Driver's Seat: Chevy Spark is a cute ride, thoughtfully equipped
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT: A Fiat fighter as tested; a Kia fighter in base form.
Price: $15,795 as tested, $12,245 for a base version.
Marketer's pitch: "Soon to be an urban legend."
Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com dubs it "Inexpensive without feeling cheap."
Reality: Bigger than you'd think; not speedy, but still fun.
You almost want to pinch it: The lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat and Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0 quickly dubbed our little salsa-red test model "Chomper," after the adorable baby T-Rex from the Land Before Time movies. I feared it would be hard to give this little guy back to the fleet operators.
Patience is a virtue: Getting the Spark onto highways requires a bit of a head start. The 1.2-liter is less than enthusiastic, and it lost power on small highway grades about on par with the Fiat 500 I tested last year.
The shifter's five gears are closely spaced and fun to shift. But the transmission itself has some big differences in gear sizes. Shifting first-second and second-third involves long, power-curve-squashing leaps. It's just a bet, but an optional four-speed automatic would likely be worth avoiding entirely.
On the curves: The tiny Spark brings some joy to the winding country roads of Chester County. It's a breeze to maneuver into parking spaces and on Philadelphia streets as well.
Sparky: Chevrolet says it will produce an electric version of the car in 2013 for California and outside the United States.
The hot seat: The red-and-black interior struck me as straight out of the Fiat playbook. Mrs. Passenger Seat liked Fiat's red-and-white theme much better.
Unfortunately, at this price range come "leatherette" seats, and they felt like rubber. Get a little sweaty out in Southeastern Pennsylvania's early fall humidity and then go for a ride? You'll never dry off. Ewww.
The cheaper cloth seats look like they'd do just fine.
Nice plastic panels match the exterior color.
Snug interior: Legroom even behind a 5-foot-10 driver like myself is snug, and big feet must go in toes first. A console in the middle rear eliminates room for a fifth passenger, but then so does the width of the vehicle.
Carrying cargo: Chevrolet is making much of the 31 cubic feet of cargo space available with the rear seats folded down. That's about the size of two average midsize trunks, and about three times the Spark's fairly roomy-for-the-segment 11 cubic feet behind the rear seat.
Hold the phone: A nice little slot keeps your cellphone to the left of the steering wheel. Well-placed cup holders stand out, as some small vehicles have a tough time fitting everything in.
Speedometer à la Sonic: The motorcycle-inspired speedo comes straight from the big brother Chevy model and pleases the eye. It's also easy to read.
Keeping warm - and cool: The three-dial heater controls couldn't be easier to operate. But the dials rest a little too low because the big LCD screen is above.
Wet weather: The wipers come with an adjustable delay, a feature that doesn't always show up in this price range. The rear-defroster control is on the heater button and the rear-wiper control is on the same stalk as the one for the front, making drying things off simple.
In and out: The Spark stands out for things I didn't notice. I made no notes about cracking my head or having to perform catlike maneuvers to get inside. The little car has a lot of headroom and will not embarrass anyone getting in.
Small car, big display: The 2LT comes with MyLink touch radio. The large infotainment screen stands out in such a small car, and the button-free operation takes the Spark to a higher level.
Unfortunately, the touch screen could be a little balky, and no CD player is available at any level for retro drivers like this one.
Night shift: Need some light? There's only the main light over the rearview mirror and it's really bright, interfering with vehicle navigation.
Fuel economy: I averaged 35.5 miles per gallon in highway-heavy travel, which is certainly not bad. The mileage does seem to climb if you keep the speedometer between 45 and 55. But I had hoped to break 40 m.p.g.
Where it's built: Changwon, Korea.
How it's built: It's new in the United States so we'll have to wait and see. GM Korea was once Daewoo, though, which is not the strongest pedigree in the world. But Hyundai began as a big punch line and has come a long way.
In the end: Everything about this little car seemed solid and well thought out. If you're not in a great hurry, it seems like a good value.
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