Scores High: Effective space utilization, entertaining driving dynamics, advanced in-car technology
Scores Low: Automatic version lacks power, only seats 4, fuel efficiency could be better
Total Car Score Analysis
Chevrolet, a brand not traditionally known for compact, fuel-efficient cars, is in the midst of a drastic product shift. The shift reflects the reality of ever-increasing, government-mandated fuel efficiency standards. Put simply, Chevy needs to sell a lot of cars that average more than 30 mpg, and that can only happen if they build an efficient compact car people want to buy. That’s where the 2013 Chevrolet Spark comes in. The Spark is Chevy’s first official mini car designed specifically for the U.S. market. With a starting price below $13,000, and mpg ratings in the mid- to upper 30s, the 2013 Spark puts Chevrolet squarely in the small-car consideration set.
The key to any micro-car is space efficiency, which starts with a small, lightweight fame offering maximum interior space and comfort for at least four people. This ultimately means a squared-off exterior shape, and the Spark’s short wheelbase and upright profile fits the bill. At 144.7 inches long, 61 inches high and 62.9 inches wide the Spark is essentially a box-on-wheels, though Chevrolet’s designers worked to counter this impression by integrating the rear door releases into the C-pillar while incorporating a standard spoiler into the rear hatch. Both items, along with sweeping headlights and standard 15-inch aluminum wheels, give the Spark a more engaging look than the typical, sub-$15,000 micro-car. Bright exterior colors, like Techno Pink, Denim blue or Jalapeno Green, further guarantee on-road attention.
We always appreciate it when a car meant, primarily, for gas sipping also provides a modicum of driving fun. It’s in this area where the Spark delivered more than we expected. Our test car was a top-of-the-line 2LT model, powered by a 1.25-liter, four-cylinder engine. All Sparks utilize this engine, and while its 84 horsepower and 83 pound-feet of torque aren’t going to win any drag races, it’s enough power to engage drivers when paired with the standard 5-speed manual transmission. Our brief seat time in a Spark equipped with the optional, $925 4-speed automatic suggests buyers save their money and stick with the manual transmission. Despite a minimalist 2,300-pound curb weight the automatic saps too many of those 84 horses, dulling throttle response and acceleration. The 5-speed manual also offers better fuel efficiency, with 32 city mpg, 38 highway mpg and 34 combined mpg (the automatic delivers 28/37/32).
Get the Chevrolet Spark rolling and you’ll be rewarded with remarkably communicative electric power steering feel and minimal body roll around corners. Ride quality from the MacPherson strut front suspension and compound crank rear suspension is firm but never harsh. This provides confidence at highway speeds, where the Spark’s wind and road noise are surprisingly low for a vehicle in this price category. Thin roof pillars and excellent outward visibility further enhance confidence, making passing and parking maneuvers easy to execute.
Interior Design and Function
The Spark’s boxy shape gives it an roomy 86.3 cubic feet of total passenger volume. It’s officially rated as a 4-passenger vehicle, which puts it one down against many of its 5-passenger competitors. But if you don’t need that middle position in the rear seat you can get four full-sized adults easily and comfortably into the Spark. Head-, hip and legroom are more than adequate for front and rear passengers. Behind the rear seats is 11.4 cubic feet of cargo space, enough for us to fit several grocery bags and a couple pieces of carry-on luggage. Fold the 60/40 split-folding rear seats down and you get 31.2 cubic feet of cargo space.
More impressive than the car’s driving dynamics or interior space is the level of technology packed into the Spark. While the base LS model offers the expected level of comfort and convenience features, the mid-grade LT1 and highline LT2 both feature GM’s MyLink infotainment system. Comprised of a 7-inch color display that becomes an extension of the driver’s smartphone, MyLink utilizes a simple touchscreen interface combined with dedicated power, volume and “Home” buttons below the screen. Smartphone apps like Pandora and Stitcher work through the touchscreen just like they would on a phone. Rather than charging for a dedicated navigation system, Chevrolet went with a $50 BringGo downloadable navigation app (also powered by an owner’s smartphone) that is available through Android Marketplace or iTunes.
Primary Features and Options
Offering an impressive level of standard equipment is one of the Chevrolet’s strategies in launching this new model in the competitive small-car segment. The base LS trim starts at $12,925 and includes air conditioning, power windows, 10 airbags, 15-inch aluminum wheels, 6 months of full OnStar services and a 5-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. The LT trim starts at $13,860 and adds the MyLink system, upgraded 6-speaker audio system with satellite radio and USB port, cruise control, steering wheel buttons for the audio/phone and cruise control systems, remote keyless entry, power exterior mirrors and an outside temperature display. The Spark 2LT starts at $15,795 and adds leatherette seat trim, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lamps, body-colored lower exterior panels, chrome exterior trim and silver roof rails. All prices include a $750 destination charge.
It’s Perfect For…
The reality of expensive fuel and increased urban congestion suggest we should all be driving smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Younger drivers in particular don’t have the option of paying whatever it takes to purchase a vehicle and fill its gas tank. More importantly, Chevrolet needs to court these young buyers as they begin their driving career, rather than writing them off to the domestic and foreign competition. The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is meant to address all of these issues, which it does quite effectively.
Vehicle Tested: 2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $15,045
Options on Test Vehicle: Destination Charge ($750)
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $15795
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2013 Chevrolet Spark Road Test Review - TotalCarScore.com