2013 Chevrolet Spark Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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The idea of a small city car targeting entry-level buyers is nothing new, even in Canada. Smart has been selling its tiny ForTwo for years, and more recently Fiat reentered the North American market with the funky little 500, while Scion's pint-sized iQ was hot on its heels. What's new is a city car that four regular sized adults can climb into, comfortably.

That car is the new 2013 Chevrolet Spark, a slightly longer sub-subcompact with four doors and a hatch. A quick glance and you might think it's just another subcompact with a bowtie on its deep maw of a grille, but Chevy already has that position filled with the Sonic, a pretty sweet ride on its own. Comparatively the Sonic, and every other B-segment subcompact, is a giant, with the spritely Spark measuring just 3,675 mm long while riding on a wheelbase of 2,375 mm, its width at 1,598 mm and height at 1,549 mm, and weighing in at just over 1,000 kilos. The Sonic hatchback, on the other hand, which is the shorter of the two body styles offered, stretches to 4,039 mm with a 2,525-mm wheelbase, while being 1,735 mm wide and 1,517 mm tall and weighing in at just over 1,200 kilos. That makes the Spark 200 kilos lighter than the Sonic, and 364 mm shorter from end to end with a 150-mm shorter wheelbase, while it's 137 mm narrower and – hold on – 32 mm taller? Hey, just like anyone learns who moves into a smaller home, you've got to make up for any lack of floor space by going vertical. For those of you (myself included) whose brains conceptualize better in Imperial, the Spark is 1.2 inches taller, 5.4 inches narrower, 14.3 inches shorter overall, with a 5.9-inch shorter wheelbase. Now that puts things into perspective.

In a nutshell (almost literally), the Spark is the smallest four-door hatchback on the Canadian market. It makes a Mini look portly and Chevy's own compact Cruze seem like a limo! Then again, its aforementioned city car rivals are all outclassed by the Spark's rear seat room. The ForTwo is, of course, just for two, while the iQ is pretty tight behind the driver's seat yet can be made roomier behind the passenger by sliding the front seat forward, albeit at the expense of front passenger legroom. The 500 is the largest of the old guard, but still not really designed for adults in back, and none offer the benefit of four-door access. But wait, there's more.

Even with all the seats filled to capacity there's room under the hatch for 323 litres of gear, and almost 900 litres when the seatbacks are folded down. That's 54/113 litres (seats up/folded) more cargo space than the Fiat, 224/410 litres more than the Scion and, well, you get the picture.

You'd think the Spark was a lot bigger than its competition, but really it's not. Sure it's longer, which incidentally also benefits ride quality, and taller, although only slightly, but only the ForTwo is narrower, and not by much. Yah, I think Chevy's onto something here.

My suspicions were verified when I saw the price. More expensive, right? I mean, it's a bigger car after all. But no, it's actually a lot more affordable than its competition at only $14,995 including destination. For comparison, prices start at $15,685 for the ForTwo, $17,395 for the 500, and $18,150 for the iQ (also including destination fees). Granted, two of the Spark's competitors offer standard air conditioning, with one upping the ante with standard Bluetooth and USB device connectivity, but the Spark shoots back as the only car in the class to offer standard 15-inch alloy wheels plus a rooftop rear spoiler. The iQ gets a standard CVT automatic transmission too, but there are a lot of small car buyers who enjoy the sportiness of a manual, so speaking personally, I'd rather have the choice. Of course, we don't have enough space here to run through the pros and cons of each vehicle and every standard and optional feature offered, but suffice to say that the Spark is more than just competitive.

Some of the Spark's other no-cost goodies include power windows, a powered tailgate release, a tilt steering wheel, and a 4-speaker AM/FM stereo with OnStar telematics. Safety equipment includes 10 airbags, traction and stability control, ABS and tire pressure monitoring. Move up from the base LS to the midgrade 1LT and you'll get remote access, powered mirrors, air conditioning with air filtration, cruise control, steering wheel controls for the audio system, which incidentally gets upgraded to 6 speakers and a USB port plus satellite radio including six months service, not to mention the Spark's pièce de résistance, the MyLink infotainment system with a 7-inch touch-screen display and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity.

It's a really sweet system, and totally worth the money if staying connected is important to you. Basically it's a "dumb" interface that relies on your Apple or Android smart phone for music, navigation, etc. You can even watch movies or TV from your phone while parked, and there's an app on the way called BringGo that lets you chart out a navigation route via your phone's GPS system while in your home or hotel room, and get that route displayed in full-colour, high-resolution, 7-inch goodness as soon as your twist the car's ignition, which prompts your phone to automatically sync to the system. Again, it's standard with the 1LT and optional on the base car.

Believe it or not, how your phone integrates with a car's infotainment system matters more in this market than how that car actually drives. With the Spark, however, you get class-unprecedented phone connectivity along with good overall driving dynamics. It's not particularly sporty, but it moves along at a good clip and delivers a nice ride and decent handling. I like the 4-speed automatic better than the 5-speed manual, the latter needing some modulation from the right foot in order to get off to a smooth start, as engine idle is set a bit low to save on fuel. And yes the Spark's tiny 1.2-litre four-cylinder is stingy, at a claimed 5.2 L/100km combined city/highway. Some might say it's a bit stingy in the performance department too, with only 85-horsepower on tap, but believe me it's enough. Remember, the Spark doesn't weigh much, and unless loaded down with four linemen and their bag of footballs in back, power's a plenty.

Last but hardly least, I think it looks good. It's balanced proportionally from front to back, and some of the detailing is really nice. Load it up with 2LT trim and some aero upgrades get added, as do fog lights, chrome garnishes all over the place and cooler looking rims, plus aluminum roof rails on top that give it some crossover appeal. Inside it's already a nice looking ride in base trim, especially if you choose a colour that complements the exterior with body-colour interior accents, while the 2LT adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated leatherette seats. All I can fault it with is a complete lack of soft-touch plastics, but really, does this matter in an inexpensive city car? I don't think so. Fully loaded the Spark 2LT breaks through the $20k threshold, but just barely at $21,740 including destination charges. Not bad at all.

Overall, the Spark is more than just not bad, it's really very good. It looks good, drives well, delivers excellent fuel economy, comes well equipped with standard and optional features, and offers more interior room and greater convenience than anything in its segment. Like I said before, I think Chevy's onto something here.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Chevrolet, 2013, Spark, $10,000 - $19,999, Subcompact,

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