Published on September 19th, 2013 | by Silvio Marcacci


2014 Chevy Spark EV Test Drive (CT Exclusive)

September 19th, 2013 by  

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)

2014 Chevy Spark EV

Photo Credit: Silvio Marcacci / CleanTechnica

Chevy Spark EV 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.

Chevy Spark EV interior

Photo Credit: Silvio Marcacci / CleanTechnica

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.

Ok, 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.

2014 Chevy Spark EV dashboard

Photo Credit: Silvio Marcacci / CleanTechnica

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 recharges 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.

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

  • Robert Pollock

    We’re 28 months into our lease and still love the car, taking it for granted now. What scares me is I don’t see a viable replacement out now or soon that can be leased for $220 month with a few thousand down. That and insurance has been our only car expenses. (2 tires too)

  • VoltOwner

    Two prices, base 1LT $27,010, “Loaded” 2LT 27,820. The lease paper for 1LT said “MSRP + DFC $27,495.

    Oh, and that picture of the dash is out of date, production models have two projected “miles remaining” numbers, Min and Max. Much better than just the one…

  • Dan Hue

    The $19K price includes the tax credit. MSRP is around $27K. Very good price regardless.

    • Marion Meads

      One thing nice is that all of these price wars would also force Tesla to deliver lower priced vehicles. The ultimate winner should be the consumers and the environment in the EV price wars. It would no longer be very profitable for Tesla with all of these other competitors ramping up development and delivery at lower prices.

      • Aegys87

        A low cost Tesla is in their plan, a $30,000-ish 200 miles range car that is to be a direct competition to the BMW 3 series. That will be 4 to 5 years later though, until then just see how the others are coming up with….

  • Marion Meads

    The GM Spark EV is a Tesla Killer when it comes to mass market of affordable EV’s. What is more is that GM, in collaboration with Envia, are promising a 300 mile range EV that can be had for only $20,000!!! Elon Musk would soon be a goner if he cannot deliver his version of affordable mass market EV before GM and Envia does. When GM has a timetable to release it to market before Tesla, it would be time to dump Tesla stocks like crazy. We still owe a lot to Tesla for waking up what the American Company like GM can do to the mass adoption of EV. The technologies are already here on the cheap:

    • Aegys87

      Why are trying to kill off another EVs? We are all happy that EVs are the future and hope all does well, this is no place for long or shorts debate….

      • Marion Meads

        This is competition, and it should be good for the consumers, resulting in lower prices for EV’s.

    • Rich

      According to Chevy’s website, the Spark EV is “Available At Participating Dealers In California And Oregon In Limited Quantities.”

      Surprising how GM is announcing a $20k / 300 mile range EV when their new EV (Spark EV) is a compliance car only being sold in 2 States.

      • Bob_Wallace

        How about we dial it back to what GM is actually announcing?

        A 200 mile range, $30,000 EV.

        “This vehicle will likely be offered at some point in the far-off future,
        as Doug Parks, GM’s vice-president of global product programs, told the
        Wall Street Journal that the cost of batteries are simply too high to make this a reality today.”

        From the link in Marion’s comment.

        GM seems to be testing Envia’s 400 Wh/kg battery which would give about 2.8x as much range as the LEAF if battery/car weight was held constant. That would give it a 200 mile highway range.

        • Rich

          Good catch. I have been following Envia for a couple years now and look forward to seeing their tech come to market.

          • Bob_Wallace

            We know that GM owns a piece of Envia. But does not own controlling interest or (apparently) have a contract that allows them to be the sole customer. If Envia batteries test out as promised then Envia can sell them to everyone, not just GM.

            We also know that one of the GM officials let slip a statement that GM is track testing a “200 mile range” battery a few weeks back. It’s easy to speculate that he was talking about the Envia battery, but that hasn’t been confirmed.

            I’m really optimistic. (That is to say, I give it about a 50% chance we’ll see an affordable 200 mile range EV in the next three years.)

            Track testing is a nice ways past lab testing. That means they’ve tested out in the lab and someone has assembled a working pack. You don’t move to that level until you’ve done the cheaper lab testing first.

          • EVanity

            I heard that GM signed a contract with Envia last year to get rights on Envia’s anode that took them to 400 Wh/kg battery. If the technology is good I will be in a 200 mile car within 5 years. Go Envia! Go GM!

          • Bob_Wallace

            My understanding is that GM purchased partial ownership of Envia. But Envia will still be allowed to sell their batteries to other companies.

            What GM bought, in addition to future earnings, is likely an early look at the battery. If the battery is good then GM might get a jump start on the field.

