If you're interested in plugging in your car rather than filling it up at the gas pump, there's an ever-increasing list of vehicles available for you. Many automakers are jumping on the electric-vehicle bandwagon, offering new models with fully electric powertrains that boast growing ranges and diminishing charge times. The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV is one of those vehicles.
Chevrolet was an early adopter of electric power for its vehicles. The brand's 5-door Volt hatchback debuted for the 2011 model year to some success, beating most rivals -- including the fully electric Nissan Leaf -- to the market. But the Volt boasts a plug-in hybrid drivetrain rather than a fully electric powerplant. While that means the Volt's range is longer than a typical EV, it also means some shoppers (those who never want to use gasoline, that is) have to look elsewhere.
But for the 2014 model year, that's no longer the case. With the Spark EV, drivers can now buy a fully electric Chevrolet rather than a plug-in hybrid such as the Volt. And they'll get an impressive 82-mile range for around $27,500 -- a longer range than the Nissan Leaf, and for less money. The only drawback? The Spark EV is offered only in Oregon and California. But Chevrolet promises it will soon expand the Spark's reach to many other U.S. states -- something we hope happens sooner rather than later.
What's New for 2014?
The Chevrolet Spark EV is all-new for the 2014 model year. It's a 130-horsepower, fully electric variant of the Chevrolet Spark, which came out for the 2013 model year.
What We Like
Quick acceleration from a stop; strong value; good starting price; low range
What We Don't
Limited availability; no unique look like the Volt; small interior; easy volume knob replaced by buttons
Because the Spark EV doesn't have a gasoline engine, it doesn't offer "gas mileage" in the traditional sense. But the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the Spark EV at 128 miles per gallon equivalent in the city and 109 mpge on the highway. EPA's "mpge" rating is designed to roughly equal a fuel economy rating for a gas-powered car. According to EPA, the Spark EV also returns 82 miles of range -- though we think it can do even better if you drive conservatively.
Standard Features & Options
The Spark EV comes in just two trim varieties: base-level 1LT and uplevel 2LT trim levels.
Choose the 1LT ($27,500) and you get a long list of equipment, given the car's size and economical positioning. Standard items include Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system with a 7-inch touchscreen, an AM/FM stereo, heated front seats, 15-in alloy wheels, keyless ignition and entry, Bluetooth, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a split-folding rear seat.
Drivers who step up to the 2LT ($27,900) add just two features: a leather-wrapped steering wheel and premium vinyl upholstery.
While the Spark EV doesn't offer many options, it does include one major accessory: a quick charger. Pay the extra $750 for that feature and the hatchback can recharge 80 percent of its battery capacity in just 20 minutes.
Like the regular Spark, the Spark EV is small in size but big on safety. It includes high-tensile steel to help crash safety and torsional rigidity, 10 airbags to improve your chances of surviving a collision and standard features such as anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Neither the Spark nor the Spark EV has been rated in crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Behind the Wheel
Right out of the gate, the Spark EV feels fast -- especially from a dead stop -- thanks to its 400 lb-ft of torque. It may not look the part, but the Spark EV really pushes you back in your seat when you push down on the accelerator.
The Spark EV's electric powerplant also gives the car a refined feel, as the EV model feels more substantial and better built than the standard, gas-powered Spark. Thanks to the electric motor, it's quieter and smoother, too.
We also appreciate the Spark EV's long list of standard features. Remote starting is great, as is the ability to heat or cool the car's interior while it's still plugged in -- great for climates with extreme temperatures.
But we really enjoy the Spark EV's "confidence gauge" -- a meter that tells the driver how much charge is left in the battery and how many miles the car can go without recharging. The confidence gauge gives two numbers, a high and a low, along with an estimate of whether your current driving conditions are trending toward the high number or the low one. It's an excellent system that helps eliminate the "range anxiety" commonly associated with electric vehicles.
Other Cars to Consider
Ford Focus Electric -- The Focus Electric is larger than the Spark EV, and it's more expensive. But the Focus Electric's range is similar to that of the Spark EV, and the Ford is more widely available.
Honda Fit EV -- Honda's subcompact Fit EV also boasts a 5-door body style and a fully electric powerplant. More importantly, it's available for sale everywhere.
Nissan Leaf -- Nissan's fully electric Leaf hatchback is slightly more expensive than the Spark EV, and its range is shorter. But interior room is a major step up over the tiny Spark.
The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV is an excellent electric vehicle if you're looking to maximize your range for a reasonable price. We like its standard equipment, styling and starting price of around $20,000 after federal tax rebates. Our only gripe is that it isn't available nationally -- though Chevrolet says that will soon change.