18. December 2012
This is a car I am binary about, but let me hasten to point out that demographically, I am well past the targeted audience for the Chevy Spark, which is undoubtedly Millennially focused. So, that admitted. . .
It is a regular car
The Chevy Spark is a minicar. That’s not as in MINI. That’s as in small. The car is just 144.7 in. long and 62.9 in. wide. By way of comparison, the MINI is just about an inch longer—145.6 in.—but it is significantly wider—66.3 in. And that makes a lot of difference.
Although it may be a minicar, it is a fully capable car. It has four doors and a back seat. It has a storage area behind the rear seat of 11.4-cubic feet, which, while not Costco-sized, is at least useful. It has various amenities, like Chevrolet MyLink (standard on 1LT and 2LT models—and there is only the LS trim below those two) that features a seven-inch color touch screen for auto and Bluetooth, USB or plug-in outlet connectivity with one’s own smartphone or media. It is capable of breaking the speed limits in all 50 states.
It is a city car
Minicars are a phenomena more characteristic of other parts of the world than the U.S. (e.g., the Spark is built in Changwon, South Korea), where people recognize that their cities are phenomenally congested and so it makes more sense to drive something pocket-sized rather than something pocket battleship-sized.
When you are driving in a city clogged with cars, maneuverability is key. And the Spark not only features electronic power steering, but it has a turning circle of merely 32.5 feet, which means that swinging U-turns are a breeze.
When you are driving in a city clogged with cars, speed is not all that essential.
When you are driving between cities—as in on an interstate—speed is essential, as is solid handling. And while the Spark can drive at speed, my interstate experiences in the car were less than encouraging. That is, at 61 inches, the car is nearly as tall as it is wide. Rolling along on its 15-inch wheels at interstate speeds, I had the sensation that one gets when driving a car on a slick surface, as though the car is skating diagonally to the direction of travel.
The Spark has an 84-hp four-cylinder engine and a standard five-speed manual transmission. Neither sounds happy when on the interstate.
A quick digression on the five-speed
There aren’t a whole lot of people who know how to drive manual transmissions any more. Presumably this is not a part of driver’s training curricula. That’s sensible, because the number of cars with manuals is diminishing. Since I’m positing that the car is targeted at the Youth Market (how else to explain colors like “Denim” and “Techno Pink”?), it seems to me that the manual transmission ought to be dead-simple to use because of their overall lack of familiarity. Yet I found the shift throws of the Spark five-speed to be analogous to having an egg whisk in a stainless steel bowl, trying to find the appropriate gear. Not good. The Spark engineers ought to spend some time in, say, a Honda Fit, which has a magnificent manual setup.
That said. . .
The Spark has a combined fuel economy rating of 34 mpg. According to the 2013 fuel economy ratings of the Department of Energy and the EPA, the Spark, which shows up in the “Subcompact Cars” category rather than the “Minicompact Cars” category, is the segment winner.
Not so efficient
Generally when driving a car, the mpg number on the window sticker is more like a suggestion than a certainty. And the suggestion is usually that you’re not going to do so well. In my combined driving I averaged 35.5 mpg, which made me rather pleased.
So I boasted to a friend of that number. He drives a last-generation Mazda3. “35 mpg in that car? I get that in my car.”
He was not impressed. I was deflated.
Back in the day, which arguably wasn’t all that long ago, vehicle manufacturers spent about as much time on designing and executing the interiors on cars in the smaller categories as people today do reading a Tweet.
That’s not the case with the Spark. It is evident that there is thought behind making the interior look nice. The use of a contrasting color on the interior trim that echoes the exterior color is a nice touch.
Not so nice interior feature
As mentioned, the Spark is on the narrow side. Which means that while there is certainly room in the front seat for the driver and passenger, there isn’t a lot of room. So I found that like it or not, my left forearm was always planted on the arm rest. And that wasn’t a good thing. The plastic is hard. Given the interior configuration, it should be soft(er). There is a swing-up/down right-side arm rest for the driver (which I found needed to be out of the way when buckling the seat belt) which has cushion. Drive the Spark long enough and you’ll want to stop at a sporting goods store to buy some arm padding.
So. . .
It’s like this: for not much more money, someone could buy a Chevy Sonic five-door hatch. It is significantly bigger (159 in. long, 59.7 in. high, 68.3 in. wide) and has a more powerful engine (138 hp) attached it its five-speed. It is just as stylish and youthful. Maybe not quite as cool.
But then, I’m not the demographic for that one, either.
Engine: 1.2-liter, DOHC, four cylinder
Material: Cast iron block and aluminum head
Horsepower: 84 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 83 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheelbase: 93.5 in.
Length: 144.7 in.
Width: 62.9 in.
Height: 61 in.
Curb weight: 2,237 lb.
MSRP : $15,045 (destination & handling : $750)
EPA: 32/38/34 mpg city/highway/combined