Making its world debut in Los Angeles, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV will go on sale next summer in California and Oregon as well as in Canada and South Korea, with other markets to be announced later. Unlike most of its zero-emissions rivals, Chevy designed the Spark EV to place just as much emphasis on spirited driving character as it does on being clean and green. That fact is destined to set this diminutive 5-door hatch apart from most other electric-powered players currently on offer.
Based on its conventional Spark sibling, Chevrolet's mighty EV mite leverages knowledge -- and component elements where possible -- from the pioneering Chevrolet Volt and GM Two-Mode Hybrid programs. Motivation is supplied by a custom-designed oil-cooled permanent magnet motor rated at a minimum 130 horsepower (100 Kw) and developing a V8-like 400 lb-ft of peak torque. That's sufficient muscle to send the new Spark EV from 0-60 mph less than 8.0 seconds.
The Spark EV's motor is energized by a bespoke liquid-cooled lithium-ion battery pack with a capacity of "more than 20kWh" - 25 percent greater than the unit in the Volt. Designed for long-term durability and warranted for 8 years/100,000 miles, this A123 Systems-sourced pack has undergone over 200,000 test hours to ensure it's ready for prime time. According to Larry Nitz, executive director of GM's global electrification engineering team, it's robust enough to endure multiple daily DC Fast Charges in addition to the more common 110V/240V replenishment regimens. While offering no guidance on the Spark EV's per-charge range, Nitz did indicate that a full "e-fill" would take around seven hours on a 240V setup but that an 80-percent re-up would require only 20 minutes using the optional SAE Combo DC Fast Charger. The Spark EV will be the first of its breed to offer this bit of time-saving hardware.
We recently got an early intro to the personality of the new Spark EV at a General Motors Electrification Experience symposium that also included some actual time behind the wheel. Although our hands-on encounter was brief and pretty well-regulated, it still proved most enlightening and left no doubt about the validity of Chevy's fun-to-drive claims. Despite its aft-mounted 560-pound battery, the EV remake has yielded a vehicle with a near-50/50 weight balance. Complemented by an impressive sport-tuned suspension and surprisingly grippy, staggered-width (185/55 front and 195/55 rear) low-rolling-resistance tires on 15-inch aero-optimized alloy wheels, the car feels as confident in corners as it does quick in a straight line. Some may deem the Spark EV's electric power steering assist a bit overboosted, but there's little fault to find in the pedal feel of its regenerative brakes.
Visual changes to the exterior of the new Chevrolet Spark EV appear largely confined to the fascias. Up front, they include blocked off grille elements and articulated shutters in the lower front fascia intake that can be opened or closed to admit cooling air as necessary, while the rear gets a modestly revamped soft cap and diffuser. Inside, the Spark EV also boasts its own unique digital instrument cluster with various driver-selectable screens that show range, charge state and more along with a large multifunction display in the center of the dash. As an exclamation point on the remake, Chevy says the transformation process did not compromise the Spark EV's passenger or cargo space.
Although it remained less than fully forthcoming on two pivotal questions regarding the Spark EV, Chevy did use the car's show appearance to confirm that it's "expected to have among the best EV range in the segment" and would be "competitively priced under $25,000 with tax incentives." Whatever the case, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV should generate some high-voltage interest when it finally does go on sale here in 2013.
A friend of Siri
One other bit of news that will impact not only the Spark EV but most other Spark and Sonic models is that Siri - Apple's chatty on-call assistant - will be fully integrated into the Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system that's standard in all of the upline variants on both vehicle lines. Using Siri Eyes Free mode with a Bluetooth-paired iPhone running iOS 6, a driver will be able to place calls, create/listen to messages, update their calendar and more using a voice-activation button on the steering wheel.