Saturday Road Test – Chevy Spark EV & Bolt


Spark 11

Chevy Spark EV & Bolt

The Bowtie Gets Juiced

By Ron Amadon

ARLINGTON VA. – The Chevy Spark all electric model was designed to be an urban runabout, so it was apropos that my test drive was centered in a congested new building/construction zone of this busy Washington suburb.

With its ample torque, small size and jazzy interior your first thought behind the wheel is, “Hey, this is a fun ride” between the tall towers already occupied and those yet to come.

So what sparks the Spark as it were? A 105-kilowatt electric motor rated at 140 horsepower with 327 lb-ft of torque accounts for its lively performance from urban stop lights. There is an 18.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that comes with limited warranty protection for eight years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Chevy claims a 7.5 second run to 60 and that would make it faster than many rivals, all of which bypass gas stations forever more. Yet, I can’t help you with, “Dad, I gotta go.”

The car, not the kid necessarily, has a range of 82 miles and that is in the ball park of its competition.

2015 Chevrolet Spark EV 2015 Chevrolet Spark EV

With a 240 volt charger you can get things back to peak charge level in seven hours. With the household standard of 110 volts that gets extended to up to 20 hours. Chevy said the Spark is compatible with the SAE combo charger for DC Fast Charging as option. With that combination, a recharge to 80 percent power can be obtained in about 20 minutes.

Available in two trim levels, 1LT and 2LT, the Spark sports a comfortable and modern interior with a wealth of information available in the dash panel accessible via a rotary switch to the left.

2015 Chevrolet Spark EV

The test model, a 2LT, featured heated seats and navi along with OnStar and a 4G LTE Wi-FI hotspot with  connectivity for up to seven devices.

There was ample room for a six foot tall driver and passenger up front and two adults would be okay to the rear for short trips. Fold down the rear seats and you create 23.4 cubic feet of storage space, or about 7.8 cubic feet less than the gas powered Spark. The battery had to go somewhere.

2015 Chevrolet Spark EV2015 Chevrolet Spark EV

For entertainment, the Spark can connect with an owners’ smartphone for apps such as Pandora, Sticher, TuneIn and Global Internet radio with access to 70,000 global radio stations, among other goodies. For those with compatible iPhones, the system brings the Siri Personal Assistant into the car. Standard equipment included remote start/cabin pre-conditioning, heated driver and front passenger seats, push button start and Onstar. The center stack features a seven inch full color touch screen with infotainment display and audio controls. There is also, on the center console, a switch to engage the Sport driving mode at the expense of some efficiency.

At just 145 inches long, the Spark was about as easy to park as anything on four wheels.

If you can live with the range of an electric vehicle, travel primarily in urban environments and like the idea of a car that emits nothing, the Spark EV is very worthy of a test drive.

That is, if you live in Oregon or California where in selected urban areas around LA and San Francisco electrics are hot sellers. In the next month or so, the Spark EV will start showing up at dealers in Maryland as well.

California residents may qualify for a $2,500 state rebate or in Maryland a $2,300 excise tax exemption. Additional Chevy “Bonus Cash” is available amounting to $1,000 in California, $1,200 in Maryland and $3,500 in Oregon. After full federal and state tax credits and the “bonus” cash, Chevy said the Spark can be had for $14,995.

An added incentive is that EV owners in Maryland and California are eligible for High Occupancy Vehicle or carpool lane access.

But to use that old phrase, wait, there’s more.

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle – front ex

For those who would prefer not to move up to the Volt hybrid, the Chevy Bolt is on the horizon. Chevy said it will have an impressive range of 200 miles and will be sold in all 50 states.

GM has not disclosed when production of the Bolt will begin, but did say it will carry a target price of about $30,000, but then there are all those rebates. It will be a five passenger car constructed at the Orion Assembly Plant in Michigan.

