2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Driving Impressions

If electric vehicles turn out to be all the rage, in our vague clean transportation future, it’ll be largely because they’re fun. How can 400 silent foot-pounds of torque not be fun? Sparky Vee is the stealth burnout king. The sexy new BMW i3 EV, all carbon fiber and aluminum, is getting attention that’s burying the blue-collar Chevy, but it costs a lot more and only makes 185 foot-pounds of torque, so there.

The Spark’s motor, equivalent to 140 horsepower, is good enough to give the Spark the best acceleration among current EVs, with a 0 to 60 mph time of 7.6 seconds (the lighter BMW i3 will do 0-60 in about 7.1). That snappy acceleration smokes the Honda Fit EV and Fiat 500e, with their times of 9.0 and 9.1 seconds.

Our mileage was better than the rated mileage, without our using hyper-mileage techniques, driving around the city, with only a couple miles of freeway. It’s those higher speeds that suck sparks (spark sucker is the new gas guzzler). The EPA rating is 82 miles, and we drove 66 miles in downtown Portland, with another 32 projected on the gauge. The record among GM engineers during their testing is 138 miles.

In the electric world, range is all about what engineers call TTT: technique, temperature and terrain. If you live somewhere cold and mountainous, an EV is probably not for you.

The Spark EV squirts away from stoplights, so no worries about getting in anyone’s way. In fact its one-speed transmission and quick getaway will have you zipping in city driving, with the other cars getting in your way. Especially those big, slow-moving, gas-guzzling SUVs.

Unlike with a gas vehicle, an EV doesn’t use a lot more juice to get from 0-20 mph, so jackrabbit starts don’t hurt range the way they hurt fuel mileage in a gas car. There is a Sport mode that quickens acceleration response, but we’re not so sure it needs it.

Out on the freeway at 55 mph, the speed of the electric motor is a very low 2600 rpm, a good thing. The BMW spins way higher.

The Spark EV is 600 pounds heavier than the gas Spark, because the lithium-ion battery itself weighs 560 pounds. So the handling might be less nimble than the gas Spark, but nimble is relative, and it felt pretty nimble to us.

The weight helps the ride, which is firm and comfortable. None of Portland’s patches, bumps or edges made us wince in our seats.

The transmission has one speed, but has two ranges, Drive and Low, which adds regenerative slowing. It’s often referred to as regenerative braking, but that’s a misnomer because the brakes aren’t used.

To use or not use Low gear, is the question. It gets down to driving style. Even GM engineers can’t say how much it might increase the range. If you like your car to slow down hard when you lift off the throttle, you’ll like Low. If you’re a smooth driver and glide more, you won’t use Low.

Here’s where we think we are, driving-wise. An EV is the funnest city car. But now factor in cost and range, and your environmental commitment level. Everyone asks, Is it worth it? It’s a question that can’t be answered without asking questions back.

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