Review: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

Wednesday October 8th, 2014 at 8:1010 AM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

By David Colman

Hypes: Perfect 10 on the Greenhouse Gas Scale
Gripes: Impractical Range, Rubbery Suspension

Home, home on the range anxiety. The electric motor Spark EV, which is sold only in California and Oregon, is a great idea whose time has not yet come. Without any back-up source of power, the Spark is dead when its lithium ion battery runs out of charge. This problem limits your range to at most 80 miles of real world driving. If your destination lies more than 40 miles distant, and you plan on returning without delay, you’d better leave the Spark home, tethered to its recharge umbilical, while you take a real car instead.

We set off on a 50 mile one way drive with more than 50 miles showing on the range indicator. 25 miles into the drive, the remaining range suddenly dropped from 25 miles to 11 as we crested a long hill. The system emitted a warning “Bing” and dashboard lights flashed the disconcerting information that we needed to “Recharge Soon.” Okay, so we pulled off the highway and, luckily, found a shopping plaza with an ARCO gas station, Starbucks cafe and KFC restaurant. Little did we know we would be spending the next 3 hours stuck here as we tried unsuccessfully to recharge the Spark. Chevy provides a 120V recharging unit with a 3 prong plug which we inserted into the wall receptacle of the ARCO station, with kind permission from the manager.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

After an hour of purported recharging, we returned to find that nothing was gained because the wall socket was apparently dead. So we found another socket, plugged in the charger and were unpleasantly surprised to find that although this socket had juice, the fussy Spark charger refused to operate, illuminating a red light to indicate failure to charge. Apparently, the recharger will not operate in all live outlets. Nor can you use an extension cord to connect it.

After 2 hours of phone calls, we were able to locate a Charge Point station within our now 8 mile range, drive there, only to find ourselves stymied by lack of the Charge Point affinity credit card needed to dislodge the charging wand for use. More phone calls finally got electrons flowing into the Spark. We then had to hitch a ride home with a friend, who also drove us back to retrieve the partially recharged Spark some 5 hours later.

Once you accept this EV for what it is – basically the ideal mail delivery vehicle for a six block square housing subdivision – you’ll be happy with your cute, puppy faced Spark. After all, it scores 10 on the EPA’s “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Scale” as well as 10 on the “Smog Scale.” It also carries a rating of 119 MPGe, which means its theoretical rating exceeds its real world range by about 40 miles. The EPA also rates its recharge time as 7 Hours. Unless you have a 240 Volt recharge station at your disposal, you can expect to spend about 20 hours recharging depleted Spark batteries. We estimated that the charge rate at our 110 volt garage outlet was good for about 4 miles of range for each hour of charge time. Grass grows faster than Spark recharges itself.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

Chevy has tried to jazz up the interior of the Spark EV with stylistic cues taken from the Volt. Inside the tiny cabin, you’ll find hard touch surfaces for radio and climate controls. The dash sports random directional slashes incised into its surface to impart a feeling of energy and brash individualism. The seats pick up the party line with their free form dot conga lines. The door panels and dash spine use blue-grey plastic inserts to lighten the interior and imbue it with further playfulness. The shiny plastic housing of the instrument cluster reflects itself distractingly in the windshield and side mirrors. Living in the Spark EV is like spending time inside an Igloo drink cooler.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

The one feature electric motors are best at providing is torque. The Spark EV produces an instant wallop of 400 lb.-ft. the second you floor the accelerator. So impressive is this launch from a standing start that the Spark’s front wheels go light as weight transfers to the tail end. Lightness is the byword of Spark handling. With teeny (185/55R15), hard shell (370 Tread Wear Rating) Bridgestone Ecopia tires, Spark’s connection to the pavement is tenuous at best. If you engage the “Sport” setting on the central console, handling improves marginally. However, you will not mistake this diminutive sedan for a sports ride under any circumstances. The Spark lives to do only one thing well: travel short distances while avoiding gas stations altogether.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV

  • Engine: GM Electric Drive System with 21kWh Lithium Ion Battery Pack
  • Horsepower: 140hp
  • Torque: 400 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 119 MPGe
  • Price as Tested: $28,570
  • Star Rating: 5 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Cadillac ELR

Friday August 8th, 2014 at 3:88 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

2014 Cadillac ELR

By David Colman

Hypes: Brilliantly Engineered, Scintillating Appearance, Practical Electric Application
Gripes: Hard to Access Rear Seat, Vacillating Brake Pedal

The allure of the electric car has never shined brighter than it does in Cadillac’s ELR. If your daily drive runs twenty to forty miles, you will never need to visit a gas station, or refill your fuel tank. The electric only range of the ELR is rated at 37 miles. In actual practice we rarely exceeded that figure during a week of daily errand running. Driving for free certainly gives you a different perspective on the car game. Just plug in your ELR when you come home each day, and let it recharge over night. GM provides a handy 120V “Travel Charge Cord” which will plug into any wall socket and refurbish a completely discharged battery so you’re ready to roll the next morning. Recharging time takes between 12 and 18 hours on 120V current.

