A quick comparison
The National Plug In Day in San Diego last weekend was well attended by existing electric vehicle (EV) owners, and those considering them. Many manufacturers were represented (primarily by sales consultants riding shotgun) as they provided vehicles to be driven or sometimes to be ridden in (Tesla Model S and BMW I3). I was somewhat surprised at the huge turnout of EV owners, like myself, that already were part of the choir but arrived to hear the message again. Perhaps many brought friends with them.
As I backed into my parking slot a BMW ActiveE driver parked next to me. As he emerged we engaged in a nearly thirty minute conversation about the state of the EV market. One thing that I did not expect to hear was the amount of time that his car was in the shop. Granted, the ActiveE is a testbed but when one is paying $499 per month it is expected (at least by me) that the car will function properly the vast majority of the time. If it can’t meet this minimum requirement, perhaps it should have been tested internally more, or offered with a highly subsidized lease. Then again, BMW found lessees for all of their vehicles. BMW offered an I3 to ride in but I will try to drive one at the LA Auto Show.
Two vehicles that I did want to drive were available for that purpose. The Chevrolet Spark EV and the Fiat 500e. I wanted to drive these two vehicles specifically due to their similar size and similar lease payments. The 500e lists at $31,800 while the Spark EV starts at $26,685. It seems like the Spark EV is the way to go until you look at the fact that they both lease for $199 per month for 36 months. Granted you must pony up $2,000 initially to get the Fiat versus $999 for the Chevy, but for many this difference would not be a deal breaker. So how did they stack up?
Both cars are small. Neither would work for my family of five. Even with young kids my daughter is now taller than her mother so she wouldn’t be comfortable in back. The Fiat is easily the more stylish of the two – but that is expected. But what I really wanted to see – or feel rather – was how they drove. Especially the Chevy. Why the Chevy and not the Fiat? 400 pounds of torque. I have always been drawn to performance and 400 pounds of torque in a small, relatively light car should make for good fun. As I found… not so much.
The initial power of the Spark EV is reigned in by the onboard electronics. EVs are rolling computers, more so than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. While I have no doubt that the Spark EV’s electric motor is rated at 400 pounds of torque there is no way that Chevrolet is letting even a small fraction of that loose on initial takeoff. The computers are carefully controlling power flow as speed builds to provide smooth, uneventful takeoff. How do I know this to be true? Because the Fiat 500e with only 147 pounds of torque is quicker off the line. I can’t find any zero to thirty tests of these two cars, but if such a test were performed the Spark would be looking at the 500e’s taillights. The 500e won’t generate wheel spin from a standing start, but it will generate smiles from the driver. With acceleration like this under my right foot, I would be hard pressed to come close to the EPA rated 87 mile range. But don’t take my word for it. Try them out for yourself and see what you think.
UPDATE: Apparently I was driving the Spark EV in Normal mode. There is a Sport mode switch located near the shift lever to provide stronger acceleration. It seems the salesman riding along with me didn’t know about it either, as he did not mention a Sport mode when I commented that the car was not as quick as I thought it would be. I will drive the Spark EV again at the LA Auto Show and update this review then. (Thanks Nicolas for pointing this out.)