ELECTRIC HOT ROD FROM HELL
The Chevrolet Spark EV
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Thu, Jul 24, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story and pictures by Roy Nakano
In the words of Matthew McConaughey: All right, all right, all right—let’s cut to the chase. The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV cranks out a whopping 400 pound-feet of torque.
To put this into perspective, the new BMW i3 electric car puts out 184 pound-feet. The new Volkswagen GTI churns out 258. The Spark EV’s sister car, the Chevy Volt, does 273. The Porsche 911 Carrera S manages 325. The Ford Mustang GT with its 5.0 liter V8 does 390 pound-feet. And as Chevy likes to point out, the little Spark EV has more torque than even the Ferrari 458 Italia, which is just shy of 400 at 398 pound-feet. But while the Ferrari’s torque peaks at 6,000 rpm, the Spark EV’s 400 pound-feet is available from zero rpm. Talk about low-end torque, that’s all right in our book.
That’s not all that’s right about the Spark EV. This little pocket rocket can be had for well under $20,000. The manufacturer’s suggest retail price on a Spark EV is $26,685. Add $810 for destination charges and subtract $7,500 for the EV Federal tax credit and an additional $2,500 for the California EV cash rebate, and you’ll end up paying *$17,495. And that’s not including any additional discounts that might be available through the dealer or the Automobile Club of Southern California (AAA). You can pay a lot more for a far less remarkable car.
What else is right? There’s a killer lease program available for the Spark EV—i.e., $999 down and $199 a month for 36 months. And the icing on the cake: California will pay for your down payment and the first 7-1/2 months of your monthly payments. That’s right. California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project applies to leases as well as purchases (sorry, non-Californians, this rebate is exclusive to residents of the Golden State).
The Spark EV is all the more remarkable, considering it’s based on the gas-powered Spark—a cute little car with truly mediocre power, handling, and ride qualities. The electrification of the Spark replaces the noisy, anemic internal combustion engine with a smooth, powerful and utterly quiet electric motor of GM design. The lithium-ion battery pack adds 560 pounds to the car, requiring a bit of tweaking to the suspension. Curiously, the added weight and suspension tweaking makes the Spark EV ride like a heavier car. Last, but not least, the battery pack is positioned low, which in turn lowers the center of gravity. Consequently, the EV version of the Spark goes around corners flatter. It is—by far—the sportiest version of the Spark.
This is not to say that the Spark EV sheds its econo-box origins. The interior still looks and feels pretty Spartan. The doors and trunk lid close with the light effort associated with inexpensive subcompacts. No one will mistaken it for a Euro luxury sedan. On the other hand, the car ‘s space utilization is pretty remarkable. This car is actually a hair shorter than the MINI Cooper, but rear seat space and access is miles better. The Spark also sits rather tall, allowing plenty of headroom for full grown adults—front and back. Alas, the trunk space is compromised, but you can fold down one or both of the rear seats if you need the cargo space
Two-Lane Blacktop Revisited
Back in the day, hot rodders would go through a ritual to get ready for racing—like turning off the A/C and turning on the nitrous oxide. To engage the hot rod mode of the Spark EV, there’s a similar ritual, which includes pushing the Sport button, turning off the traction control, and turning off the A/C. With ritual completed, place the accelerator pedal to the metal, and witness the front tires breaking loose as you accelerate forward like a silent bat out of hell.
A sidebar note for the drag racing fans in our audience: Since maximum torque is available at zero rpm, the Spark EV does not need multiple gears to get up and go. For the same reason, launch control (as is available on the GTI and other high performance cars where maximum torque is further up the rpm range) is not needed.
What is needed to really make the Spark EV shine the quarter-mile derby are (1) removal of whatever governor GM has installed to limit off-the-line acceleration, (2) a suspension less prone to wheel hop, and (3) a numerically higher drive ratio. Now we’re pretty sure Chevy never intended the Spark to be a street light racer, but lo and behold: The 2015 Spark EV has a numerically higher drive ratio (alas, the torque has been dialed back—more on that later). As for the wheel hop, it’s only a problem if you make it habit to floor the accelerator pedal while disengaging the traction control and engaging the sport mode. It’s not the usual practice of hypermiling green car drivers. On the other hand, tuner shops, take heed: Herein lies the makings of your next tuner project.
