Youíd be hard pressed these days to find a car that is all out terrible, even as your budget dips into the sub $15,000 mark. However, that doesnít mean youíll be graced with a well appointed interior paired with a infotainment system that is willing to look your smartphone smack in the face. Heck, even Range Roverís Evoque
, which starts at $44,000, has been outfitted with a less than complementary, if not down right contradictory nav that seems to hark back to the days of Palm Pilot and passive matrix screens. If I havenít lost you, then let me rope you back in with the refreshing, inexpensive, and surprisingly well featured Chevy Spark.
Today, I woke up at the crack of 9am and dragged myself over to Venice, in Mitsubishiís electric car no less, the MiEV. There I met with the Chevy folks and after giving us the run down, which included pastry, OJ, and all the bottomless coffee one could gulp down in 45 minutes, we headed out onto the open road. My copilot was a freelance writer for PopSci, so needless to say I was outgunned in terms of publication credibility, but nevertheless I did my best to stand tall and talk in a deep, authoritative voice.
The Spark is not an EV. But given its name, and that Chevy also builds the Volt, itís an easy mistake to make. That said, weíre hearing that Chevy has plans to unveil an EV model of the Spark at CES this year, but we werenít able to confirm that. Regardless, the Sparkís 1.2L 4-cylinder 83-HP engine gets 32/38 mpg city/highway under the guise of 5-speed manual gear box, or 28/37 respectively when the 4-speed automatic is tossed into the mix. Either way you cut it, itís a respectable number, and not one that prevents the Spark from cutting lanes on the always busy, always frustrating 405 or 10 freeway here in Los Angeles. There is no disputing that the car is not a racer, but as the Chevy folks emphasized again and again into my tiny little head, the buyers of this vehicle arenít looking for that. And at a starting price of $12,000 in change, Iíd have to agree itís a caveat that needs little to not evaluation. Iím not even sure itís a caveat at that price.
Chevy has seen fit to make the buying process of this car ultra simple by offering just three trim levels, with the high end model topping out at just over $17k, which is what we drove for a few hours today. There doesnít seem to be a massive, or very evident difference between the two top trim levels, or so it would appear to me, especially when both come equipped with Chevyís awesome Smartlink system.
The Chevy Sparkís interior panorama Ė click and drag
Unlike the Volt
, the Sparkís 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system is refreshing spin on the ones found in cars today, so much so that itís like taking a shower and brushing your teeth all at the same time Ė yeah, itís like that. The Smartlink system is built by LG and is designed to work with a smartphone, - Anrdoid or iPhone connected via Bluetooth or USB cord Ė so the brains of the gang is left up to you to bring. Tapping the screen, which is usually an exercise in futility, is analogous to that of any smartphone Ė praise Jesus! So far itís compatible with Pandora, Stitcher, and a proprietary app called Bringo. Bringo is Chevyís turn-by-turn nav app, and while I didnít get a chance to run it through its paces (shame on me), I was told that it costs $50, and includes lifetime turn-by-turn directions. The utility of the app is debatable, especially in light of iOS 6′s map updates arriving 9/19, and Androidís already existing Google Maps. It also begs the question as to why Chevy hasnít enabled apps for those existing apps, but thatís a bit beyond my pay grade, and might have something to do with a licensing agreement. Conjectures aside, the Smartlink system works like a charm, integrates with your iPhoneís iPod (and Spotify), offers an ultra simple menu system, and only received negative marks due to the underpowered speaker system installed in the Spark. But hey, itís a $13,000 car, can you ask for much more?
So letís review: the Spark is not a race car. The Spark is very affordable (weíre estimating a 3 year less on these would be just over a $100/month). The Spark gets great gas mileage. The Spark has an excellent, if not an award winning infotainment system (you can watch movie on it if youíre in park
). The Spark is the Smart Carís newest enemy. The Spark is probably one of the most well appointed, city suitable cars Iíve driven.
So, does it Spark your fancy?