Home » How Cheap Do They Have To Get?: 2014 Chevy Spark EV vs 1994 Dodge Spirit

How Cheap Do They Have To Get?: 2014 Chevy Spark EV vs 1994 Dodge Spirit

Sbsd 4 19 2024
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Good morning! For this week’s Friday matchup, we’re going to conduct a little thought experiment. I’m going to show you a boring but competent “compliance”-type electric vehicle, and a boring but competent conventional gasoline car for half the price. We’re going to see if low-end used EVs are cheap enough to consider yet.

But before we get to that, we’ve got some land yachts to put in dry dock. It will come as no surprise, I guess, to hear that the Marquis de Avocado ran away with this one. Green cars are just cool, even when they’re very uncool. It was pointed out that this might not actually be a “Grand” Marquis; I had forgotten that they were available in a less grand style for the first few years. As such, it might have that puny little 255 V8 instead of a 302. I don’t care. It’s green.

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Not that there’s anything at all wrong with that Buick. For a while I owned a LeSabre of this era, with the Olds 403 V8 in it, and it was one of the better $500 cars I ever bought: Comfortable seats, cook-you-medium-rare heater and Antarctica-cold air conditioning, and a fantastic exhaust note. It served me well for the time I had it, and I remember it fondly. But I still pick the green Mercury.

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Now then: For a long time, electric vehicles were mainly a pipe dream, or at most woefully inadequate glorified golf carts with windshield wipers. That all changed in 2012, when the great big red-tape-loving state of California required six automakers to offer an EV, or not be allowed to sell cars in California at all. The automakers in question modified existing compact and subcompact models to satisfy the new rules. The “compliance car” was born.

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These cars are now starting to reach the low end of the used car market. Battery life and condition are still questions, and in some cases seriously curtail their usefulness. But if you don’t plan to leave town, the idea of buying a cheap car and never visiting a gas station again is attractive. But is it more attractive than a nice simple gas car that can be had even more inexpensively? Check out these two, and then you tell me.

2014 Chevrolet Spark EV – $5,000

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Engine/drivetrain: 97-kilowatt electric motor, single-speed gear reduction, FWD

Location: East Lansing, MI

Odometer reading: 50,000 miles

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Operational status: Daily-driven

Chevy’s Spark was a happy little car from GM’s South Korean partner, Daewoo. Most Sparks were powered by a 1.2 liter four-cylinder engine and either a five-speed manual or CVT transmission. Not this one. For four years, in a few states, Chevy sold the Spark as an EV, with a 97-kilowatt motor and a simple gear reduction in place of the engine and transmission. Providing power to the motor, in this 2014 model, is a 21.3-kilowatt-hour lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4 for short)  battery pack, giving the car an EPA-rated 82 miles of range.

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This Spark has 50,000 miles on it, and is used daily. The seller says it has 60-70 miles of range in practice, which means it’s holding up pretty well. LiFePO4 batteries tend to have a longer lifespan than lithium-ion batteries, which is what the Nissan Leaf uses – thousands versus hundreds of charge/discharge cycles. The drawback is that it loses a lot more range in the cold, not a problem in California where most Spark EVs were sold, but this one has found its way to Michigan, where there is real winter.

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It looks like it’s in pretty good shape, inside and out, especially for a daily-driven commuter. I mean, with only fifty thou on the odometer, it should still be nice and clean, but we all know how some cars get treated. What I like about the Spark EV is how normal it looks inside; it’s identical to the gasoline-powered Spark, including a perfectly ordinary shift lever, not buttons or a dial.

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It’s just too bad it’s so bland on the outside. The Spark was available in a whole range of really fun colors, and I assume those were available on the EV as well. Why choose white?

1994 Dodge Spirit – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.5-liter overhead cam inline 4, three-speed automatic, FWD

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Location: Lynnwood, WA

Odometer reading: 92,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives great

I chose this car very deliberately to compete against that Spark. It’s a dull, uninspiring car in very good condition for exactly half the price. The Dodge Spirit, and its sister model the Plymouth Acclaim, were the final iteration of the Chrysler K-based cars. It’s a more refined version of the same old idea: an overhead cam four-cylinder (now displacing 2.5 liters) driving the front wheels through a Torqueflite. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

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This is a base-model Spirit, and its option list is short: I see buttons for air conditioning and cruise control, but it has crank windows and almost certainly manual locks. It’s in quite nice condition, though. It only has 92,000 miles on the clock, and it’s a six-digit odometer, so we know it hasn’t gone around. The seller says it runs and drives great, and the transmission shifts smoothly.

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This also appears to be the “flex-fuel” version of the Spirit, able to run on M85 fuel, which is 85% methanol and 15% gasoline. This is unusual; most flex-fuel vehicles can run on E85, which is 85% ethanol. And no – the two are not interchangeable. M85 is not generally easy to find, so it’s a good thing this car will run on regular unleaded.

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The $2,500 price difference is enough to buy you about 625 gallons of gas, at $4 per gallon, which is about average right now in my neck of the woods. This car gets 25 or so miles per gallon, so that’s 15,625 miles of driving in this car for the same price as the Spark – plus the ability to, you know, leave town if you want or need to.

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Is it worth it to buy a cheap EV yet? I think the answer depends on what you need a car for. If you’re looking for a second or third car to use as a runabout, and you already have a longer-range internal combustion car for long trips, then cutting out fuel stops and oil changes might make it worthwhile. For an only car, I can’t see a compliance EV being enough. But maybe it would work for the right person. So, take the weekend to think about it, discuss it in the comments, cast your votes, and we’ll see how it all shakes out on Monday. Have a great weekend!