Range Anxiety 101
The Achilles’ heel for just about all pure electrics other than the $70,000+ Tesla is range. With an EPA-rated range of 82 miles (119 MPGe combined rating), the Spark EV is not appreciable different from the myriad of other pure electric vehicles out there. And while an 82 mile range is not long enough for those with long commutes, your results will truly vary. I did an 80-mile round trip from Monrovia to Santa Ana and back to Monrovia—and the range gauge said I had 38 miles left. That’s a range of 118 miles! To get that number required driving at the speed limit, dialing back the air conditioning, and staying away from hills—the three range killers.
The Spark EV in 2015
A few details have emerged about the 2015 Spark EV worth sharing. First and foremost, the torque is reduced from 400 to 327 pound-feet. There’s been no direct explanation for the reduction. However, the lithium ion battery pack for the 2014 model is an A123 Systems unit that holds 20 kWh of power. For 2015, Chevrolet is switching to a 192 unit pack consistring of cells made and assembled by LG Chem in its Holland, Michigan plant. The new battery pack will only hold 19 kWh, but is said to be 86 pounds lighter.
The other major change in 2015 is to the Spark EV’s drive ratio. The 2014 model carries a 3.17 to 1 ratio. For 2015, it’s 3.87 to 1. Quarter-milers know that this change generally improves off-the-line acceleration, all other things being equal. But Chevrolet says 0-60 mph acceleration remains the same as does the EPA fuel economy ratings. We suspect the drive ratio was changed to make up for the drop in torque from 400 to 327 pound-feet.
This leads us to believe that the battery change is more for efficiency of production than for product improvement (the same LG lithium ion cells are used in the Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac ELR). Curiously, General Motors had been tauting the virtues of the 3.17 to 1 drive ratio for the 2014 Spark EV. Steve Tarnowski, Senior Manager of Electrification Systems Engineering for GM said the following to an SAE International convention in 2013:
“The very high torque is motor performance that we are very proud of, and customers will notice the difference: (It has a gear reduction of 3.17 to 1, so the axle torque is the product of these two). This is a very low numerical reduction ratio, which has several great benefits. (No. 1) Feels much better to drive. 3.18:1 is less than half of the reduction of all other EVs. This makes for extraordinarly low driveline inertia, less than 1/5 of the driveline inertia of the Nissan Leaf and 1/4 that of the Fiat 500 EV. Their cars feel like you are driving around in second gear all day long; ours feels like fourth gear. (No. 2) Lower gear mesh, spinning losses, and lower high speed electromagnetic losses mean very high drive unit efficiency. The Spark EV efficiency from DC current to delivered Wheel torque is 85 percent averaged over the city driving schedule and 92 percent when averaged over the highway schedule.”
Get ‘em while they’re hot—and available
What this may mean is that the 2014 Spark EV—with its monster 400 pound-feet of torque—will end up with collector car status. It may become the electric car equivalent of the 1955 small-block Chevy Bel-Air. Tuner shops should be scouting the dealer lots for this car, as the 2014s will soon be history.
This is not to take anything away from the 2015. After all, 327 pound-feet of torque is still exceedingly more than its competition (and still more than the Porsche 911 Carrera S, by the way). And GM may be correct to say that nothing is sacrificed in the realm of power and efficiency compared to the 2014 model. We will reserve judgment until we can get our hands on a 2015 Spark EV. In the meantime, if 400 pound-feet is important to you, go to your Chevrolet dealer to see and drive the 2014 electric hot rod from hell.
For more information about Chevrolet products, go to www.chevrolet.com
SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Price To own: $26,685, plus $810 destination charges (up to $7,500 EV Federal tax credit and $2,500 California EV cash rebate) To lease: $999 down and $199 a month for 36 months (plus $2,500 California EV cash rebate) EPA mileage estimates: 128 city/109 highway MPG equivalent Electric range: 82 miles Engine type: Electric permanent magnet AC motor Horsepower: 140 Torque: 400 pound-feet at 0 rpm Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Transmission: Single-speed front gear Suspension Front: MacPherson strut independent with stabilizer bar Rear: Torsion beam with stabilizer bar Wheels and tires: 15-inch alloy wheels and 195/55R15 all-season tires Dimensions Overall length: 146.5 inches Overall width: 64 inches Overall height: 62.6 inches Curb weight (lbs.): 2,989 pounds