There is speculation the Bolt will hit the market in 2017. Its impressive range it could make it a hot seller depending on where the price of gas is at the time. If you can predict those prices, you are smarter than the Wizard of Id.





Auto News for April 17


Maybe we are all ready to go back to basics, with the iconic sports car maker Caterham announcing the most successful export year in its 42 year history. It sold 345 vehicles to customers outside of its home base in the UK during 2014 with France, Japan, Germany, Switzerland and the USA its most successful markets. As you can see from the picture, these are very basic sports cars as has been the brand’s tradition. The top of the line 360 comes with a 180 hp 2.0-liter Ford Duratec four good for a top speed of 130 and a 0-60 run of 4.8 seconds. It offers, the maker said, such “creature comforts” as fully carpeted cockpit, full windscreen, hood and side screens and leather seats. You can also build one yourself.

The BMW i3 and the Ford F-150 are among the models included in a new listing of the top ten interiors for 2015. Ward’s Automotive rated the interiors on materials, ergonomics, comfort, safety, value, fit-and-finish, and overall design. Here are the other winners:

Chrysler 300

GMC Canyon

Honda Fit

Jeep Renegade Limited

Kia Sedona

Mazda6 Grand Touring

Mercedes C400

Nissan Murano

California, by far, has the most green car shoppers, according to The San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose area topped the list followed by Monterey, Eureka, and the greater Santa Barbara area. L-A finished fifth in the survey and the first city outside the Golden State was Honolulu in sixth place. “We’ve always seen that the western U.S. shows more interest in going green, but this is the first time we’ve seen nothing east of the west coast,” said Executive Editor Joe Wiesenfelder.

If you ever wanted to design your own Dodge Viper GT here is your chance:

It is said to offer 8,000 exterior colors, 24,000 custom stripes, 11 wheel options, 16 interior trims, seven aero packages, three brake packages, four suspension options as well as a host of standalone options. Once the design is complete, users can place the vehicle in their own lifestyle environments to preview how their car will look in the real world. Sounds like fun!

The five millionth vehicle produced at Honda’s plant in East Liberty, Ohio has rolled off the assembly line. It was a 2016 Acura RDX. Production at the plant started in 1989, seven years after the Marysville Ohio facility.




Auto News for April 16

The old GM, that is the company before bankruptcy, cannot be sued for death and injures from defective ignition switches, a New York judge has ruled. He said the bankruptcy order in 2009 that created the new GM protects the company from those law suits. An attorney said the ruling protects GM from up to $10 billion in possible injury claims. An appeal may be in the works.

Toyota has made it official, that it will construct a state of the art plant in central Mexico to produce the Corolla. It will employ 2,000 workers and have the capacity produce 200,000 cars a year. The Canadian plant that now produces the Corolla will switch to making mid-sized, higher value, vehicles.


Toyota will bring its Mirai to Earth Day celebrations on the National Mall in Washington. The car combines hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity that powers the electric motor. Water vapor is the only emission. It will go on sale in California later this year.

Cadillac has upped the power and features of its slow selling ELR plug-in hybrid and cut the price by $10,000 to $65,995. It sold only 1,310 of the Chevy Volt based cars in 2014.

Tesla may pick up another state in its efforts to sell directly to customers and bypass the traditional dealer network. The governor of Maryland has on his desk legislation that would allow a company to sell direct only if it is offering non fossil-fuel burning vehicles.

It will be called the Bolt, and that is now official. That is Chevy’s upcoming electric car that it said will have a range of at least 200 miles and will be sold in all 50 states. Some were concerned that the name was too close to the Chevy Volt. The Bolt is expected to appear in showrooms in 2017 with an MSRP of about $30,000 after the fed tax credit, according to the Detroit News. Certainly, that is an impressive range for an electric. Look for more on GM’s electrics in the Saturday road test column.

Ever wonder how safe that new aluminum bodied Ford F-150 is? The Detroit Free Press reports that Ford will announce today that the truck has received the highest possible safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – a full five stars. That is a higher crash test score than the older model.

