Ride Review: Chevrolet Spark
What happens when you live in a place where parking is a premium and the streets are semi-maneuverable?
If you happen to live in such a place – parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul come to mind – how do manage for transportation? You have plenty of options: Public transportation, car and bike sharing, taxicabs…or pay for off-street parking to accommodate a car that might not fit in most spots
But, if you needed the freedom of a car whenever you want, what solutions do you have available to you?
One choice is the Chevrolet Spark. It is considered a city car or minicar according to today’s vehicular classification standards. It was designed for a global audience where most of the places it traverses lack amenities, such as off-street parking or space to get through the narrowest gaps on any given byway. The lack of space was an entry towards creating a car that maximizes its needs onto a small footprint.
For those certain places where such space is limited – the aforementioned parts of Minneapolis and St. Paul, for example – General Motors thought it was a great idea to import the Spark to our continent. It prompted us to consider whether the Spark fits well here in the Upper Midwest. A little Jalapeno hued Spark 2LT arrived and we promptly took it deep into the neighborhoods to find out.
For starters, the Spark’s design was not meant to be alluring or elegant. There is a purpose for the high roofline and the tight overhangs. To conquer these urban enclaves, you have to fit in the most miniscule of places. Therefore, the overall look is useful, practical and a subject of much discussion.
For North America, the Spark’s overall look was adjusted for taste. The shape remains the same, but the front fascia and the use of larger wheels help in bringing some form of distinction over here. Yet, one will be surprised by how wide the each door opens and how practical the hatch is. Let us not forget the roof rails for even more cargo holds up on top.
Once inside, the driver will find mounds of room behind the wheel. A tall driver can find a place behind the adjustable steering wheel/instrumentation pod. The driver seat is manually adjustable for rake, height and recline, with an adjustable headrest. However, to seat four adults inside the Spark will be somewhat of a challenge, unless they are average or smaller. A family of four – including two small children will also be just fins inside the Spark.
The instrument pod is a design is a more concentrated version of the same on the larger Chevrolet Sonic. In turn, modern motorcycles also influence the instrument pod. You have a speedometer dial with a blue LCD screen to the right for the tachometer, fuel gauge and trip information readouts. Though the screen may seem a bit cluttered, it is a useful tool for drivers to get the information they need on their journey.
In the center stack is Chevrolet’s MyLink screen, with a unique set of graphics and simplified commands. There is a screen for apps that are interfaced with your smartphone. One such app is the BringGo navigation app, which is serves as the Spark’s GPS and mapping system. You can also stream music via Pandora, Stitcher and TuneIn Radio. I thought it was cool to bring in an old favorite station from Los Angeles and the news from Australia’s main public radio network while traversing the streets of Minneapolis. The OnStar buttons are on the headliner near the rearview mirror.
Cargo space is adequate, yet expandable with the rear seats down. You can get warm or cool with the Spark’s air conditioning system, but it does take a bit of time to get the air circulating in the car.
Powering the Spark is a 1.25liter in-line four that offers only 84 horsepower and 83-pound-feet of torque. Today, these numbers may seem inadequate, but they do work in the Spark. In the city, you do not need a lot of power to accomplish everything possible. It does well just rolling along in town.
It is where you need to accelerate is the point that the power is not enough. This Spark is connected to a four-speed automatic gearbox, which is fine after first gear. On heavy acceleration, first gear will take longer to shift down and a wall of noise will tell you hard this small engine is working to get there. Manual drivers may opt to go that route with five gears to work with the clutch.
It is worth noting that the four-speed automatic will be superseded by a continuously variable transmission for the 2014 Spark.
One does not expect a sports hatch ride from the Spark. An enthusiast will be disappointed, but not every day drivers. It rides quite well, yet it will react to road imperfections and noticeable bumps. The Spark leans and rolls in the corners. Yet, its steering action is quick and sharp, truly giving this city car the agility it needs to get into tight spots. Braking is fine under normal conditions, though we found some sideways movement on panic stops – easily recovered through its anti-lock brakes and sharp steering system.
When people ask about the Spark, they would think it would be a car that would achieve very high fuel efficiency. Some even asked if it was electric – though consumers in California and Oregon can now get the Spark EV to plug in and stay off away from gas pumps. However, this gas-fueled Spark only mustered 34.6MPG.
The Spark is the lowest priced vehicle GM sells in North America – starting at $12,995 for a LS manual model. Our 2013 2LT tester came to $16,720. Opting for the 2014 model with the new CVT would mean paying another $490.
When I think of where the Spark really works, I always look at the places where urban dwellers find solace. A run through those parts of Minneapolis confirms this notion.
The result was exactly what we expected. You can park in tight spots, load up on groceries or small furniture and play sober cab before a real one shows up at the bar.
It is not just urbanistas that will enjoy the Spark. As tested, Chevy’s city car also plays well in the suburbs. If you work within a few miles of the jobsite, only go to the local shops and do things within a reasonable distance, the Spark can a fun way to live with plenty of space in the garage for snowblowers, lawn mowers, camping and picnic equipment, old furniture, and so forth.
Before you pass judgment on the little Chevrolet Spark, take off your usual hat and see it from the eyes of its intended user. That way, you will understand why GM brought this little number across the Pacific Ocean for us.