Although its formal reveal in production form won't happen until the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, GM offered up a few pertinent details about its new 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV - as well as the opportunity to put a few miles on several still-disguised development vehicles - during its two-day Electrification Experience symposium held earlier this week just north of San Francisco. Unlike the majority of its zero-emissions rivals, the new Spark EV places just as much emphasis on driving dynamics as it does on being clean and green, a fact that should serve to distance it from the pack.
Based on its conventional Spark sibling, this mighty 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 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 that has a capacity of "more than 20kWh" - 25 percent greater than the unit in the Volt. Designed for long-term durability and warrantied 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, the pack is 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 DC charger.
Our time behind the wheel, although brief and pretty well-regulated, 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.
We'll have a better idea about several other aspects of this new addition to the Chevy lineup in LA - although it remains to be seen if pricing will be part of that data download. Whatever the case, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV should generate some high-voltage interest when it finally does go on sale here in 2013.