(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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06dak
06dak
26 days ago

Anybody else think the Spark EV is the most ideal first car for some kid? New enough to be safe, fast enough to keep up with traffic and get out of trouble, cheap, and low enough range that you’re kid ain’t getting far enough away to really get into trouble.

I saw people saying the same for the Spirit, but that thing is a death trap compared to the Spark. Size notwithstanding.

Alex Patrevito
Alex Patrevito
28 days ago

I would choose the Spark EV. I guess I already did, I owned a red one briefly (about 6 months) before buying a Bolt EV. The car was an absolute MONSTER around town. My Spark EV was a later one they detuned down from 400 ft lb to 330 lb ft of torque. That little car had so much jump off the line, but the power REALLY hits above 25 mph or so. Those poor 15 in eco tires don’t stand a chance against that lol. It was tiny, but with the back seats down it had a good amount of room for errands. Perfect car for work or occasional use. The tiny size compared to the lifted pick-up trucks and large SUVs did always weigh on my mind though.

Christopher Warren
Christopher Warren
29 days ago

I had the same M85 Flex Fuel model but in dark green. Used it as a rural route mail delivery vehicle, split bench seats made that possible. Very reliable I found considering I was stopping between 400-600 times a day at mailboxes 5 days a week over paved, semi paved, dirt gravel roads. The flex fuel 2.5 had a unique fuel system utilizing the Turbo 2 air intake and multi point fuel injection versus the standard 2.5 throttle body. Stainless steel fuel lines and injectors with green plastic colored parts indicating for flex fuel usage. The instrument panel had a green colored fuel tank on it next to the fuel gauge, that was the only interior clue given it was a flex fuel model Spirit. The gas cap had a severe hazard warning about properly fueling when using M85, the kicker is the M85 would give you marginally less horsepower than regular fuel. Good memories using that car, only stopped using it when I bought a factory 2003 RHD Wrangler hardtop to use as a mail delivery vehicle.

Christopher Warren
Christopher Warren
28 days ago

Oops, meant green colored fuel pump

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
29 days ago

I’ll take the Spirit, no contest since the other one is an EV

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
28 days ago
Reply to  Freelivin2713

Also, have to say how ugly that Spark is- especially that the headlight fixtures are the length of the hood! Ha ha

Last edited 28 days ago by Freelivin2713
Here4thecars
Here4thecars
29 days ago

I have a rule when I’m shopping at thrift stores or garage sales: don’t buy electronic devices. I fear that rule applies here as well. I just can’t spend even $5k on an old vehicle with a questionable battery, no matter what the seller says. The Dodge Spirit, on the other hand, while not exactly exciting, looks like it could serve as a daily/commuter for some to come. It’s really not a bad-looking car, just ordinary. As much as I want to do my part to save the planet, if I’m forced to choose between these two cars, I vote Dodge.

Baja_Engineer
Baja_Engineer
29 days ago

That Spirit wins it for me. It’s got a range in the three digits, reliable powertrain and plenty of room. She ain’t pretty but will get the job done until you can save for something better

Aron9000
Aron9000
29 days ago

Hell no to the spark. Completely useless, work might be only 5 miles away but make a trip once or twice a week that is 50 to 70 miles round trip to visit friends and family on the other side of town. Plus I see that battery pack taking a dump any time now, or some other specialty part that is spark ev specific going out and being made of unobtainium.

As for the Dodge, those are suprisingly reliable and well built. But only cause its the 4 cylinder/torqueflite combo. My aunt inherited an Acclaim with that combo in 2006ish and proceeded to drive the wheels off it for the next 7 years on her 60 mile a day commute. Proved to be very reliable with all the exitement of plain store brand oatmeal.

The Mitsu v6/ultradrive tranny is hot garbage in these though. Im betting all of them were junked 20 years ago when they were less than 10 years old.

MadAnthony
MadAnthony
29 days ago

My dad had a ’93 Acclaim when I was growing up and my first car was an ’87 LeBaron sedan, so I had to go Spirit.

Although if it had the 3.0 Mitsubishi V6, I’d be torn. I don’t like that engine, even if it’s quick in that car.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
29 days ago

I’m an unabashed sucker for nice K-cars. Spirit for me.

John Beef
John Beef
29 days ago

The Dodge would be a great first car for my 15 year old daughter with a learner’s permit. She can get something better once she wrecks this one.

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
29 days ago

The dodge is way too old, something newer in cruddier (but mechanically sound) condition would be a better example for the experiment

Last edited 29 days ago by Chartreuse Bison
LilRedFinesse
LilRedFinesse
29 days ago

one does not spark joy, but the other lifts my spirit.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
29 days ago

I was going to pick Spirit and then make a comment about SRT-4 swap and burnouts. However, it’s kinda too nice to hack up. Still I’d take it over the Spark.

Checkyourbeesfordrinks
Checkyourbeesfordrinks
29 days ago

Spirit mainly because it was my first car back in 1995; I had the 1990 version but it looks the same. Mine lasted well past 200k miles and I didn’t treat it very nicely.

Scott Wangler
Scott Wangler
29 days ago

$0.46 a mile in depreciation, ouch.

WR250R
WR250R
29 days ago

A buddy of mine had a Spirit for a few years in our early 20’s. Shockingly nice to drive, decent on gas, and got up an onramp plenty good. It’s got my vote.

SAABstory
SAABstory
29 days ago

Good lord, this is an ‘I’d rather walk’ choice if I’ve ever seen one. Can I just get something else? I’d rather spend the money on Uber than have either of those.

ColoradoFX4
ColoradoFX4
29 days ago

I like that someone has kept a Spirit in good condition, and I certainly hope it finds an equally good home. We need to preserve the workaday cars. But for me, the Spark makes more sense. It can be a secondary car for running around town, I can charge it at home, and thanks to the solar panels, would cost me nothing for the electricity.

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