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2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT review notes (Autoweek)

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EXECUTIVE EDITOR BOB GRITZINGER: Admittedly, these minicars look so completely foreign in our world chock full of big trucks and SUVs. But against a backdrop of Smarts and the like, I think the 2013 Chevrolet Spark is my new favorite. Power is weak and the engine is buzzy when hammered, but the car darts around like a scooter, handles well, stays in its lane and looks dashing in its own way while doing it. But that could be our test car’s red paint job talking.

Interior controls are relatively simple, and the car is well equipped for a basic transport-mobile, with a nice center info screen, seat heaters, steering wheel-mounted controls, etc. Outside, while it’s hard to make these little rigs look like anything more than a car with its backside lopped off, this one has a certain dynamic styling feel that runs from the pronounced and exposed front headlight pods all the way up and across the roof rails to the rear trailing edge of the hatchback. I like it.

Probably the most surprising element to me was how the car feels roomier inside than its footprint suggests. As a result, the car drives “bigger” than it seems, with a steady feel that makes one feel almost safe. Except, that is, when you have one of those big SUV or pickup grilles bearing down on your backlight just a few feet removed from your headrest.

DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Have you ever gone to a bar or a club and realized you were just a little (or a lot) too old for the place? That’s how I felt behind the wheel of our 2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT.

It’s not that this is a bad car. It’s not even a punishing commuter device. After all, heated seats, XM radio, Bluetooth and a USB interface are all tied together with a nice multifunction touch display -- not the kind of environment found in past GM economy specials like the Geo Metro or Chevette Scooter.

Driving a Spark is, well, it’s not a lot of fun, at least not in automatic-transmission guise. But it’s not frightening either, unlike the experience in certain other minicars (Scion iQ, cough cough). The car is reasonably quick, steering and brakes are both sharp enough to whip around in traffic and the stability at highway speeds is excellent for such a tiny chunk of metal. Wind noise is also well-damped, which unfortunately means the buzzy drone of the engine is even more pronounced. I had to check the specs to ensure the Spark wasn’t using a CVT, since the initial launch produces a burst of revs followed by forward motion eventually catching up to the engine speed. It all works fine, but it just doesn’t make for good entertainment.

The Spark’s driving dynamics are almost a moot point; I’ve never been able to get past the styling of these minicars. Like the Smart Fortwo, the Spark looks like a giant nose on wheels hoovering its way down the road. I posit that it’s fundamentally impossible to not look like a dork in a car like this (and if you claim you don’t care how you look in your car I’ll also posit you’re a liar).

Not surprisingly, I got the same sensation walking away from the Spark that I had leaving the aforementioned post-collegiate bar: It was an interesting experience that I’m glad I had, but one I’ll be equally glad to avoid in the future.

EDITOR WES RAYNAL: Of all the cars in the fleet available last Friday, I actually asked to spend the weekend in the Spark. I wanted to try it. It’s cute as a button, drives about as I thought it would, and though it’s tiny I found it generally comfortable to drive -- for short stints. Not bad at all for zipping around town.

The little 1.2-liter engine’s 84 hp proved just capable enough and the auto trans felt fairly well programmed to match the engine. I’d like to drive a manual version, which would probably be a lot more fun. Stating the obvious: It’s not a race car, and out on the highway the engine can get fairly buzzy, but I expected that. It’s not sporty -- it’s no Mini -- but it’s fun in a more basic way. The steering is direct and precise, and the ride is controlled and comfy. The in-dash mpg meter said I averaged 32 mpg over a weekend that saw a good mixture of city and highway driving. Not bad at all.

The interior is about what you’d expect for a car of this price: That is to say the materials are basic, but the layout is good and there is just a ton of headroom. I liked a lot the interior’s body-colored accents -- I thought they looked cool. The seats are flat and basic, but again, I expected that.

What bugged me most about driving it? The secondary controls (cruise, seat heaters, power window switches, etc.) aren’t lit up at night. That’s really my biggest complaint.

Again it’s a cute car that drove about how I expected it to. As a basic transportation tool, it’s just fine.

ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: I was a little alarmed on my drive home from work in this 2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT. That’s when I learned that this car on certain grooved concrete at expressway speeds is flat-out scary. On all other road surfaces it was fine, but on the concrete it felt shaky, causing me to slow down on a roughly 4-mile stretch. Once I got back to a portion of the road that was covered in blacktop, it was fine again. Maybe it was just how that portion of pavement was grooved, and the heavier crosswinds probably didn’t help

But this is a microcar that’s better suited for running around town. Roughly 25 miles of my 33-mile commute is on the expressway, so a small city car isn’t ideal for me. Not with all the giant SUVs clogging up the freeway.

As a city car, it’s serviceable enough. I would certainly take this over a Smart Fortwo and Scion iQ for the added flexibility of having four side doors and to not stick out quite as much from a styling standpoint compared to the other two.

The pint-sized four-cylinder needs to be revved hard to get going anywhere in a swift manner, which isn’t helped by the four-speed automatic gearbox. And there’s a lot of engine noise getting into the cabin when you put your foot into it. I would like to drive this car with the standard five-speed manual transmission and save $925 in the process. I’m willing to bet that this Spark would be a little fun with the stick, but with the automatic in our test car, it’s just dull transportation.

I had a difficult time getting comfortable in the car. The seat height seemed to be too high and it felt like I was kind of sitting on top of the car instead of in it. The central touchscreen that controls the radio functions isn’t responsive and really made me miss good old-fashioned knobs and hard buttons. The seats, as Raynal mentions, are flat.

Again, not the most exciting driver with steering that is fairly responsive, but offers little weight and feedback. There’s body roll through curves with a suspension that damps out most impacts from bumps and potholes.

For the money, though, there are a number of other cars I would consider before the Spark. You can get a base Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit or Kia Rio instead. It’s true that the Spark offers a ton of features in this small package, but I would be willing to give up heated seats, steering wheel controls and the touchscreen for a car that’s bigger, is a better driver, and gets close to the fuel economy that this Spark is rated at.

2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT

Base Price: $16,720

As-Tested Price: $16,720

Drivetrain: 1.2-liter I4; FWD, four-speed automatic

Output: 84 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 83 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm

Curb Weight: 2,269 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 28/37/31 mpg

AW Observed Fuel Economy: 26.9 mpg

Options: None

Read more: 2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT review notes - Autoweek
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The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is no Geo Metro. Photo by Chevrolet.

The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is equipped with a 1.2-liter engine producing 84 horsepower and 83 lb-ft of torque. Photo by Chevrolet.

The 2013 Chevrolet Spark comes in at a base price of $16,720. Photo by Chevrolet.

The 2013 Chevrolet Spark offers a surprising amount of interior room despite the vehicle's overall size. Photo by Chevrolet.
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The fact that the Spark feels bigger than it is when driving can be seen as a bad and good thing. If it drives like a boring van then it's not really a good thing at all, being a car as compact as this you just might want it to feel a bit sporty just for a better driving experience.
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