First place: Chevrolet Spark
While the Smart and the iQ try to redefine what it is to be a car, the Spark is a 'car as we know it, only smaller' — a 9/10ths-scale replica, if you like, of a conventional subcompact. There are only two seats in the rear, but average-size adults can occupy them — and access them through their own doors — as long as those in front aren't greedy with legroom.
Seat-height adjustment theoretically gives the Spark more at-the-wheel flexibility than the other cars, though our less-tall tester lacked thigh support when using the extra height. The motorcyclesque gauge pod is a nice touch, especially the way it moves in unison with the steering column when you adjust the steering tilt, like in a Porsche 928. The small LCD tachometer is hard to read, though, and the feature-rich MyLink commutainment system (standard on LT trims) confirms that touch-sensitive switches and cars do not mix.
According to the city-car mandate the Spark's transmission should be an automatic, but we're loath to recommend the Spark's optional four-speed. Thus equipped (and as measured at AJAC TestFest), the 0-100 km/h stroll occupies a yawning 14.1 seconds. For our comparison drive GM supplied a manual, which feels peppy and willing and should knock two seconds off the slushbox 0-100 time. The shifter isn't the last word in precision, but its action is smooth and effortless.
The engine isn't especially muted even by teeny-car standards, but its voice is inoffensive in character. At 120 km/h on the highway the tacho may be showing a hectic 3,500 rpm, but it doesn't sound or feel stressed. Wind noise is well muted, too.
The electrically boosted steering is light at all speeds (no variable-assist trickery here) and direct. We'd like more on-centre precision but still, the Spark doesn't mind being tossed around if that's your style. The 9.9-metre turning circle seems on the wide side, though, for the size of the car.
The Spark's ride quality is a real surprise. To be sure it's very stiffly sprung, but it's also really well sorted: hit a bump, and the suspension registers it once, and then recovers with a discipline worthy of a Porsche.
If you're really on a mission to minimise your footprint, nothing does it better than the Smart. Too bad that, as a driving experience, it's at its worst in the city. And for a car this small, the fuel economy should be even better. If you're really set on demonstrating your eco-chic street cred, wait a few months and buy the Smart electric — the car the Smart should have been from the start.
The Scion is a much better drive than the Smart. It's quite quick, its handling is borderline fun, and even if you only need a two-seater, its 3+1 seating at least gives you options. Its real-world fuel-consumption, however, really betrays it. Unless you're really hard-up for parking, a base Yaris would cost less to buy and deliver similar fuel economy, or you can really shrink your carbon footprint, not just your car, with a Prius c for about $4,000 more.
Which leaves us with the Spark, a decent-driving little 'real' car with more practicality and better fuel economy than the iQ. The Spark offers the lowest price of entry of these three if you can do without auto and air, and even when it's optioned up it remains more affordable than the comparably equipped competition. Sometimes small is beautiful, but this time bigger is better.
Price (base/as-tested): $11,845 / $16,995
Type of vehicle: FWD subcompact hatchback
Engine: 1.25-litre, 16V, DOHC I-4
Power/Torque: 84 hp/83 lb.-ft.
Transmission: Five-speed manual (Opt. four-speed automatic)
0-100 km/h (AT): 14.1 sec
Fuel consumption (city/hwy; AT): 7.1/5.2 L/100 km
Price (base/as-tested): $16,760 / $17,355
Type of vehicle: FWD microcompact hatchback
Engine: 1.33-litre, 16V, DOHC I-4
Power/Torque: 94 hp/89 lb.-ft.
0-100 km/h: 11.5 sec
Fuel consumption (city/hwy): 5.5/4.7 L/100 km
Price (base/as-tested): $14,400 / $18,400
Type of vehicle: RWD microcompact coupe
Engine: 1.0-litre, 12V, DOHC I-3
Power/Torque: 70 hp/68 lb.-ft.
Transmission: Five-speed automated manual
0-100 km/h: 13.2 sec
Fuel consumption (city/hwy): 5.8/4.7 L/100 km
Comparison: 2013 Chevrolet Spark vs. Scion iQ vs. Smart Fortwo - - Autos - MSN CA