To get a sense of the Spark EV's real-world range, I recorded the results of a couple of trips around San Francisco. For the first trip, I muddled through heavy downtown traffic, took a scenic ride through the Presidio, tested the acceleration out by the beach on the Great Highway, and headed back to the office with a run by Twin Peaks, the city's high point. I had covered 28 miles but only burned up 17 miles of the range I started out with.
The second trip I recorded involved less sight-seeing and more point A-to-point-B driving. This time, I traveled 27 miles but used 33 miles of apparent range. Focused less on efficiency and more on negotiating city traffic, I was employing a heavier foot on the pedal, and the car's detailed instrument cluster information let me know it.
The Spark EV's power steering is electrically boosted, as there is no engine to turn a hydraulic pump. While it feels fairly natural at speed, a whirring electric sound was audible when turning the wheels while stopped.
I had concerns about traction, due to the stock low-rolling-resistance tires. When the car was going downhill on a dry road, the instrument cluster flashed its low-traction light, indicating that traction control had intervened to keep the car steady. Obviously, the Spark EV is no sports car, but I would definitely hesitate to take it out on wet or icy roads.
MyLink is your link
The center touch screen in the Spark EV shows some information about the electric drivetrain, such as a power-flow animation. Those screens are in addition to the basic MyLink infotainment system. This version of MyLink, also found in the Chevy Sonic, is very different from what Chevy puts in other models, such as the Malibu. The design is very modern-looking, beginning with a colorful home screen showing all the menu options.
This version of MyLink ditches the CD player in favor of portable audio sources connecting to the car through its USB port or Bluetooth. Using my iPhone, I could cable it to the car and get a nice music library interface, or just leave it in my pocket and play music over Bluetooth. With a USB drive plugged into the car, the interface also showed a full music library. Satellite radio was also included in the head unit.
Music played through a pretty minimal set of speakers, dual-concentrics at each corner of the dashboard and a set of single speakers on each side of the cargo area, making up a total of six. Hardly robust sound, but it was passable.
Chevy built good app integration into the head unit. Currently, the Spark EV offers Pandora, Stitcher, TuneIn, and BringGo navigation. To use this integration, each app must be installed on your smartphone and connected to the car. Android phones can connect over Bluetooth, but iPhones have to be cabled to the car.
iPhone users will also be able to easily use Siri with the Spark EV. The voice command in the car is pretty minimal on its own, merely controlling the hands-free phone system. But hold down the voice command button for a couple of seconds, and you get routed to Siri.
With my iPhone connected to the car through Bluetooth, I could ask Siri to play specific music stored on my phone, place calls to any of my contacts, and navigate to an address or business. Using navigation, Apple Maps turn-by-turn instructions played over the car's speakers, but there was no visual accompaniment on the car's interface.
For more connectivity, the Spark EV comes with OnStar built in, offering features such as roadside assistance. However, the lack of an onboard navigation system means OnStar's concierge navigation won't work. To support charging and the electric drivetrain, the Onstar Remote Link app lets you turn on the air conditioning or heater remotely, while the car is plugged in and drawing electricity from the grid.
The biggest lack in the Spark EV's cabin electronics was any help in finding public charging stations. It would be useful if, among the existing integrated apps, Chevy added PlugShare, which shows charging station locations and useful notes about each one.
Given the crop of electric vehicles available, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV's $27,820 price tag is pretty reasonable, especially if you can use tax incentives to knock the price down closer to $20,000. But it still might seem a lot for such a small car. Factor in reduced fueling costs, which should be approximately 10 percent those of a gasoline-fueled car, and the financial picture begins to tip in the Spark EV's favor.
Beyond price, the Spark EV's range will be a big factor for many buyers. If your commute is less than 30 miles each way and you have a place to charge the car at home, it makes a lot of sense.
The most direct competitors to the Spark EV are the Fiat 500e and the Honda Fit EV, each of the three representing very different styling choices. These three cars are all about the same size and offer similar range; however, I like the driving dynamics and interior practicality of the Fit EV more, and that model comes with navigation.
Still, the differentiation between these electric cars is pretty minimal, but one key feature in the Spark EV's favor is its Siri integration, which will make a lot of iPhone users happy.
|Model||2014 Chevrolet Spark EV|
|Power train||105-kilowatt electric motor, 21 kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery pack|
|EPA fuel economy||128 mpge city/109 mpge highway|
|Observed fuel economy||n/a|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Pandora, Stitcher, Bluetooth streaming, iPod integration, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Six-speaker system|
|Price as tested||$27,820|