For people who really enjoy driving, a comfortable seat, excellent visibility and an engaging, tactile interface with the car are often more important than tire-shredding horsepower. Besides, have you priced tires lately?
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark minicar’s 84-horsepower 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine is no threat to its treads. But the tiny power plant was a nice match for a car that made me feel like a driver where many new vehicles relegate me largely to passenger status with their wide-ranging automation.
Of course the Spark has electric windows and power locks, but the drive itself keeps one active, involved and acutely aware of the road surface and other surroundings.
My ”jalapeno” green test car had a crisp 5-speed manual transmission that gave it a racy feel in an era of clutchless left-leg atrophy. Sure, six gears would be better, but five are enough. The car’s brakes feel good despite drums in the rear.
What makes the Spark stand out is how big it seems compared with how tiny it actually is. With an overall length of 144.7 inches sitting on a 93.5-inch wheelbase, it is smaller from bumper to bumper than a Mini Cooper and opens up new frontiers in parallel parking. However, its tall cabin, huge windows and upright seating position make it feel more like a midsize crossover. You wind up looking other drivers in the eye instead of squinting up at them like a befuddled mole.
Unlike the Mini, Fiat 500 or Scion iQ, the Spark has four big doors and room for four adult-size people.
The Spark’s biggest downside may be its price. My basic test car cost $15,795 including the $750 destination charge. To me that’s still serious money, though realistically, it is difficult to find decent new four-wheeled transportation for less.
When I groused about the price some friends looked at me with a hint of pity and explained that it is no longer 1979 and $15,000 is cheap for a car these days. After all, many motorcycles cost more. Still, I can imagine shoppers looking at the Spark’s sticker and wishing it said $10,000 instead. I can also hear them saying something like “should I consider a used car?”
Its short length and high roof also hurt aerodynamics and contribute to a less-than-stellar fuel economy rating of 32 miles per gallon in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway. But making the Spark sleeker might take away the comfort and visibility that help it turn the drudgery of commuting and errands into pleasure.
Chevrolet Spark: Is $15,000 Really 'Cheap' (Review) - Driver's Seat - WSJ