Chevrolet is proving that fuel efficiency can be fun with the 2013 Spark, the General Motors division's first mini-car for the North American market.
Those of us who love small cars were thrilled when GM made a commitment to expand the array of small two- and four-passenger cars that make driving affordable for young people who want to stand out among their peers.
While these mini-cars will never offer the drivability of their larger brethren on long road trips, they can go much farther on a gallon of gas and can fit into parking spots designed for a couple of motorcycles.
In this class, you can compensate for a number of handicaps with cosmetic cuteness. Like the Fiat 500, the Mini Cooper, Toyota Scion IQ or the Smartfortwo, the Spark is adorably designed with a palette of colors that really pop, including Jalapeno green, Techno Pink and Lemonade yellow.
Spark also satisfies younger buyers' passion for entertainment and connectivity while driving. It's the only car in its segment to provide MyLink Radio -- a seven-inch color touch screen radio capable of displaying smartphone-based music, videos, photos and contacts for hands-free calling. MyLink Radio comes with two embedded apps for Pandora Internet radio and Stitcher Smart Radio and BringGo, an embedded app for full-function GPS navigation, will be an option.
Powered by an Ecotec 1.25L, 84 horsepower, four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, Spark offers EPA-estimated fuel economy of 38 mpg on the highway. You can also get a less fuel-efficient automatic transmission.
While 40 mpg would have been a much more marketable number, GM, to its credit, is not fudging its EPA numbers the way Hyundai did. City mileage is a terrific 32 mpg, for a combined 34 mpg.
With a year's refills expected to cost $1,550, buyers can expect to save $3,850 over five years compared to the average new vehicle. If you never want to visit another gas pump, Chevrolet is coming out with an electric version of the Spark in 2013. Seems like a perfect fit for a plug-in.
The review car, featuring 2LT trim, carried a base price of $15,045.
Built in South Korea, the Spark originated as the Daewoo Matiz. The second-generation model from GM Korea was introduced in 2005, with the third generation launched in 2010.In the U.S. and Canada, Spark is offered in LS, 1LT and 2LT models.
While the Spark looks like a two-door hatchback, designers disguised the rear doors by hiding the back door handles into the C-pillar area. The technique gives Spark its sporty appearance without sacrificing five-door comfort and utility. Had there been only two doors, accessing the backseats would have required flexibility on the part of passengers.
An spoiler over the rear hatch improves aerodynamics for fuel efficiency, while adding to the car's fanciful personality.
A prominent two-tier grille and bowtie logo confirm the Chevrolet's identity. A wheels-out, body-in stance, stretched windshield accentuated by a single arc roofline, body-color front door handles and body sides free of cladding make the Spark appear more sleek, aggressive and upscale. Spark rides on 15-inch aluminum wheels, which are larger than you might expect in a mini-car.
Large, elliptically shaped halogen headlamps stretch from the front fascia to the A-pillar. The clear, polycarbonate lenses and chrome-coated headlamp bezels are sculpted into the forward corners, and accents within the housings offset the chrome bezels. Projector-type fog lamps are standard on the 2LT Spark model.
The interior's most identifiable element is a motorcycle-inspired column-mounted instrument cluster that features one of two large, full-color LCD screens.
Decorative inserts in the front door and instrument panel help mitigate any feeling of cheapness, as does ice blue ambient lighting and faceplates across the door pockets and dash. Heated leatherette seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel are included on Spark 2LT. Air conditioning and power windows are standard across the lineup.
To accommodate all the stuff we carry around with us, several bins are placed throughout the cabin; the cargo area offers 11.4 cubic feet behind the rear seat. That's 20 percent more than Fiat 500 and 225 percent more than Scion iQ's 3.5 cubic feet. Spark also offers 31.2 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. The rear seat features a 60-40 split that allows long items, such as skis, to be transported along with a rear-seat passenger.
While maneuverability, visual appeal and flexibility should make the Spark marketable, meager power could discourage some sales. If you live in a city where parking is scarce but attention to your fashion statement is not, Spark may be the car for you.
2013 CHEVROLET SPARK
TYPE: Front-drive, four passenger, four-door, subcompact hatchback.
WHERE BUILT: Changwon, South Korea.
KEY RIVALS: Fiat 500, the Mini Cooper, Toyota Scion IQ, Smartfortwo.
POWER: 1.2-liter, 84-horsepower, DOHC 4-cylinder engine; five-speed manual transmission.
FUEL ECONOMY: 32 city, 38 highway, 34 combined mpg; estimated annual fuel cost $1,550; savings over five years compared to average new vehicle $3,850.
LENGTH X WIDTH: 144.7 x 62.9 inches.
WHEELBASE: 93.5 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 2,237 inches.
STANDARD: Air conditioning, air bags, flip/fold rear seats split 60/40, seven-inch color touch screen, six-month OnStar connection, disc/drum brakes with StabiliTrak/traction control/ABS, 15-inch wheels, six-speaker audio system with AM/FM/XM radio, temperature display, remote keyless entry, power accessories
Email Richard Williamson at motorfriend(at)sbcglobal.net