Charging in the City: 2015 & 2016 Chevy Spark EVs in LA Road Test

Chevrolet's Spark EV is one of the more affordable and fun to drive electric vehicles available today.

2015 Chevrolet Spark EV

LOS ANGELES, July 20, 2015 — The 2015 Chevy Spark EV may be one of the best buys when it comes to today’s new emissions-free green cars, especially if you live in a city environment where parking is challenging such as here in West Hollywood and LA’s even more posh Hollywood Hills (think historically-congested Sunset Boulevard and celeb-filled Runyon Canyon). Recently reduced in price, the 2015 Spark EV just turns out to be an excellent minicar from head to toe in looks, style, technology, efficiency and performance. It can also be a good choice for those who are seeking to resist the petro dollar and embrace a more sustainable electric lifestyle.

2015 Chevrolet Spark Charging

In urban environments, super compact cars reign as the vehicle of choice for challenging parking situations (it’s only 12.2 feet in length). For some, a tiny car is a necessity and not an option. This is where Chevy’s Spark models shine. For such a short-bodied ride, the Chevy Spark EV has a rather broad stance and the fierce frontal looks, although the extremely cropped vertical back side abruptly stops the coolness of the Spark’s modern design.

Still, the Spark has enough room for four adults if needed and its flexible cargo space makes it an excellent choice for short commutes and shopping trips around town.

The quality-made interior is classic, yet funky enough to be inspirational. The driver’s cockpit is small, but exceptionally ergonomic, especially with the highly graphic Chevy MyLink infotainment system colorfully emanating from both the futuristic behind-the-steering-wheel “digital information center”.  There’s also a seven-inch effervescent touch screen on the dash (along with other cool front controls, designs, textures and smartphone charging port niches). The steering wheel grips perfectly in your hands and has handy thumb and voice controls. Second row seating is roomy enough for not-so-tall adults although with the chairs situated just so, three somewhat tall adult passengers could fit mostly comfortably. Fold-flat seating and a large hatch make for a surprisingly large cargo space.

As for performance, acceleration in this lightweight EV feels a bit turbocharged compared to other EVs and that’s a very good thing. All other driving dynamics including, torque, steering, handling and even the regen braking make for a fun-to-drive urban car for busy commuters and on-the-go families. We highly enjoyed driving the zippy Chevy Spark EV around Hollywood’s storied hills, along Hollywood’s famed Sunset Boulevard and in LA’s narrow hard-to-find-parking streets. After road testing almost every production EV on the market today, we believe this tiny electric wonder vehicle truly is one of the best enviro cars on the road today to drive and own.

2015 Chevrolet Spark Storage Space

How Far Does the Spark EV Really Go?

When fully charged, Chevy claims its new and slightly improved 2016 Spark EV gets an EPA-estimated 82 miles of driving range (that translates to 119 MPGe), which makes it one of the USA’s most efficient EVs on the roads today.

Plus, the 2015 Chevy Spark EV and its newly-released 2016 Chevy Spark EV brother come with tons of standard convenience, technology and advanced safety equipment, which makes this tiny ride more like a near luxury vehicle rather than an entry-level compact. More good news is this sweet urban ride has been reduced in price to a base MSRP of $25,995 (the same goes for the even better 2016 model).

Our Spark EV was also equipped with an updated “fast provisions and STO remote stop charging” option for $750. With the $825 destination charge, the total price of our 2015 Chevy Spark EV min car was: $28,785. And that doesn’t include the more than $1,000 price cut. Since when does the price go DOWN on an award-winning fuel efficient ride?

Chevy claims both the 2015 and 2016 models can qualify for up to $15,000 “after full federal and state tax credits and retail incentives.” Could that really make this super connected brand new green ride go down to the $15,000 range? This auto journalist is quite skeptical anyone could qualify for that many federal, state and local tax incentives, but certainly the low base price, potential $7,500+ guaranteed federal tax savings, fuel cost savings, loads of standard features, kick ass infotainment system, two-year free maintenance and extended warranties is worth a road test at your nearest Chevy dealer, right?

(More on tax incentives from Chevy: California and Maryland Spark EV owners may also qualify for a $2,500 California state rebate or $2,300 Maryland excise tax exemption. Additional Chevrolet bonus cash is also available: $1,000 in California, $1,200 in Maryland, and $3,500 in Oregon. After full federal and state tax credits and Chevrolet bonus cash, the Spark EV could be as low as $14,995. Individuals should consult a tax professional prior to claiming any credits to confirm eligibility for tax benefits.)

