Chevy’s Korean micro car comes up short
Chevrolet’s Spark is a confusing car.
Why? Chevy has a perfectly fine entry-level car, the Sonic. Why it felt a need to go bargain basement with its Spark, a Daewoo (remember that name?) designed four-door micro or city car seems like a decision from the pre-bankruptcy General Motors.
Let’s get out our microscope and examine Spark, which some folks insisted should be called the Speck. It’s small, riding on a 93.5-inch wheelbase and weighing just 2,269 pounds in 2LT trim, as I drove it, with a 4-speed automatic transmission. Consider that most cars now have 5- or 6-speed transmissions and you can see what road we’re headed down.
Spark is made in South Korea and comes in three trims, base, 1LT and 2LT and is aimed directly at the youngsters who simply can’t afford anything larger. Its base price is $12,245, close to its main competitor, the Nissan Versa, but you’d also compare it with Scion’s (Toyota’s entry-level youth brand) iQ or Hyundai’s Accent. Some might argue it would have competed with the Smart car a few years back too, but even the Spark offers more and is a smarter choice than the Smart.
Compared with Sonic, the nice riding and handling compact Chevy hatchback, the Spark is nearly 16 inches shorter at just 144.7 inches long and weighs about 400 pounds less. A base Sonic, by the way, begins at $14,800 and is infinitely more comfortable and refined.
Sparks feature a 1.2-liter Ecotec I4 that creates 84 horsepower and coupled with the test car’s 4-speed automatic offers mild acceleration. Press the gas pedal hard for a quicker start and the cast iron engine with alloy cylinder head howls like a hound dog that’s being whipped. Ear plugs are in order!
But that’s OK because there is so much road noise via the wheel wells that engine noise shouldn’t matter much. Drive the Spark on a wet day and it sounds like someone is spraying a hose up in the wheel wells. The ride is rough and delivers sharp jolts too, which you can blame mostly on its tiny wheelbase.
Handling though is fine – light and fairly quick. So you’ll feel like you’re driving a go-kart with roof and seating for four. Go with the 5-speed manual transmission and you’ll be better able to use the car’s mild power, but it still won’t feel peppy.
Gas mileage is good, but not as high as you might expect in a micro car. The test car with automatic was rated 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. I managed 34.1 mpg in an even mix of city and highway driving. Hyundai’s Accent is rated 40 mpg on the highway and you get a much more refined car and 138-horsepower engine.Inside, well at least in the top-level 2LT there are some goodies that make the low-cost buyer take note. Not only are there power door locks, windows and mirrors, but the Spark dishes up one-level heated front seats, air conditioning, leatherette seats (two-tone in the test car), keyless remote entry and a premium sound system with six speakers. The steering wheel also has cruise control, radio and phone buttons on its hub.
I give the dash high marks for simplicity and the 2LT also features a 7-inch touch-screen MyLink radio with Pandora internet and Stitcher Smart Radio apps with Bluetooth audio streaming – prime for young buyers. Those techno goodies also come on the 1LT model. For safety there are 10 airbags, while outside you get aluminum wheels and a small rear spoiler.
The steering wheel is tilt only, but I appreciate all those buttons on its hub. Spark’s seats are fine for city driving with fairly flat firm bottom cushions. These are manually adjusted, naturally, and the back cushions have modest side support.Head and legroom were fine up front and with shorter front seat occupants there is room in back for a couple small adults. Those seats are firm too and you’d only want to take folks on a short commute, especially if anyone has long legs.
Those rear seats flip forward and then sort of flat for added cargo space. The process is a bit sticky and the seats do not fold as easily as most split seats do in other cars. You’ll need that extra space too if you are hauling anything more than a couple grocery bags. With the rear seats in place you can probably line up three bags sideways under the hatch. Chevy claims 11.4 cubic feet of cargo room, but that seems overly generous.
Let’s return to price. At its base this is a good solution for someone looking for a small economy car and prefers new to used. But the 2LT starts at $15,970. Add in the $750 delivery charge and you’re at $16,720. At that price you could certainly consider more accommodating compacts, such as a base Hyundai Elantra or its smaller cousin, the Accent, Ford’s Focus or Chevy’s own Sonic.
One other thing, did I mention the test car was Techno Pink? I promised myself I wouldn’t use that as a reason to dislike Spark’s look. But the car was a grayish pink that some thought more lavender or mauve and suggested was a Mary Kay color (nail polish maybe?), but certainly not for the successful cosmetics sales person.
Finally, there is the matter of styling. At this price you don’t expect much, and with its giant angular headlights and dull rear styling, Spark certainly meets those expectations.
Note: Rumor has it that Chevy ultimately plans to deliver an all-electric Spark, possibly in 2014. At that point its name will seem much more appropriate.
FAST Stats: 2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT
Hits: Low cost at base level and decent gas mileage. Light, fairly quick handling and comes with power windows, mirrors and locks. Test car trim level includes heated seats and fancy radio with big touch-screen.
Misses: Interior is noisy due to road noise and hard-working engine. Some small cars are cute, not the Spark, and definitely not in pink. Almost no storage without rear seat lowered, and that’s a sticky subject.
Made in: Changwon, So.Korea
Engine: 1.2-liter Ecotec I4, 84 hp
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Weight: 2,269 lbs.
Wheelbase: 93.5 in.
Cargo: 11.4 cu.ft. (31.2 cu.ft. rear seat down)
Base Price: $15,970
Dealer’s Price: $15,251
Major Options: None
Test vehicle: $16,720
Sources: Chevrolet, www.autos.yahoo.com
Photos: Courtesy of Chevrolet