The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is out to grab a big slice of the city car pie from the likes of the Fiat 500, Smart Fortwo, and Scion iQ, and with it the hearts and minds of young, budget-conscious buyers. Will the Spark's competitive pricing; vibrant colors; high-content, roomy interior; and overall package make an impact in the segment? We recently took it out for a spin and put it through our usual battery of tests to find out for ourselves.
Chevy claims the Spark is its first subcompact for the U.S. and Canadian markets. (We'll forgive its amnesia about the tiny Geo Metro, which was later rebadged as a Chevrolet.) At 144.7 inches overall, the Spark is sized between the Fiat 500 and the premium Mini Cooper. It's more than 2 feet longer than the iQ and Fortwo.
All Sparks come with air conditioning and 10 airbags, as well as power window, locks, and mirrors standard, while 1LT and 2LT models gain Chevy's MyLink Radio infotainment system, which is Pandora and Stitcher compatible. Also on the way is Tunein, an app that allows access to 70,000 radio stations from around the world, and BringGo, a $50 navigation app for your smartphone that is displayed on the MyLink's 7-inch touch screen via a USB or Bluetooth connection. BringGo will be updated free for life.
While the Spark helps drivers keep connected to friends, the city car's driving dynamics and the way it tackles everyday passenger and cargo demands is much more impressive than what apps it has. We recently had a chance to rip around L.A. in the Spark before putting it through our Motor Trend tests. The dozen or so vibrant-colored Sparks in the press car pack attracted lots of attention during our drive loops, and held our attention with its relatively fun-to-drive nature.
The Spark is the only car in its class to offer rear doors, a huge bonus in the subcompact segment. Like in the larger Chevrolet Sonic hatchback, the rear door handles are hidden in the C-pillar, giving it a sportier two-door appearance. Chevrolet claims the Spark is the first in its class to comfortably seat four adults. With 35.2 inches of rear legroom, the Spark beats the Fiat 500 by 3.5 inches and the premium Mini Cooper by 7.3 inches. The Spark's also boasts more cargo room (11.4 cu-ft with the seats up; 31.2 cu-ft seats folded) than the Fiat 500 (8.5, 30.1) and the Mini Cooper hardtop (5.7, 24). Scion advertises the iQ as a 3+1 passenger car, and the Fortwo seats just two people. Cargo room behind the iQ's rear seat is virtually nonexistent (3.5 cubic feet), but it does offer 16.7 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. The Fortwo has 12.6 cubic feet behind its two seats.
Inside, the Spark feels roomier than the Fiat 500 we have in our MT fleet. While the driver's seating position is higher than most, it's more natural than the barstool-like position of the 500. The clutch pedal is easier to modulate and communicates the engagement point well. Seats are comfortable for the class, whether cloth or the 2LT's leatherette, which have a "non-animal" grain. The Spark's plastics are hard; the car doesn't pretend to be something it's not. All controls are within reach and the motorcycle-inspired gauges are easy to read. The gauge cluster tilts with the steering wheel, though there is no telescope feature. The air conditioning system seemed to struggle a bit to keep the interior cool, especially in the black car we drove.
On the road, the Spark's 84-hp, 1.25-liter four-cylinder engine is peppy enough to keep up with traffic including on-ramps and passing at highway speeds. Out at the track, we tested a Spark equipped with a five-speed manual transmission, and it ambled to 60 mph in 11.3 seconds and hit the quarter-mile pylon in 18.1 seconds at 76.6 mph - just ahead of the fastest Fiat 500 automatic we've tested and on par with the CVT-equipped Scion iQ. Expect automatic-equipped Sparks to be at least one second slower to 60 mph. The Spark manual posted 0.75 lateral g on the skidpad and went around our figure eight in 29.5 seconds at 0.59 g average - slightly slower than the class average, but at a higher average lateral g.
Although a GM engineer told us the steering system comes in only one tune, the steering in the manual car seemed a bit lighter. The 2271-pound Spark is tossable and easy to place on canyon roads, despite large A-pillars that can block the lane markings through curves. All Sparks come with 15-inch alloy wheels, while 2LT models feature a two-tone finish. The Spark felt stable at highway speeds and through the canyon with its 185/55/15 all-season tires. Its front disc, rear drum brake setup felt confident in the city and on the highway, and it comes with standard ABS. During our braking test, the Spark stopped from 60 mph in 116 feet, four feet and 13 feet shorter than the 500 and iQ, respectively.
Overall, the Spark feels much like a smaller, slower Sonic hatchback. Though the Spark handled the surface streets and highways well, it likely wouldn't be as ideal on a road trip, especially one involving any elevation changes. Still the car is roomy enough for four adults with a smattering of cargo or two with a decent amount of carrying capacity.
With a base price of $12,995 including destination, the Spark LS undercuts the competition by several grand. The Smart Fortwo starts at $15,440, the Scion iQ at $16,020, and the Fiat 500 Pop at $16,200. A fully loaded Chevrolet Spark 2LT with automatic transmission and the extra-cost Black Granite paint tops out at $16,990. The 14.3-inch longer Sonic hatchback with the 1.8-liter and manual starts at $15,560, though a 28.4-inch longer Sonic sedan with the same drivetrain can be had for $14,660, but wouldn't have MyLink.
While the 2013 Chevrolet Spark may not be the fastest car on the road, its space-efficient design, standard features, and surprisingly fun-to-drive demeanor may make it the best bang for the city car buck. We'll have to get ahold of its competition and give them a run together though to find out definitively.
Read more: 2013 Chevrolet Spark First Test - Motor Trend