Nobody Charges in LA?

Actually, so many plug-in hybrid and EV owners are charging in LA that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find an available EV charging port. One day at West Hollywood’s EV-friendly Plummer Park (three free hours of charging on the Blink network), we met a lovely young woman fresh out of college who had recently bought a brand new 2015 Spark EV.

While standing next to our almost identical electric blue Spark EVs, we rapped about her buying decision and living the EV lifestyle in LA. She said chose Spark EV because she: 1) wanted to go green and all electric; 2) needed a small car for better parking options; and 3) got a good deal with a super low lease at a nearby Chevy dealer. As she walked to work and only used the car for shopping and short trips to visit friends, family and LA’s attractions, she was happy with her decision.

2015 Chevrolet Spark Dash

She wasn’t so happy with her charging challenges, which she only discovered after signing the lease and living with her Spark for a while. The first hurdle in EV ownership is this: You must have access to an incredibly convenient 240-volt outlet for overnight charging. So much of LA is rental property – especially for first-time new car buyers – so being provided with a my-car-only outlet is out of reach for millions. Still, homeowners and those who have forward-thinking landlords at home or work can make the most of this new plugged-in lifestyle.

Unfortunately, the woman at Plummer Park had broken the cardinal EV sin. She had rented an apartment, but there was no outlet for her to plug in her Spark EV for a full charge the next morning. We only road test EVs now and again, so we are also beholden to public charging stations like this woman.

2015 Chevrolet Spark Guages

We have found public charging as has been a blessing in learning a lot about EV charging and a curse (waiting hours to charge, waiting hours for other EV owners to finish charging before you can even plug in, paying fees from different charging companies, dealing with broken charging units and other such EV shenanigans because the infrastructure is so new and not yet mainstream).

What most car companies don’t tell you is public EV charging can get expensive especially when compared to falling gasoline prices. Chevy says its 2016 Spark EV is equipped with three levels of recharging capabilities: 1) a SAE combo charger for direct current (DC) “fast” charging, “which charges 80 percent of the battery in 20 minutes” or so claims Chevy; 2) a dedicated 240-volt charger; and 3) a standard 120-volt charger. This three-fold approach to charging may not seem important and yet many new EV models don’t even include a “fast charging” port.

Can the 2015 Chevy Spark EV can “save owners an average $83 a month in fuel costs”? So says the EPA assessments (based on 24 mpg highway for an average vehicle and 12 cents per kWh of electricity).

On our weeklong road test of the zippy 2015 Chevy Spark EV with tiny turning radius, we drove about 30 miles each day. That’s about $3.60 a day and compares well to Blink’s “membership” level charges levied to our debit card. While that sounds like some good savings, it really adds up. Again, it is best to pull your electricity from an available overnight source that is hopefully on your electric utilities cheaper nighttime rates (EV ownership can apply so call your utility company for information).

EV Ownership Extras

There’s one other really good thing EV ownership. Most car companies overcompensate on new technologies when it comes to EVs and warranties. So, owning the Chevy Spark EV is more like owning a luxury car as it comes with an almost unbelievable two-year (24,000 miles) scheduled maintenance with 27-point inspection and four-wheel tire rotation. This is one case when being green can be kinda cool.

In addition, Chevy offers a three-year (36,000 miles) bumper-to-bumper warranty, a five-year (100,000) limited powertrain warranty, roadside assistance, courtesy transportation and an eight-year (100,000) battery and electric propulsion limited warranty. Surely, this could be the don’t-worry-about-it car for now instead of the future if you have an EV-friendly Chevy dealer nearby and an available electric outlet (hopefully in 240 volts) and plenty of public charging options too.

All in all, Chevy Spark EV sounds like a pretty good enviro car deal, right? There’s two big catches, however. For those who are seeking an American-made vehicle, you are in for quite the shock. The 2015 Chevy Spark EV is manufactured in Changwon, South Korea. Chevrolet admits it has “very limited vehicle service availability outside California or Oregon.”

Still, if you are an LA or Portland urbanite ready for a new green car that fits the bill for better parking, affordability and seems like the best foray for driving into the electric lifestyle, then Chevy’s 2015 and the upcoming 2016 Spark EV may be the best minicar for you and the planet.

2015 Chevrolet Spark Front Seats
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