Despite its small size, the Chevrolet Spark doesn’t have a hard time standing out. With its K-pop styling and bright paint colors, the car easily catches the eyes of many pedestrians and other motorists.
|Engine: 1.2 liter engine, 85 hp 85 lb-ft of torque.
Transmission: five-speed manual is standard, CVT optional
Fuel Economy: Rated to get 30 MPG in the city, 39 MPG on the highway.
Pricing: Starts at $12,995 including destination, $16,160 as tested
Is that a good thing? It probably is when you consider the fact that cars in the Spark’s price range are usually anonymous and drab.
But the Spark has more going for it than stare-stealing style. It features fewer compromises in terms of size, design, driving feel and fuel economy than others in its class. Looking at that exterior, you can’t help but smile; it’s fun and inspired, looking like a cartoon character or even a caricature of the larger Sonic.
Big Where it Counts
With short overhangs and a tall roofline, the Spark is easy to maneuver and features a 32.5-foot turning circle, which is almost as tight as the Fiat 500. The body shape makes for excellent headroom and outward visibility. Compared to other small cars, the front seats of the Spark feel less constrained and more comfortable. With 39.4-inches of front headroom and 42 inches of front legroom, the Spark offers more space than its main competitors: the Fiat 500 and Scion iQ.
Hidden in the C-pillar are handles for the rear door. Yes, this small car features five doors and seating for just as many passengers. Those in the rear seats will manage if they’re under six-feet tall. With 37.3 inches of rear headroom and 35.2 inches of rear legroom, it’s clear that these seats aren’t just for show, like they are in the Scion and Fiat.
In terms of scale, the Spark is a bit bigger than its rivals; it’s longer than the 500 by five inches and is the only one of the bunch to offer dedicated doors to the second-row of seats. Trunk space is also ahead of the competition, offering a usable 11.4 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats in place and 31.2 cubic feet when the seats are folded down.
It’s easy to pick out parts of the cabin where Chevrolet cut corners to save cost. The headliner feels like it’s made of cardboard and certain plastic parts of the dashboard feel woefully cheap.
However, other parts of the car are decidedly attractive. The seven-inch color touch screen looks good and performs well. It even offers navigation powered by your smartphone. There are also body-colored slick plastic panels on the inside of the car to add extra flair. The cool gauge cluster looks like what you’d find on a motorcycle, similar to units in the Trax and Sonic. The seats also feature some color-matched accents.
Just ahead of the front seats is the 1.2-liter engine. It makes enough of a racket to make you think it’s up in front with you. For all that noise, it only makes 84 horsepower and 83 lb-ft of torque and is a busy bee when it comes giving the Spark enough oomph to hit highway speeds. Directing that power to the front wheels is a new continuously variable transmission. The replacement for the four-speed auto is extremely effective at giving you everything the engine has when you need it and dropping to low RPM when you don’t.
Although less powerful than the Scion iQ by 10 ponies and heavier by about 200 lbs., the Spark felt more than adequate for motoring around town and could keep up with traffic on the highway. On the other hand, passing takes patience and careful planning.
Fuel economy during our weeklong test of the subcompact rang in at 33 MPG, which is just below the officially advertised average. As temperatures were still low during our test, the car was equipped with winter tires, a likely culprit for the lower-than-expected mileage.
On the road, the Spark is softer and more comfortable than other sub-$13,000 cars like the Mitsubishi Mirage, although that’s not saying much. It doesn’t quite crash over bumps and potholes, but you’ll still notice intricate details of the asphalt you’re driving on. Fortunately, the car features responsive steering which saves it from feeling like a penalty box.
Cheerful to drive and interesting enough to look at, the Spark does have its drawbacks. It’s low entry price disappers quickly once you start optional features. Sure a base Spark LS model costs $12,995 including delivery, but lacks (deep breath) the CVT, touch-screen, upgraded stereo, power locks and power mirrors, steering-wheel mounted controls, cruise control and even Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
To get all of that you’d have to opt for the 1LT Automatic model that we had, with a $16,160 price tag including the $340 dealer-installed fog-lights. We’d skip the fog-lights to save some money but at that price the Spark still has sticker-shock.
Sure it’s a little goofy looking, but the car comes up big in key areas. Take for example the 10 standard airbags, which help the Spark return an IIHS Top Safety Pick Rating, beating out the Scion iQ, Smart fortwo, and even bigger cars like the Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio and Toyota Yaris. It’s the only car in the subcompact class that achieves an “Acceptable” rating in the small overlap crash test, something that helps put buyers at ease when it comes to their safety in a small car.
Simply put, the Spark is fantastic when compared to its main competitors from smart, Scion and Fiat. It’s cheap and efficient without penalizing you for having a budget. The passenger space is excellent and fit four adults, while the interior is attractive and livable. If you’re thinking of buying something this small, the Spark will prove to be everything they’re looking for and a little bit more.