The Spark is Chevy's new A-segment mini. Three other cars sold in the U.S. compete in this size category, and none is like this Bowtie A-car. It certainly has none of the cartoonish character of the Fiat 500, and it's more than $3000 cheaper than the op-art design, two-door hatchback Scion iQ, a car surprisingly substandard in its driving dynamics, especially for a Toyota product. The only competitor that comes close to the Spark's $12,995 price is the Smart Fortwo, a two-door two-seater that serves as a strong argument for the commuter biking movement.
The rear seat, with cupholders dividing left from right, has generous headroom and pretty good legroom, with a necessarily short seat cushion. The car is tall: one inch taller than the already upright Sonic B-car. With the Spark's rear seats up, there's not much more cargo space than in the Fortwo. But who combines grocery shopping with double dates? Flip and fold the rear seats and the Spark offers 31.2 cubic-feet of volume, Chevy says.
The Spark is successor to the Daewoo Matiz, a onetime favorite of the Third World and emerging markets. Chevrolet already is building the Spark in South Korea for Asia and Europe. North America gets a specific chassis setup and a bump in engine displacement from 1.2 liters to 1.249 liters, thanks to both bore and stroke, plus electronic power steering, aluminum wheels, StabiliTrak stability control with brake assist, and Hill Start Assist. We get 185/55R all-season tires on 15-inch wheels, while other markets get 14-inch wheels or smaller.
The best thing that can be said about the optional four-speed automatic, which should cost an extra $1000 or so, is that it's not a CVT. Beside the fact it has just four speeds, it adds about 2 seconds onto the five-speed manual's already considerable estimated 0-60 time. What better time to teach your kids how to operate a clutch pedal? The only issue is that if most prospective customers heed this advice, it'll surely upset Chevy's inventory.
The ultra-light car feels fairly tossable. Its stiff damping seems designed to keep the car from bottoming out on Rustbelt potholes. Steering is unobtrusive at best, and doesn't go out of its way to offer feedback. Body roll is considerable, thanks to the space-creating height. Three passengers joined me for my first drive of a manual Spark around GM's Milford Proving Grounds handling road, which means the four of us increased the car's gross weight more than 30 percent. There was a good deal of lean in the long sweepers.
The 83-horsepower engine moves the car adequately, and offers plenty of power for first-time drivers. It can get out of its own way, though not at all quickly. At highway speeds, there's plenty of wind and road noise, though the car is quiet enough inside to conduct normal conversation with front- and rear-seat passengers.
2013 Chevrolet Spark BASE PRICE $12,995 VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 4-pass 4-door hatchback ENGINE 1.2L/83-hp*/83 lb-ft* DOHC 16-valve I-4 TRANSMISSIONS 5-speed manual, 4-speed automatic CURB WEIGHT 2250 lb (mfr) WHEELBASE 93.5 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 144.7 x 62.9 x 61 in. 0-60 MPH 10.5 sec (mfr's est.) EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON Not yet rated ON SALE August-September 2012 *SAE certified
Spark LS Hatchback
1.2L 85hp I4
82 @ 4200 RPM
Fiesta S Hatchback
1.6L 120hp I4
112 @ 5000 RPM
Accent GS Hatchback
1.6L 138hp I4
123 @ 4850 RPM