Hands on with Chevy’s $25,000 Spark EV

The biggest unveiling at the 2012 LA Auto Show just so happened to center around one of the smallest vehicles on display. After unveiling the Spark EV on Wednesday, General Motors wasted no time showing off its diminutive new electric vehicle, which will sell for under $25,000 with tax credits. It sports an electric motor capable of producing 130 horsepower and a hefty 400 pound-feet of torque, and draws power from a 20-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. An optional SAE Combo DC Fast Charge system will charge the battery to 80 percent capacity in a very manageable 20 minutes. While I didn’t have a chance to actually take the Spark EV for a spin around the showfloor, I was able to walk around, crawl inside, and gather some first impressions of this pint-sized EV.

Even though it’s small in stature, the Spark EV has a big personality. Some subtle differences do exist between the battery-powered spark and its gas-powered counterpart, but other than the absence of a tailpipe, the charging port located near the driver-side door, and some EV badging in the rear, the naked eye will have trouble distinguishing between the two. Of course, not everyone wants a car as ostentatious as the Nissan Leaf, so the Spark’s electric ambiguity may bode well.

Likewise, the Spark EV’s interior closely resembles what you would find in the standard gasoline model, only Chevy has added another 7-inch LCD display, giving the car two: one behind the steering wheel, and another in the center console. The Spark EV on the showfloor wasn’t able to turn on fully, so I didn’t get a chance to mess around with the MyLink infotainment system or experience Siri integration. However, when it comes to Siri functionality, I can’t see there being much of a difference (if any) from what I experienced during my hands-on time with the system in the upcoming Chevrolet Sonic.

Chevy hasn’t released range figures for the Spark EV yet, but the LCD screen behind the wheel gave up an interesting clue when I opened the door. It indicated that the battery was fully charged, and hinted at a total driving range of 74 miles. 

Like other all-electric vehicles, and even hybrids, the Spark EV definitely gives off that electrified vibe. The cockpit resembles a spaceship with a mixture of hard-angled geometric shapes, swooping panels, and circular vents. We can only imagine that look will be further compounded once the dual LCD screens are illuminated and full of data.

Less surprising, however, was the feeling of claustrophobia I felt while inside the Spark EV. Standing at 5 feet, 8 inches, I’m far from the tallest driver, but even I felt cramped and confined. The same feeling translated to the back seats. While the Spark EV is a small commuter car, those taller than I may find the Spark EV uncomfortable on anything longer than a quick jaunt to work. On a positive note, there is a small molded plastic cup holder and what looks like a place to store a mobile phone located between the rear seats. Cargo space is also extremely restricted, decreasing the Spark EVs utility. Usually battery placement is to blame for this, but Chevy has wisely chosen to place it below the rear seats and directly over the rear axle, in a single, sealed enclosure.

Overall, the Spark certainly has spunk, though I’ll have to reserve full judgement until I get some driving time. Minor gripes aside, it seems like it has the potential to attract customers with its edgy, tech-driven interior and fossil-fuel-forsaking powertrain. It will be interesting to see how well the vehicle does given the recent lull in pure EV sales, but with a $25,000 price point (including tax credits) and GM’s purported “best in class EV range,” it wouldn’t come as a surprise for the Spark to shock us all and actually sell well. Here’s hoping its availability quickly spreads beyond its initial limited market release of California, Oregon, Canada, and South Korea.