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2013 Chevy Spark Is Packed with Cool Tech

2296 Views 2 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  chrisvy

The 2013 Chevy Spark is a relatively low-priced, unusual-looking car -- one that's scarcely 12 feet long and bristling with the latest technology. I tested one over the course of a week, and was especially excited to try out its smartphone integration technology.

At first glance, the Spark has the kind of design you'll either love or hate. Its tall, squat appearance looks cute to me. Even if you don't like its odd profile, this 5-door hatchback's shape is practical, allowing its interior to be roomy enough for a 6'3" guy like me.

And its price is right: The lowest-priced Spark is $12,185 (I assume that includes tires, a steering wheel and not much else), making it one of the cheapest cars available.

Of course, you can slather on the options, including the technology I'm so interested in testing. All that coolness raises the vehicle's price to $16,720, which was the Spark 2LT automatic we drove. That gets you a car with numerous accouterments, including power windows and door locks, a six-speaker audio system, Chevrolet MyLink -- which lets you integrate your smartphone's data connection with GM's Pandora and Stitcher apps via Bluetooth -- and heated seats for the driver and front passenger.

That MyLink technology is also available on the Spark 1LT, which includes fewer luxuries but retails for about $2,000 less.

Road Test
We gave the Spark a thorough workout on all kinds of highways and road conditions, and one word sticks in my mind: fun. It's no thoroughbred. This 32-mpg car's acceleration is slow, taking about 12 seconds to reach 60 mph. And it's noisy, especially when you stomp on the throttle.

But its seats are surprisingly comfortable and give you lots of room. You wouldn't want your adult-sized friends shoehorned into the back seats, but there's a surprising amount of space in this minuscule vehicle. There's room for a week's worth of groceries in the back, easily accessible via hatchback.

Its 4-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly, and gets the most out of that 1.2-liter 80-horsepower 4-cylinder engine under the hood. I like the feel of the Spark's power steering, tight enough for a realistic road feel without requiring much effort.

And the handling of this little rollerskate is nimble. It's not quite as agile as a sports car, but it sticks to the road admirably, even given the car's relatively high center of gravity.

The 2013 Chevy Spark first started shipping to dealer showrooms in late June and early July of this year. Its approximate body style was first rolled out for sale in 2010 in Asia and Europe. It's a four-door that looks like a 2-door, with its back door handles almost hidden to give it a smoother look. Although it's tiny (144 inches long), it's bigger than a Smart car, but smaller than a Ford Focus.

Tech Talk
The Spark's technology is more sophisticated than the tech built into Chevy's techno-flagship, the Volt. Besides having a more responsive touchscreen and easier-to-use controls than the Volt, the Spark has another advantage: It lets you use a GPS app from a smartphone on its 7-inch screen.

With a car priced this low, adding an option for an on-board GPS system could add more than $1,200 to its price. So why not let users bring their own apps on their smartphones, then send the output to the Spark's generously-proportioned 7-inch screen in the center of the dashboard?

The first result of that idea is BringGo, a smartphone app that's not quite ready for release, but works well enough for us to give it a preliminary test. Chevrolet tells it's "aiming for Q1 [first quarter] 2013 availability" for the final version of the app.

Let's make a distinction between Chevy's MyLink capability and the BringGo app. MyLink lets you sync your smartphone with the car via Bluetooth, a common capability of many of the newest cars. It lets you carry on hands-free cellphone conversations, as well as letting you control apps installed in the car such as music discovery app Pandora and the Stitcher Internet radio app. Those apps use your smartphone's data connection to contact the Internet.
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On the other hand, BringGo is a $50 GPS navigation app on your smartphone (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry) that links up to that screen via MyLink. It gives you turn-by-turn directions on its attractive maps, as well as points of interest data and traffic data which you can view right on the Spark's screen.

Neat. But does it work?

BringGo App is Almost Ready
So far, BringGo works well enough for me to see its value. When I tested it, it wasn't able to do its magic via Bluetooth, but I was able to connect an iPhone to one of the Spark's USB outlets to make it work. After a bit of fiddling, BringGo's display was mirrored on the car's screen. Its pleasant navigation voice played nicely with music I had playing in the car, with the music fading to allow me to hear its next direction.

It was fast with its directional instructions, too, and responsive enough to give me ample notice when there was a turn coming up, keeping me from making any frantic last-second turns or lane changes.

I liked the way BringGo let me enter an address from anywhere. Then I could hop into the Spark and have full control of those same directions from the car's big screen. That touchscreen is not quite as responsive as an iPhone's, but the BringGo app shows up on the screen exactly as it looks on the iPhone. I could get used to this.

Because everything BringGo does runs through the smartphone, you'll need to keep an eye on your cellular data totals for the month. While the map data resides on the smartphone, you'll be using cellular data when you call up one of the points of interest (POI) such as the nearest gas station, or access traffic data. However, if you're worried about using too much data, BringGo lets you know when you're downloading via your cellular connection.

Having your navigation system on your smartphone, instead of built into the car, is an excellent idea. I have a 2006 Honda Civic with a built-in navigation system, an option for which I paid upwards of $1,500 when I bought the car new. Now, six years later, that nav system is starting to look like it belongs in a museum, and Honda charges $149 for an annual map update.

If I had a navigation app on my smartphone that I could view on the car's screen, it would be more likely to stay up-to-date, no matter how long I owned the car.

And then there's the lower overall cost: $50 for an iPhone app sounds a lot better than $1,500 for a navigation system that will soon become obsolete. There's the price of smartphone integration in the car itself, but even with it, the Chevy Spark is still a low-priced car.

Electric Spark
This bodes well for the future of the Spark, where its tight handling, super brakes, 10 airbags and roomy interior will soon be pushed along by a 130 hp electric motor that has almost as much torque (400 lb-ft for gearheads) as a Corvette. The company says the electric version of the Spark will be available next summer in California and South Korea (and in a few dealerships in Oregon and Canada), costing about $32,500 in the U.S. before you receive the $7,500 tax incentive for electric cars.

That price takes the electro-Spark out of the same bargain category as the conventional version, but could result in a terrific combination of brisk acceleration and the convenience of displaying smartphone apps on-screen. We can't wait to drive it.

In the meantime, this internal combustion version of the 2013 Chevy Spark is a delight to drive. Even in its most expensive trim, it's a tremendous value for those of us who'd like to bring our own apps along for the ride.
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I know tons of used cars that cost more than that!
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