BMW’s i3 electric has been named top Green Car by Kelley Blue Book for the second year in a row. BMW was cited for making a car that can post a 0-60 run in just 7 seconds in a factory powered by four wind turbines. Rounding out the KBB top five were the Volkswagen e-Golf, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Prius, and the Honda Accord Hybrid.

How many miles do you think you drive in a day? Triple A said it is 29.2 miles in two trips lasting 46 minutes. The data is based on telephone interviews with 3,319 drivers around the country. But I would question the time element here, given the experience of a 2 hour trip from the Maryland suburbs to downtown Washington in morning rush hour recently. Even cutting that in half, that would still three hours on the road per day.


Auto News for April 15


Ford will announce plans to make big investments in parts plants in Mexico to the tune of $2.5 billion. Reuters cited inside industry experts for its story regarding the expansion of a transmission plant and the creation of two new diesel engines. We may learn more on Friday, but for now, Ford is not commenting.

The Detroit News reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into a potential problem with air bag sensors in 2012 Subaru Imprezas. It has received complaints that the sensors turned off the front passenger airbag even when an adult was seated there. The sensors are designed to turn off the air bags if a child is seated there. NHTSA will determine if a recall is warranted.

The rumor mill is hot this morning with speculation that Fiat Chrysler is looking for a partner in some sort of a marriage – merger, buyout, takeover, operating partner, something. But most reports say there has been little enthusiasm among potential partners for such a tie up.


Auto News for April 14

Coming up on the Saturday Road Test: Is it a Volt or a Spark?

GM increased the voltage of its stock dividends. The company declared a second quarter dividend of 36 cents a share, up from the 30 cents paid since the first quarter of last year.

Reuters reports Toyota will release details later of its $1 billion auto factory to be built in Mexico. It is expected to produce the Corolla starting in mid-2019.


Worldwide, BMW said March was a record month for sales with 232,556 BMW, Mini, and Rolls-Royce models rolling out of dealer showrooms. That amounts to a 9.2 percent gain over a year earlier. BMW brand vehicles rose 5.1 percent while Mini sales were up over a year ago when they reduced due to a core model changeover. Rolls delivered 781 cars to customers, a decline of 12.9 percent year over year due to slow demand in China and the popularity of the newly introduced Wraith model a year earlier.

Audi Q5

Audi can also do some bragging ringing up its best month in company history in March with worldwide sales up by 4.4 percent. And for the year as a whole, sales are up 6.1 percent. Demand was strong for the A3, Q3 and the A6 with the Q5 the top seller here in the states.

Auto News for April 13

I would like to call your attention to an excellent article on electric cars on Forbes –“Limits of the Electric Car.”  They are hot inside L.A. but not in the ‘burbs where one dealer had two Chevy Sparks that were not charged up, so no test drive was possible.

GM said it has repaired about 70 percent of the cars still on the road with faulty ignition switches. That comes to about 1.6 million of the 2 million recalled cars.

Automotive News points out that the 2016 Nissan Maxima will offer five trim levels, but zero options on each one. It said that increases the odds that customers will find just the right model for them on dealer lots and not have to custom order one. Such a move would also reduce production costs.

The Buick LaCrosse, Dodge Challenger, and Hyundai Genesis are listed among the best cars for golfers by Autotrader. Also on the list was the Corvette, presumably for a quick getaway after a bad round.


Saturday Road Test – Nissan Pathfinder

2015 Nissan Pathfinder


2015 Nissan Pathfinder

At Home in Historic Territory

By Ron Amadon

HARPER’S FERRY, WVA. – If you want to find some paths for testing a Pathfinder the hills around this very historic Civil War town is the place to go.

Really not much more than old cow paths where soldiers of the north and south once marched, the narrow roads feature sharp curves on steep grades and, if you stop to read the signs, a ton of history.

