes I feel like the auto industry has become victim of shamanic consumer electronics geeks.
Yeah, I know, the steering wheel offers buttons for cycling through radio station pre-sets and adjusting stereo volume, and as an iPhone user I could just activate the Siri Eyes Free technology, but these are not valid excuses for favoring gee-whiz interfaces and clean design over usability.
If you want a navigation system, buy a BringGo application ($60) via your smartphone and run it using MyLink. You can also access Pandora and Stitcher Internet radio using this system, and a TuneIn app gives you access to 70,000 global radio stations. Additionally, MyLink provides text-message listening and composition capabilities.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Review and Quick Spin: Matters of Safety
Thanks to its battery, the Spark EV is a pretty heavy car at 2,989 pounds, an additional 730 lbs. compared to a standard Spark. Typically, weight helps protect you when you collide with other vehicles, and the gasoline-powered Spark is the only car in its class to get a “Top Safety Pick” from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). This bodes well for the Spark EV, which is equipped with 10 standard airbags and which comes standard with OnStar Automatic Crash Response, Crisis Assist, and Emergency Services during a generous 3-year subscription. Opt in to FamilyLink service, and you can check on the Spark EV’s location from a home computer.
This is all well and good, but when you sit in the Spark’s rear seat and consider just how close to the back of the car you’re sitting as well as how many SUVs prowl the streets of America, folks with vivid imaginations might be tempted to simply fold the back seats down and call the Spark EV a two-seater.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Review and Quick Spin: Driving Impressions
Though it weighs almost 3,000 pounds, the Spark EV’s electric motor produces 140 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque, the latter available the moment you step on the accelerator pedal. In fact, Chevy says the Spark EV accelerates to 60 mph in less than eight seconds, which is pretty darned quick. On the freeway, the Spark EV will go as fast as 90 mph, but that’s it.
Quick and zippy in its natural environments – the city, suburbs, and heavy traffic – the Spark EV is an agreeable little runabout. I had lots of fun surprising people when leaving a light and demonstrating the benefits of instantaneous torque. Furthermore, unlike other electric cars, the rush of power didn’t fade much as velocity increased, making it easy to merge onto freeways.
The car’s 21-kWh lithium-ion battery pack provides an estimated range of 82 miles, and an optional DC Fast Charger makes the Spark EV compatible with SAE combo DC fast-charging stations, which provide an 80-percent charge in as little as 20 minutes. Using a household outlet, recharging time takes longer, nearly 17 hours to replenish a completely exhausted battery. Get a 240-volt charging station, and the time to a full charge is less than seven hours. Chevy provides an 8-year/100,000-mile warranty for the Spark EV’s battery.
Thanks to the big, heavy battery pack, the Spark EV’s extra weight is instantly palpable, much of it snugged down low where it should reduce the center of gravity and make this Chevy handle like a slot car. Don’t get too ambitious in this green machine, though, because the P185/55R15 Bridgestone Ecopia tires are terrible little low-rolling resistance donuts that provide meager traction and unexpectedly low limits.
The car’s schizophrenic handling doesn’t help. On a twisty back road with a 45-mph limit, I couldn’t decide if the Spark EV’s steering was too quick and darty, or if it was making casual suggestions about which direction to go. In any case, what is usually a pretty fun stretch of road proved no fun at all, and I was glad to get to the bottom of the grade and onto flat, arrow-straight, 2-lane farm roads.
The Spark’s regenerative 4-wheel-disc brakes are also dissatisfying, but that’s true of most systems like this one. What freaked me out is how poorly the pedal responded when maneuvering the car on an incline. They felt like the power brakes in a regular car – one in which the engine isn’t running. On the shoulder of a country road, I nearly backed this silly little car into barbed wire fencing as a result.
Out on the freeway, the Spark cruised at 80 mph on a windless day, and without raising my pulse. It also climbed California’s Conejo Grade at a steady 75 mph, but sucked up 9 miles of range tackling the 2-mile-long, 7 percent grade.
Returning to the ‘burbs at the start of rush-hour, the Spark EV was in its element, zooming away from intersections, whizzing around corners, jockeying for lane position, and flinging itself into parking spaces. Here, the light and floppy steering was a benefit, the brakes didn’t draw much attention to themselves, and I was never in danger of suddenly reaching the limit of the Bridgestones’ grip.
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Review and Quick Spin: Final Thoughts
As I sat silently at a red light, looking at a gas station selling regular unleaded for $4.39 per gallon, thinking about the monthly payment on a Spark EV, and remembering my own days of daily commuting, this little Chevy suddenly made all the sense in the world.
Outside of that reality, though, it might as well be a climate-controlled, technologically sophisticated, retiree-driven, golf cart.
Chevrolet provided the 2014 Spark EV for this review
2014 Chevrolet Spark EV photos by Christian Wardlaw