The unremarkable Chevrolet Spark, gasoline edition, becomes a desirable, almost cheap urban commuter car when you swap in an electric motor. What’s more, with the Spark EV, the smartphone-based navigation starts to fulfill the promise of significant apps running off your phone and streamed to the car’s LCD display. With the gas-powered Spark, people say, “It’s easy to park and it’s cheap.” With the 2014 Spark electric people will add, “It’s fun to drive and cheap… for an EV.”
The Chevrolet Spark is a Honda Fit wannabe, only smaller and cheaper — both are subcompacts with decent back seats. With the gasoline models the Spark is noisy (by 2014 standards), accelerates slowly, and bounces on rough roads. Meanwhile, the best-in-class Fit loses a little of its spunk going from gas to electric, the Spark EV gets quicker and more fun to drive despite lugging around an extra 600 pounds over the gasoline model.
Of course, mileage is a key selling point. Chevy says normal drivers will get 82 miles per charge with the EV. I got as little as 65 miles when I pushed the car hard on the freeway and as many as 95 miles with cautious acceleration and deceleration. All that’s about normal for a small EV: with today’s cars you’ll get more than enough range to commute to and from work, not enough for a weekend trip.
BringGo smartphone navigation: the wave of the future
Give General Motors and Chevrolet credit — lots of credit — for a thoughtful center stack and navigation design. Every Spark EV includes a 7-inch touchscreen and MyLink music control (like Ford Sync), the better to show off the motor/battery efficiency possibilities on the screen.
More importantly, the Spark version of MyLink allows you to use navigation from your smartphone. So far, there’s only one choice, a brand you’ve never heard of, BringGo (formerly GoGo Link) from Korea’s Engis Technologies, and it costs $ 50. It works with iPhone or Android. I drove the larger Chevrolet Sonic a year ago with BringGo and was unimpressed with the execution. Basically, it was a great concept, with a so-so interface and hard-to-read maps, but it got you to your destination.
The current version is improved and if it’s not enough to knock out Google Maps or Navigon in a head-to-head, it’s good enough and can only get better with future upgrades, which will be free. Compare that to $ 1000 navigation systems that charge $ 100-$ 200 for map updates.
GM is the one automaker to recognize a simple truth: The market for $ 500-$ 1000 built-in navigation in a sub-$ 20,000 car is nil. Other automakers do nothing, which cedes the market to Garmins and TomToms stuck on the windshield, or a smartphone with navigation sliding around on the center console or maybe hanging on a windshield mount. But then most automakers are still in a quandary whether to kill the CD player and make USB standard.
Chevrolet still has a ways to go with infotainment. Navigation is buried one layer down in Apps, along with Pandora, Stitcher, TuneIn, and other smartphone apps. With most cars, you press one button to go from entertainment to navigation. Here, you have to go to the menu and then the Apps tab onscreen, press that, then press the Navigation button. It takes longer to read the sentence than perform the task, but on a rough road, and remember this is not a Cadillac XTS with pillow-soft ride, the nav screen, like the car, bounces around. Also the volume controls are up-down buttons and no way is that as quick to adjust as a simple dial.
Next page: Driving the 2014 Spark EV…
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