2014 Cadillac ELR

The beauty of the ELR – unlike the Tesla or Nissan Leaf – is that this Cadillac will never leave you stranded if you deplete the battery while on a trip. If the lithium ion battery pack runs out of charge, the ELR’s 86hp, 1.4 liter gasoline engine assumes the chore of returning you home. If you plan on traveling long distances, the gas only range of the ELR is a healthy 340 miles.

Before the ELR, you had to be willing to make certain compromises in practicality and comfort in order to diminish your carbon footprint. For example, the Chevy Volt, upon which the ELR is based, has offered many of the same virtues as the ELR for several years now. But by comparison to the ELR, the Volt’s many hard edges make it uncomfortable to live with on a daily basis. By refining the Volt platform, GM has made the ELR much more inviting and fun to drive than its Chevy predecessor.

2014 Cadillac ELR

For example, new HiPer front struts replace the Volt’s MacPherson struts, a Watts linkage absent in the Volt adds control to the Caddy’s rear suspension, ZF power steering is superior to the Volt’s unit, and the ELR’s variable rate shock absorbers greatly improve ride quality. The ELR sits 0.7 in. lower than the Volt, and plants a much more substantial tire footprint on the ground. Instead of the Volt’s skinny, rock hard hyper-miler tires, the ELR utilizes premium sports sedan rubber: Bridgestone Potenza RE97 245/40R20 at all four corners. The Volt drives and feels like a $40,000 car, while this $82,135 Caddy will quickly convince you it’s worth all the extra money.

Few sensations in life are as satisfying as whizzing through back road curves fast enough to hear your sticky Bridgestone tires singing their song of adhesion. The reason you can hear this aria is that there’s absolutely no engine noise to drown out the sound of the tires. On full electric propulsion for those initial 37 miles each day, the ELR is utterly silent. You can listen to the shocks damping the bumps, or hear that ZF steering rack hum as you dial it through 2.5 turns from lock to lock. This is pleasure driving at its best, free from noise, free from smog and free of charge. Only the regenerative brakes, with their inconsistent engagement point, spoil the fun.

2014 Cadillac ELR

Inside the ELR, Cadillac has amped up the level of opulence to top tier level. This electric powered coupe’s luxury fitment gives nothing away to BMW, Mercedes or Audi competitors. Especially lovely is the optional Kona Brown full leather seat package ($2,450) which smells inviting every time you climb aboard. The mocha colored leather is glove soft, and the seats are exceptionally comfortable and adjustable (10 way power). Once you accustom yourself to Cadillac’s CUE control system, you will enjoy its ease of operation. For example, if you want to raise or lower the volume on your favorite music, just slide your finger along the V-shaped chrome bar below the Bose premium audio unit. Most of the controls operate in this fashion, with many having duplicate overrides on the steering wheel. You can even control your regenerative braking by using the paddles connected to the steering wheel. This Cadillac also offers a full range of driving modes, activated by a slide button on the center console. “Tour” is most useful for conserving energy, while “Sport” is essential for vigorous driving where passing is anticipated.

2014 Cadillac ELR

Although charging the ELR at home worked wonders for our needs, we found that the 240V charging stations located around the North Bay are annoyingly inconsistent with electric vehicle needs. For example, none of the units would release their plug without use of a special RFID proximity sensing charge card. This despite the fact they all claim to offer your first 2 hours of recharging for “free.” Unfortunately, free is no good if you can’t even release the plug from its locked receptacle to recharge your car. And the stations we checked each required different cards, with different 800 numbers to call for application. This brilliant electric Cadillac deserves better treatment than offered by these bogus facilities.

2014 Cadillac ELR

2014 Cadillac ELR

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4 with port injection; 2 electric motor generators
  • Horsepower: 217hp (combined)
  • Torque: 295 lb.-ft. (combined)
  • Fuel Consumption: 33 MPG (Gas Only)/ 82 MPGe (Electric)
  • Price as Tested: $82,135
  • Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars

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Review: 2014 Chevrolet Volt

Monday January 6th, 2014 at 2:11 PM
Posted by: D.Colman

By David Colman

Hypes: Bonanza for Cutting Edge Arrivistes
Gripes: Lose the CVT Tranny

Parking the Volt in the reserved spot of a recharging station at Sausalito’s Molly Stone grocery was a treat I had never before had the opportunity to enjoy. While food shopping for 35 minutes, the Volt supplied itself with 3.2kH of energy at no cost to me. This two slot charging station, which has been active for nearly a year, provides your first hour of charge free of cost, with subsequent time available at minimal expense. Going into overtime gives new meaning to the word “charge” card. It takes 4 hours at 240V to give this Chevy a full blast of electrical energy.

Free refills constitute the highpoint of Volt ownership. And there’s a lot to be said for letting someone else pick up your energy bill. In fact, those beneficent unseen others start picking up the slack for you the instant you buy a Volt because doing so qualifies you for a $7,500 federal tax credit. The dividends continue in the form of access to road surfaces others can’t use, like driving solo in HOV lanes at times of the day that would normally get you ticketed.