So it was easy to forget that the Pathfinder, at just over 197 inches long riding on a 114 inch wheelbase, is roughly the same size as the competition – the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander.

Nissan offers four trim lines for the midsize Pathfinder with the test vehicle being the top of the line Platinum. New for 2015 are Blind Spot Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert on upscale models while Hill Descent Control is now included on 4-wheel drive models. Attention Civil War reenactors – Gun Metallic is a new color for 2015.

While the Nissan offers less storage space than other mid-size SUV’s its power, handling and features should meet the expectations of most shoppers.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

The transverse mounted 3.5-liter V6 is rated at 260 hp @ 6,400 rpm with 240 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm. A revised CVT, called “Xtronic”, might fool some drivers into thinking it is a more common automatic transmission by simulating actual shift points. The Platinum came with 20 inch aluminum alloy wheels, two inches larger than other models.

Regular unleaded is all that is needed at the pump with an EPA rating of 19 mpg around town and 26 on the highway for a combined 22 mpg. I came in at a combined 19 mpg. It may have been those Billy goat like back roads.

Occupants should find the ride pleasant enough with good absorption of winter time pot holes. From the driver’s seat this rig feels like a larger vehicle and handling, while not sporty, is typical of a class that will probably never spend much time at the track.

It is hefty weighing in at 4,642 pounds for the 4WD model. Nissan claims it will tow up to 5,000 pounds, the best in its class.

This is a fine long distance traveler – quiet out on the interstate with road and wind noise nicely contained. The BOSE sound system with 13 speakers and dual subwoofer, (think St. Bernard here), was simply delightful and Taylor was particularly Swift. Oh pardon me it was actually the “BOSE AM/FM 1-CD/USB w/MP3 playback capability & Bluetooth streaming audio” system. Just wanted to get that right! Optional is a DVD player with 7-inch rear headrest LCD screens that should please younger “Frozen” riders. In the right configuration it can seat 7.

Also aiding long trip comfort was the 8-way power “leather appointed” driver’s seat with power lumbar support. The passenger seat was 4-way adjustable with both front seats heated and cooled with heated second row seats in the top of the line Platinum model.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder2015 Nissan Pathfinder 2015 Nissan Pathfinder

A rather classy interior greets you with audio and navi controls within easy reach. Best of all, one could perform basic tasks without reference to the owner’s manual. Hurray!

Third row seats were easy to access thanks to sliding second row seats, up to 5.5 inches, but they are best left to kids due to limited leg room. Cargo space was a bit limited with the third row seats up, at just 16 cubic feet. Folding down second and third rows creates nearly 80 cubic feet for hauling home loads of whatever. Three cheers for the power liftgate.

While seating is a bit limited in the back row, the second row seats would accommodate virtually anyone in comfort, shy of Hasheem Thabeet, an NBA player who checked in at 7’3”. Ah well, you had to do something with that roof rack.

With a short option list consisting of splash guards, roof rail cross bars, rear bumper protector and floor mats totaling $880, the MSRP for the test SUV came to $44,865 including destination charges.

Those seeking a jazzy looking, comfortable and easy to get to know SUV should follow a path to their Nissan dealer for a Pathfinder test drive.

2015 Nissan Pathfinder

Auto News for April 10

2016 Honda Pilot Elite

We are getting more information on the 2016 Honda Pilot including word that the standard 3.6-liter V6 will produce 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. That would be a gain of 30 horses over the current model with customers choosing a six speed or nine speed automatic tranny. Let’s assume the surfboard in the picture is, at least, optional equipment. Also new is Honda’s traction control system featuring Normal, Mud, Sand, and Snow modes on the AWD models. There will be a new top-of-the-line trim level, called Elite with sunroof, heated captain’s chairs in the second row and LED headlamps. The new Pilot will take off this summer.

The last of the current model Chevy Volt will roll off the assembly line late next month to make way for a new offering sometime in September. The Detroit News reports the Volt has been a slow seller for the bow tie brand, partially due to lower gas prices.

Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has closed an investigation into brake line failures in GM trucks from model years 1999-2003. It spent four years investigating corrosion related brake failures in the vehicles but has not identified a defect that would lead to a recall. It is urging owners who live in areas where salt is laid down on winter roads to thoroughly wash the underside of their trucks to remove the salt after the long winter.

“Game of Thrones actor Peter Dinklage is the narrator of a new one minute ad for the Chrysler 300. The ad will debut later today on national tele.


Auto News for April 9


Tesla will upgrade its base model with all-wheel drive, a bigger battery, dual electric motors, and increased range. To be known as the 70D, driving range will increase from 208 miles to 240 between charges. The price goes up $5K to $76,070. Tesla said its customers wanted all-wheel drive and increased range and the new model announcement drove its shares higher on the NASDAQ.

2015 Honda Crosstour

Honda will halt production of its slow selling Crosstour model effective with the 2016 model year. It will also transfer production of the Accord hybrid from Marysville Ohio to a facility in Japan. The move will allow the Ohio plant to concentrate on the upcoming HR-V subcompact crossover based on the Fit. Honda also celebrated the assembly of its 1 millionth car at the plant in Greensburg, Indiana.

Mercedes is selling more than a few vehicles worldwide. It announced the delivery of 183,467 vehicles last month, its highest monthly sales ever for the month of March and an almost 16 percent improvement over the same month a year earlier. It said sales were strong in Asia and Europe in particular.

It is no secret that demand has been strong month after month for large Sport Utility Vehicles, so GM is considering a big upgrade to its plant in Arlington, Texas to the tune of $1.3 billion. It is home to the Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Tahoe, Suburban, and their GMC brothers. The city is considering tax breaks to sweeten the pot. The Detroit News reports that GM is also considering expansion of its Tech Center in Warren, Michigan that could add 2,000 jobs.

Kia is getting a new leader in the U.S. Michael Sprague will take over the newly named position of COO of Kia Motors America. The former leader, Byung Mo Ahn, will become an advisor to the company. Sprague had been Kia’s sales and marketing leader in this country. The Korean automaker said it wanted to beef up its overseas sales.


Auto News for April 8

Nissan will develop a midsize pickup truck for Mercedes that, at this point in time, is aimed at markets outside the U.S. The truck will be built at Nissan plants in Argentina and Spain with production set to begin by the end of the decade. Mercedes officials in this country are deciding if there is a market for such a vehicle. It will be a double cab with architecture from the new Nissan NP300 truck, sold as the Frontier in this country, yet with more than a few Mercedes touches. The two automakers are expanding their five year strategic agreement to build the truck.

Cadillac may show off a new midsize SUV at the Los Angeles Auto Show this fall, according to the Detroit News. It is expected the new vehicle will replace the SRX in the Caddy lineup with a starting price in the $30K range. By the end of this decade, it may also produce a small car aimed at younger audiences, the paper said.

No details, but the Detroit Free Press reports Ford will announce a new Taurus ahead of the big auto show in Shanghai next month. This one is aimed at China where Ford rang up a one percent sales gain in March. GM’s China sales were up eight percent.

Rolls test mule

Rolls-Royce is testing mules with a new all-wheel drive setup that will deliver its “hallmark ‘magic carpet’ ride not only on the road but off road too.’” Known as Project Cullinan the announcement may start speculation that Rolls one day may produce a luxury SUV as Bentley and Jaguar, among others, jump into the market. The test mule is pictured.

VW Caddy

Ever hear of the Volkswagen Caddy? It is mini cargo van sold in Europe that one day may make its way across the pond to our roads. VW has introduced a redesigned model that comes either as a cargo van or with additional seats and windows for hauling us humans. As is the case with many European models, the Caddy comes with a long list of available engines including four 2.0-liter TDI turbo diesels.