Riding in a Chevrolet Spark EV in Illinois

The title is not a typo. Yes I’m aware that the Chevrolet Spark EV is only for sale in California and Oregon. But in a not so secret location somewhere in Illinois you can find 2 of them right now. If the numbers work out – we might be making a play for one of the two. Last Saturday I rode Amtrak up to Bloomington-Normal Illinois to attend a electric car event – that I was made aware of the day before. During the event I was told by “Little Blue”’s owners that a Chevy Spark EV might show up. That shocked me – because I wasn’t aware any of these cars were even in Illinois.

Unfortunately the Spark EV never arrived. But “Little Blue”’s owners had been kind enough to offer us a ride to the train station. What I didn’t know is that they had a very cool surprise up their sleeves. They called their contact with the cars and had setup an after hours ride. That is what you see in the video above.

Of course most electric car lovers want a Tesla Model S or the upcoming X. I’d take either one of those. But only a limited number of people have the money to purchase these electric super cars. Quick disclaimer – I am a minor Tesla Motors stockholder. For the rest of us there are a growing number of choices. Granted none of them offer the amount of miles / range that a Tesla does.

Most electric cars for the everyday consumer start in the low $20,000 to middle $30,000 range – depending on the model and options. The Spark EV above is a standard 1LT package. Currently priced at $25,960.

Other than the Tesla Roadster and Model S – the Chevrolet Spark EV is one of the fastest I have taken a ride in. Nothing comes close to touching the acceleration of a Tesla. That being said the Spark EV is only a couple of seconds slower than the slowest Model S.

Like any car the Spark EV has it’s pros and cons. Unlike the Models S or Tesla Roadster the Spark even with traction control on seemed to be a bit squirrelly. This may be do to the car being front wheel drive – but I’d also guess that battery pack placement plays a key roll in the handling. From what I have seen the Spark EV battery pack is more towards the back. Not exactly middle center – this is the preferred location. During 2 test drives of a Nissan LEAF we never got above 50 miles per hour – so I can’t compare the experience. I still haven’t ridden in a Mitsubishi i-MiEV – so I can’t offer feedback for comparison. In the video our driver gives his feedback / opinion on ride performance i-MiEV versus Spark EV.

Most consumers are concerned about range and charging times. The Spark EV reviews seemed to give a thumbs up to range results. Some claim the Spark provides just a few extra miles more than the Nissan LEAF. Charging times are a completely different story. The LEAF wins hands down when it comes to the time it takes to recharge. Chevy Sparks onboard charger ( 3.3 kW ) is smaller than the Nissan LEAF ( 6.6 kW ) – which means the LEAF can recharge faster. The Spark charges at a rate similar to Mitsubishi iMiev ( 3.6 kW ).

There is an option to include Fast Charging with the Chevrolet Spark EV. Again this is an area where the Spark and LEAF differ greatly. This can be blamed on standards wars. The original fast charging standard is called CHAdeMO Level 3 charging ( the plug used is huge ). This standard was created and implemented by mostly Japanese companies. The LEAF and iMiev are examples of cars using this quick charging standard. While the Spark EV uses a recently agreed upon / ratified new fast charging standard. The J1772 Combo Coupler combines both regular and fast charging into one plug. Fast charging stations using this new standard are very few at this time. That network is being built. Keep in mind in most communities it is hard to find the original CHAdeMO standard. The closest CHAdeMO Level 3 charger to my location is about an hour away in Normal Illinois.

One big plus for the Chevrolet Spark EV is the liquid cooled battery pack. This is in agreement with the Tesla Motors line of thinking in regards to battery management. Nissan has done a great job – although late to the game – in regards to improving battery management and making those features standard. But Nissan has not embraced liquid cooling. This might be do to increased cost. The Spark EV list price comes in below the LEAF but still provides this technology. Spark EV has a smaller battery pack than the Nissan LEAF.

When it comes to size the Nissan LEAF wins – it has much more space. The Spark EV is closer to an iMiev when it comes to passenger and storage space. In the backseat of the Spark riding on the hump I didn’t feel cramped. But my opinion is the LEAF feels more spacious.

I haven’t seen any options for a backup camera on the Spark EV. This is one of our favorite features with the Nissan LEAF.

General Motors ( GM ) didn’t do itself any favors by releasing the Spark EV with a 3.3 kW onboard charger. To compete a 6.6 kW charger should have been standard. They released the vehicle after the competition – yet chose to go with a slower charger. Doesn’t seem logical.

The Spark EV only has 3 things going for it – acceleration, liquid cooled battery pack and a fairly low manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). But it isn’t that much lower than a Nissan LEAF. For the money if you can afford it – I feel you get more from the LEAF. Spark EV acceleration is a big plus. The Spark battery management in theory should help with performance longevity. But charging times and space are what make the Spark EV less attractive. With a slightly larger sub compact and faster standard charging times – GM would have had a much better electric car competitor. It is almost like they designed what is so far just a compliance car to fail.

I should have stated 4 positives. Regenerative braking is adjustable with the Spark EV.

Since I don’t think the numbers will work out for us and because I want these cars to find a home – I’m going to let out the “secret” of their location.

There are 2 Spark EV’s for sale at Barker Chevrolet in Lexington Illinois. Contact Ron Dunahee ( email link ) Please be sure to let him know you were referred to him by this website – thanks.

Barker Chevrolet Sales: (888) 597-2618

“Spark EV is also proud to offer the new Standard 3 Fast Charging option, where the battery can charge to 80% in just 20 minutes. It’s the future of electric charging. Look for stations in late 2013.”

“CHAdeMO is an abbreviation of “CHArge de MOve”, equivalent to “charge for moving”

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