A stripper by any other name — this is the most basic of basic transports.
Chevrolet's small-car history isn't one the automaker would like you to remember, nor should you. It includes a laundry list of vehicles only a mother could love: the Chevette, Aveo, Metro and Cavalier, all poorly built and ill-conceived models best forgotten.
However, Chevrolet has turned over a new leaf in the small-car arena over the past few years. Its Cruze is refined and efficient, and the Sonic is sharply styled and nimble, with generous interior space and ample feature content. Bottom line: The Sonic feels more substantial than its modest price and dimensions would suggest.
For 2013, Chevy is adding a third small car to its lineup, the entry-level Spark. Starting at just over $12,000, the Spark is certainly affordable, and like the Sonic it offers some unexpected features for the price. Unfortunately, the Spark looks and drives like a rolling compromise, something you buy because you can't afford anything better. It's a truly basic vehicle at a bargain price that nobody will remember fondly.
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is offered in LS, 1LT and 2LT trims, each with either manual or automatic transmission. The LS, which starts at $12,245, is fairly well equipped for such a cheap car. It comes standard with air conditioning, power windows, cloth upholstery, AM/FM radio, 10 airbags and 15-inch alloy wheels. The $13,745 1LT adds power locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, satellite radio, a USB port, Bluetooth cellphone connectivity and the Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system. The $15,045 2LT gets vinyl upholstery, heated front seats and fog lights. No options are offered, but the automatic transmission costs an additional $925.
Under the hood
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark comes with only one engine: a tiny 1.25-liter 4-cylinder that ekes out 84 horsepower and 83 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to a 5-speed manual transmission or a 4-speed automatic. Environmental Protection Agency fuel-economy ratings are 32 mpg city/38 mpg highway with the manual and 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway with the automatic.
Watch Video: Chevrolet Spark sneak peek
The Spark is basic. Really basic. Things like sound-deadening material, sculpted seats with numerous adjustments, a telescoping steering wheel, and soft-touch surfaces aren't found here. Hop inside and the first thing you notice is the tinny clanging sound the door makes when it closes. Next you note the hard-plastic dash. Neither attribute screams quality. However, Chevy embraces the use of plastic by giving it a molded design flourish and body color accents. Both add visual interest to an otherwise Spartan cabin.
The control layout on the base trim is quite simple, with the radio controls set high and three climate control dials placed low. That's it. Opt for an LT trim, though, and you get Chevy's innovative MyLink touch-screen radio. Developed with LG, this system offers the connectivity young buyers want but usually can't get in such an affordable car. A 7-inch touch screen on the dash links with your smartphone to provide access to apps, pictures and even movies. It also includes a USB port for music streaming. The available apps include Pandora and Stitcher Internet radio, and a new navigation app called BringGo. This app costs $50 and works with iPhones and Droids to provide full navigation functionality, including point-of-interest search.
In our limited exposure, the system was easy to use and responded quickly. Quite honestly, the MyLink radio is one of the best reasons to buy this car and is certainly a good reason to choose the LT trim.
The Spark makes good use of its limited space. It is small in every direction, so it's only wide enough to fit two passengers in the rear seat. A pair of big guys front or rear will feel like they are sitting in bleacher seats at a crowded baseball game. The flat seats offer about the same amount of support, too. While the car will fit four adults, rear legroom is tight if anyone front or rear is over six feet tall. On a more positive note, headroom is plentiful front and rear, and despite the limited rear-seat area the Spark is roomier than its competitors, some of which don't even offer a rear seat.
The Spark's upright styling gives it some useful cargo space, too, especially for the class. It has 11.4 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, which is the size of a small trunk. The rear-seat bottoms fold forward and the backs fold down to create a flat load floor and 31.2 cubic feet of space. That's about half the room of a typical compact SUV, but it it's plenty of room for a trip to the grocery store, and considerably more room than the Fiat 500, smart fortwo, or Scion iQ.
On the road
The Spark is a simple car with a tiny engine and basic suspension components. The car's size makes it easy to park and weave in and out of traffic. But the suspension and engine aren't doing it any favors. It doesn't flop over through corners, but it also doesn't carve through turns with the impressive verve of the Sonic. The steering is light at low speeds, but it firms up nicely at highway speeds. The brakes, discs up front and old-school drums in the rear, worked well in our limited exposure, but they probably aren't robust enough for extended bouts of spirited driving.
The ride is generally good, but the Spark doesn't react to well to bumps and bruises in the road. With so little sound deadener, the driver can also hear the tires slapping the pavement and a drumming sound from the underbody on rough roads.
The engine will get the car from zero to 60 mph in about 10.5 seconds with the manual transmission and 11.5 with the automatic. That makes the Spark one of the slower cars on the street, but it has enough pep for city driving and it will get you up to speed quickly enough for highway merging. Just don't think passing will be easy.
Right for you?
For bargain hunters looking for the most basic of transportation, the Chevy Spark is a better value than the Scion iQ or smart fortwo. It also offers more useful room for four than those competitors. While the Fiat 500 costs more, it boasts a more engaging driving experience. Same goes for Chevy's own Sonic, which is a much better value for not much more money. Most buyers will be better off by choosing the Sonic, the 500 or opting for a used car than buying this rolling tin can.
2013 Chevrolet Spark: First drive review - MSN Autos