          • Raymond Ramírez

            GM uses a “mule” ( a different body) to test their new technologies. The Volt was track tested in a Maibu “mule”, and someone reported seeing up close a Captiva with a battery pack in the rear, which is also a “mule”. Gm can surprise us next year with a new BEV.

      • Marion Meads

        That is just a start… Soon it will be national. Now if we can fire up the conspiracy theory of GM execs somehow colluding with big oil, but it would be too late, since we always have Tesla to fall back into.

      • VoltOwner

        Compliance cars get sold in Europe and Korea?

        • Raymond Ramírez

          GM designed the Chevy Spark EV as a full-production vehicle, not a “compliance car”. We don’t know why they sold only in those states first. But the Chevy Volt started this way in November 2010, too.

          Korea is mandatory because the Spark EV is built there. Some dealers in other states have begun taking new orders for the Spark EV, so a national distribution is coming. I hope it will be before December 2013. I personally would love to get one as a “Christmas gift”!

      • danwat1234

        This will be many years in the future. When a $20K, 300 mile EV can be made, GM will not be the only ones making it. It will be the norm.

        • Raymond Ramírez

          You can buy this Spark EV now, drive it for 82 miles on electricity, and roll downhill the next 220 miles….

    • Bob_Wallace

      GM (along with Nissan, Ford and most other manufacturers) are entering the EV market at the opposite end chosen by Tesla.

      Tesla does not have a massive ICEV manufacturing corporation backing its EV. They did something very smart for a startup, they went for the deep pocket buyer so that they had room to recover their R&D costs.

      Large established car manufacturers expect to invest heavily in a new model and recover their investment over several years. They use profits from their other models to sustain them during the process.

      Historically car manufacturers don’t make much, if any, profit off economy cars. Profits come from selling the expensive models to the deep pocket folks. At times US car manufacturers have sold economy models at a loss simply to keep their fleet mileage numbers under control and let them sell luxury models.

      I think Tesla did something extremely smart. They brought a car with great buyer appeal to market. People lust after a Tesla. Lots of people would buy one in a second if they could afford it. Tesla can stay in business for years selling luxury EVs to people who can afford them. They haven’t even started to tap the European and Asian markets.

      Neither Tesla, GM, Nissan, or any of the other EV manufacturers controls the price of batteries. None of them are going to be able to drop purchase prices as quickly as they would like. While they wait Tesla can build cars that would make any company proud and create an outstanding brand name.
      When battery prices fall Tesla will be an experience car manufacturing company with all their infrastructure in place and they’ll be able to offer cars for the rest of us.

      Until then, drive a LEAF or a Volt or whatever you can afford and that works for you.

      • Marion Meads

        I’d like to see REAL profits from Tesla in the books, and not from Environmental, Tax and carbon credits. So far, it is negative without those numbers.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m sure Tesla would as well.

          And I’m pretty sure Tesla has a plan for getting there.

          Remember, it’s take 30 years of taxpayer assistance to get wind and solar prices down to where they no longer need help.

          • Marion Meads

            And up to this date, the oil industry is still being subsidized several times more than all the renewable energy combined. Why does oil have to maintain the parasitic tax breaks, subsidies, dirt cheap leases all in more than 250 different kinds of tax break, credits, and subsidy programs?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Political power.

            As long as we finance our elections the way we do those with lots of bucks are going to be given extra power over our rules and regulations.

            I doubt that there are many of us who wouldn’t be willing to donate a tiny amount of our net worth to a political campaign if we could get that back 100x, 1,000x over.

          • Pieter Siegers

            It’s all about changing our life-style, if we go the green way then
            companies will respond. So political power may be strong but we as
            consumers actually possess more power than we realize.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sure, if we change our buying behavior then companies will follow. But most Americans want a cleaner grid and fossil fuel money is slowing the transition. Most people do not have a green/brown grid choice.

            We’re seeing Republican elected officials start to back renewables but it’s “after the fact”. They’re giving in because the money now brings them around. They’re not doing what people want and leading.

      • VoltOwner

        Tesla won’t see as much advantage to falling battery prices as the others will, due to the fact that they use small commodity cells that are already at or near their minimum price. Larger cells can and will become cheaper and have the advantage of requiring a lot less of them to obtain EV size packs. Tesla has managed to automate the assembly, but 7,000 cells per pack is just not a long term solution compared to 100-300 cells. Reliability of the many thousands of connections is a major concern down the road…

    • What it look like

      The other thing we owe to Tesla is so much of the technology is open source. I say, let the competition begin! I have no issues with Telsa cars being expensive and geared toward the rich luxury and speed addicted early adopters. While may be past the point of needing them at this stage of the technologies evolution, they will remain important. As a clean tech investor, I feel some obligation to support Tesla in the long term. I think there is still more to come.

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