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Video: Chevrolet builds the best Spark yet - and it's electric

General Motors has been building modern electric cars longer than anyone. It started developing EVs in earnest with the purpose-built, low-volume EV1 in the 1990s. Now its latest electric car is based on the tiny Chevrolet Spark.

To be honest, we were less than thrilled with the standard, gasoline-powered Spark when we tested one earlier this year. Its four-speed automatic constantly jerked as it hunted for power from the noisy, anemic 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine. Obviously, the Spark EV does away with all that. It's silent and smooth, and with 400 lb.-ft. of torque available, stealthily quick.

To learn more about electric cars and hybrids, visit our alternative-fuel car guide.

GM has done a good job packaging the 560-pound, 21.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack between the rear wheels. One benefit is this addition required the suspension to be recalibrated. The Spark EV feels sporty and tied down to the road, something we could never say about the gas-powered model. That gives the Spark EV an EPA-estimated range of 82 miles—a little better than a Ford Focus Electric or a Nissan Leaf.

Unlike some of the latest crop of battery-electric cars, the Spark EV uses only a 3.3-kilowatt on-board charger, which means it takes up to seven hours to charge. The Ford Focus Electric and a Nissan Leaf, for example, charge twice as fast. The Spark EV is, however, the first electric car to be equipped with the new U.S. standard Combo charger port for use with the next-generation DC fast chargers. Like other fast chargers, these can recharge the batteries to 80-percent capacity in a half hour.

GM has also applied what it has learned from developing the Chevrolet Volt. The Spark has a pretty accurate range-remaining gauge that includes what GM calls a "confidence meter," which shows optimistic and pessimistic estimates of remaining range depending on how hard you drive. We found this feature handy because it minimizes the tendency for range indicators to jump around dramatically as you drive.

Also, like some other electric cars, this latest Spark is only available in California and Oregon, where it helps GM comply with electric car requirements. That's unfortunate, because it's one of the better EVs on the market—and a fun little runabout to boot. After factoring in those states' tax credits, you can buy one for between $17,000 and $19,000, or better yet, lease one for three years for $199 down and $99 a month.

—Eric Evarts

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