June 25, 2018
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Chevrolet Spark: A good argument for plugging in

By Warren Brown, Special To The Washington Post

I am sometimes a neighborhood recluse, seldom moving beyond the boundaries of my Arlington community on days when writing duties tie me to my home office.

I take meal breaks and “soul breaks” — and time for short errands, usually traveling to local restaurants, shops and churches.

It occurs to me that I need not burn gasoline and further burden local air quality with tailpipe emissions to do those things. I am now convinced I don’t have to.

There are all-electric cars, reliable and affordable with sufficient drive range per charge to allow me to go locally where I want to go without running out of juice. I recently drove an excellent example of the genre, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV 1LT, and am seriously considering its purchase. The little car makes so much sense.

With a full charge of its 21-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, I can travel 82 miles at speeds of up to 90 mph before I need to recharge the battery. In terms of driving range, that is more than I need to get around my home town and adjoining jurisdictions. In terms of speed, there is no where I can drive locally at 90 mph without getting arrested and hauled off to jail. Local speed limits range from 25 to 50 mph, with severe penalties for significant violations.

Over the years, I’ve paid my share of those fines. I have no desire to pay one cent more.

Recharging the battery pack is easy. The front-wheel-drive Spark EV comes with a 120-volt power cord. I plug it in to my home-voltage power outlet overnight and am ready to go the next day.

If the battery pack is near complete discharge, it will take nearly 20 hours for a full recharge using the 120-volt charging system. Quicker recharging is available, seven hours to full charge, using an available 240-volt recharging system by Robert Bosch GmbH, a multinational engineering/electronics company and the world’s largest supplier of automotive components, headquartered near Stuttgart, Germany.

That means I will have to come up with several hundred dollars more should my wife, Mary Anne, approve my intended purchase of the Spark EV 1LT, the model I drove, which comes with the seemingly daunting price (for a small car) of $27,495. I wrote “seemingly daunting” because that price can be reduced by a $7,500 federal tax rebate.

Still, it is going to be a tough sell. It always is when it comes to getting Mary Anne to loosen her grip on the family purse. But I have virtue and common sense on my side.

Our house sits diagonally across the street from a major school bus stop. Two middle schools and one high school are in our immediate neighborhood. During the school year, mornings and late afternoons are filled with the sounds of the comings and goings of those children. They are our future. They, at least, deserve to breathe cleaner air.

I think I successfully can make that argument to Mary Anne, a retired elementary-school teacher whose heart has never left the classroom. If that does not work, I can appeal to her severely practical mind with numbers. To wit: It costs $6.72 to operate the Spark EV 200 miles per week. A new gasoline car of similar size traveling the same weekly distance would cost $31.65, according to research done by economists at General Motors, the Spark EV’s manufacturer.

I know that there are holes in that argument, such as the Spark EV’s initial purchase price, even with the federal rebate. And we drove the Spark EV 1LT in splendid autumn weather, not in the misery of an icy winter or the sticky heat of the dog days of August. All of those conditions would create an additional drain on the car’s lithium-ion battery pack.

But I remain convinced that the Spark EV 1LT is worth the investment. It runs clean with lots of torque, a remarkable 400 pound-feet. It has decent oomph, the equivalent of 130 horsepower. It is small and easy to park. It is so loaded with electronics, such as Chevrolet’s My Link system, which turns your iPhone into an integral part of the automobile, the Spark EV is a portal to the future.

I write none of this to suggest that electric cars will dominate personal transportation anytime soon, or to ignore the fact that some pollution somewhere is involved in the manufacture and operation of electric vehicles. All of us, apparently except members of the U.S. Congress, are aware that life well lived is a matter of trade-offs.

I think the Spark EV and cars like it are worth the trade-offs.

Keep moving in this direction, GM and Chevrolet. Thumbs up!

Bottom line: The 2014 Spark EV 1LT is the perfect neighborhood automobile — a truly reliable, civil little car.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Ride is good. Acceleration is excellent — instant torque! Handling is weighted by the heft of that lithium-ion battery pack.

Head-turning quotient: Terms such as “sexy” don’t come to mind. But the car is a good candidate for “endearing” and “cute.”

Body style/layout: The 2014 Spark EV 1LT is a front-wheel-drive electric car employing a lithium-ion battery pack and electric motor essentially based on the same platform as the gasoline-fueled Chevrolet Spark mini-car. It has certain underbody and other modifications to enhance aerodynamic efficiency. It has four side doors, a rear hatch . . . and no tailpipe.

Power system: A 21-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack powers an electric motor that drives the front wheels. The transmission is automatic — one-speed direct drive.

Capacities: There are seats for four people. Cargo capacity is 9.6 cubic feet, enough for a week’s groceries for a family of four. Recharging time to “full” ranges from seven to 20 hours, depending on whether you use Bosch’s quick-charge system or regular 120-volt house current.

Mileage: The MPGe (gasoline miles-per-gallon equivalent) is 119, a pretty good number.

Safety: Standard equipment includes a three-year subscription to GM’s OnStar emergency communications system; four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear); four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; electronic brake-force distribution; stability control; traction control; stolen-vehicle tracking assistance; and 10 air bags.

Price: The base price of the 2014 Spark EV 1LT is $27,495, with a dealer’s invoice price of $26,395. A more posh Spark EV 2LT is available at $27,820, with a dealer’s invoice price of $26,707. A $7,500 federal tax rebate applies to both cars, as does a $810 factory-to-dealer destination fee. East Coast supplies are limited.

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