The 2013 Chevy Spark is a relatively low-priced, unusual-looking car -- one that's scarcely 12 feet long and bristling with the latest technology. I tested one over the course of a week, and was especially excited to try out its smartphone integration technology.
At first glance, the Spark has the kind of design you'll either love or hate. Its tall, squat appearance looks cute to me. Even if you don't like its odd profile, this 5-door hatchback's shape is practical, allowing its interior to be roomy enough for a 6'3" guy like me.
And its price is right: The lowest-priced Spark is $12,185 (I assume that includes tires, a steering wheel and not much else), making it one of the cheapest cars available.
Of course, you can slather on the options, including the technology I'm so interested in testing. All that coolness raises the vehicle's price to $16,720, which was the Spark 2LT automatic we drove. That gets you a car with numerous accouterments, including power windows and door locks, a six-speaker audio system, Chevrolet MyLink -- which lets you integrate your smartphone's data connection with GM's Pandora and Stitcher apps via Bluetooth -- and heated seats for the driver and front passenger.
That MyLink technology is also available on the Spark 1LT, which includes fewer luxuries but retails for about $2,000 less.
We gave the Spark a thorough workout on all kinds of highways and road conditions, and one word sticks in my mind: fun. It's no thoroughbred. This 32-mpg car's acceleration is slow, taking about 12 seconds to reach 60 mph. And it's noisy, especially when you stomp on the throttle.
But its seats are surprisingly comfortable and give you lots of room. You wouldn't want your adult-sized friends shoehorned into the back seats, but there's a surprising amount of space in this minuscule vehicle. There's room for a week's worth of groceries in the back, easily accessible via hatchback.
Its 4-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and gets the most out of that 1.2-liter 80-horsepower 4-cylinder engine under the hood. I like the feel of the Spark's power steering, tight enough for a realistic road feel without requiring much effort.
And the handling of this little rollerskate is nimble. It's not quite as agile as a sports car, but it sticks to the road admirably, even given the car's relatively high center of gravity.
The 2013 Chevy Spark first started shipping to dealer showrooms in late June and early July of this year. Its approximate body style was first rolled out for sale in 2010 in Asia and Europe. It's a four-door that looks like a 2-door, with its back door handles almost hidden to give it a smoother look. Although it's tiny (144 inches long), it's bigger than a Smart car, but smaller than a Ford Focus.
The Spark's technology is more sophisticated than the tech built into Chevy's techno-flagship, the Volt. Besides having a more responsive touchscreen and easier-to-use controls than the Volt, the Spark has another advantage: It lets you use a GPS app from a smartphone on its 7-inch screen.
With a car priced this low, adding an option for an on-board GPS system could add more than $1,200 to its price. So why not let users bring their own apps on their smartphones, then send the output to the Spark's generously-proportioned 7-inch screen in the center of the dashboard?
The first result of that idea is BringGo, a smartphone app that's not quite ready for release, but works well enough for us to give it a preliminary test. Chevrolet tells it's "aiming for Q1 [first quarter] 2013 availability" for the final version of the app.
Let's make a distinction between Chevy's MyLink capability and the BringGo app. MyLink lets you sync your smartphone with the car via Bluetooth, a common capability of many of the newest cars. It lets you carry on hands-free cellphone conversations, as well as letting you control apps installed in the car such as music discovery app Pandora and the Stitcher Internet radio app. Those apps use your smartphone's data connection to contact the Internet.