The downside of Volt ownership is the simple fact that this heavy, somewhat lethargic vehicle isn’t exactly a blast to drive when you’ve selected the “Normal” rather than the “Sport” setting on the Driving Mode selector switch. In Normal Mode, overall performance is adequate for most drivers. Acceleration is modest. The CVT transmission is the culprit in this equation. It gives you a choice of just two ranges: Drive and Low. Unless you are moving very slowly, Low is useless for increasing momentum, so you’re stuck with the Drive range only. But if you select Sport Mode, acceleration is notably spunkier, and the Volt becomes a pleasure to drive instead of a chore. Of course, you’ll pay the price in increased fuel usage, but the Volt is so much more fun in Sport that you’ll want to select this setting every time you climb behind the wheel.

The Volt’s Owner’s Manual is poorly segmented and indexed. It’s especially difficult to find any information about transmission usage, since there are no listings in the index for ”transmission.” or “shifting.” The only reference appears in a chapter mysteriously headed “Electric Drive Unit.” Call outs for dashboard and instrument panel controls are inexplicably identified by number on one page, with functions keyed to those numbers on a following page. This causes you to flip back and forth constantly from page to page in order to decipher the diagrams.

Unlike the Owner’s Manual, Volt itself is a triumph of engineering. Unlike Nissan’s Leaf, which goes dead when its battery expires, the Volt will keep chugging long after the battery has died. The Xanax tablet for that range anxiety is the presence of Volt’s tiny displacement gasoline engine which Chevy calls a “Range Extender.” When the 1.4 liter gas engine propels the Volt without benefit of electrical power, you’re still good for 37 MPG, or just 2.7 gallons per 100 miles. In pure electric mode, the Volt posts a stunning figure of 98MPGe, or 35kH per 100 miles.

Thanks in part to its 5.5 foot long, 435 pound, lithium-ion battery pack, the Volt weighs 3,781 pounds. That near two ton curb burden becomes noticeable when you attack a series of corners on a back road. The low rolling resistance 16 inch tires don’t provide a lot of grip, so the front end tends to wash out early on corner entry. This behavior makes you lift throttle as the tires lose grip. In case you are slow to respond to the message from your contact patches, Chevy has th (oughtfully supplied the Volt with traction control and Stabilitrak stability management. Worst case scenario backs you up in the event of a collision with no fewer than 8 airbags and 3 years of free On Star auto crash response.

Inside the survival cell, the Volt is easy to love. It affords great sightlines in all direction. Even the somewhat veiled lower rear view benefits from a strategically placed glass panel. Our test Volt enjoyed augmented vision thanks to 2 optional Safety Packages. The first ($575) provided a useful beeper and camera to discern rear proximity issues, while the second ($595) included Front Park Assist and Camera, Lane Departure Warning, and Front Collision Alert. Chevy does a nice job of integrating these aids into your daily driving routine. Unlike so many similar offerings from other manufacturers, these Safety Packages never become intrusive.

The instrument binnacle of the Volt is intimidating. If you’re the kind of person who can read every piece of information on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street at the same time, you’ll love the Volt’s information center, because Chevy has crammed 35 separate pieces of news into your viewfinder. I learned to ignore 90 percent of them and was quite happy to do so.

The Volt is a marvel of technology. Its drive train is an engineering dream, a real home run. It’s still early enough in the model cycle to be the first on your block to claim admission to the 21st century. That you can do so for just $39,545, guarantees you a spot in the Acumen Hall of Fame.

2014 Chevrolet Volt

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4 + Electric Motor
  • Horsepower: 149hp
  • Torque: 273 lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 98MPGe/37 MPG Gasoline Only
  • Price as Tested: $39,545
  • Star Rating: 8 out of 10 Stars

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The Race to Be Green is ON!

Wednesday December 17th, 2008 at 6:1212 AM
Posted by: m35man

Ford EcoBoostEurope is taking the lead when it comes to being more environmentally responsible with its new cars, working on lower emissions and higher horsepower. Of the American car makers, Ford has been the most proactive in the chase for greener vehicles, with cars like the Ford EcoBoost, which has been the buzz maker since early in 2008. The race to be green is on, and it will be interesting to see who gets to the top of the heap first.

Electric, diesel, biodiesel, hydrogen, natural gas—even restaurant grease. Scientists, engineers, physicists; even chemists are all working overtime to spare the air and find alternative fuels that won’t clog the air and ruin our lungs. There hasn’t been a technological race since the 60’s when we were fighting against the USSR to put a man on the moon!

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Mercedes-Benz Concept BlueZERO Rules Three-Times Over!

Tuesday December 16th, 2008 at 2:1212 PM
Posted by: goofshow

Mercedes-Benz BlueZERO ConceptIf cars could high-five, I would surely be giving the Mercedes-Benz Concept BlueZERO a huuuuuge high-five right now. Mercedes-Benz is speeding way ahead of the pack (in an environmentally-friendly and metaphorically way mind you). Looking like something straight out of Speed Racer, this environmentally responsible electromobility on wheels is being presented at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. And its not just one model Mercedes is trumpeting, but three; each equipped with a different drive configuration–it’s all about your own individual sustainable mobility needs.

So which BlueZERO is for you and your electric drive desires?

Video and more photos after the jump.

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