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GM's Spark EV Underwhelming, but Electric Motor Could Threaten Tesla

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I just spent a week driving GM's (GM - Get Report) Chevrolet Spark EV electric car, and frankly I'm underwhelmed. Most drivers would do better buying a competing vehicle such as the Nissan LEAF (NSANY) or Volkswagen (VLKAY) eGolf.

The Spark EV, however, contains a powerful motor that will be a key component of a much more exciting GM vehicle in the future. I expect GM and other major car companies to bring electric cars with a 200-mile range to market by 2017 in an effort to compete with Tesla's (TSLA - Get Report) planned Model 3.

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Building on its experience with the Chevrolet Volt, GM has produced a motor with 402 pound feet of torque. That's more than a Ferrari 458. The new motor is built in a factory in Baltimore and then sent to Korea, where final assembly of the Spark EV takes place.

The Chevrolet Spark EV uses a battery pack based on cells from LG. The range is rated at 82 miles. In my testing, I was able to exceed this range almost all the time. I averaged very close to 100 miles, especially when I wasn't driving at freeway speeds.

 The Chevrolet Spark EV costs $29,610 fully loaded and is sold only in California and Oregon.

So what is it like to drive? Well, for starters it's tiny. It has four doors and fits four adults, but it is short and narrow.

The front seat is uncomfortable and one of the worst I have encountered in years. It is mushy and has nonexistent side bolstering. The seat material is the kind of vinyl one thought the auto industry had abandoned.

But wait, there's more! The seating position is terrible. The steering wheel doesn't telescope, and my left knee hit the door handle. I think the only car I've driven in recent memory that was any worse is the Fiat (FIATY) 500.

The top of the dashboard reflects badly in the windshield. The infotainment screens need constant adjustment between night and day conditions. Pairing Bluetooth? I tried four Android smartphones, and it wouldn't pair with any of them.

Backup camera? Forget it.

The storage bins between the front seats sit so low that you need orangutan arms to reach your stuff. The leather steering wheel is OK for a budget car.

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