2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LTPosted on June 30th, 2013
Subcompact hatchback for active urbanites
By Nina Russin
I wish the Chevrolet Spark had been around when I lived in Chicago. Anyone who has resided in the Windy City knows about the winter parking wars. Once the snow falls, the availability of street parking drops to about half. Residents shovel a spot out and mark it with furniture. Moving anyone else’s furniture is akin to purchasing a contract on one’s own head.
The fact that the Chevrolet Spark only occupies half a parking spot is a very big deal in densely populated areas: even more so in the snow belt. The compact hatchback’s 34 mile-per-gallon average fuel economy is equally significant.
Standard convenience features appeal to tech-savvy buyers. The 2LT grade tested comes with remote keyless entry, air conditioning, XM radio, cruise control, hands-free smart phone integration, heated seats and a tilt steering column.
The Spark feels more substantial than the Smart-for-two micro-car it competes against, and costs about the same. The five-speed manual transmission enables the driver to keep the 1.2-liter engine within its power band, which is especially important merging into high-speed traffic.
Base price for the test car is $15,085 excluding the $810 destination charge. Final MSRP is $15,895
Test drive in Phoenix
Phoenix is not a friendly environment for micro-cars. Most of the locals drive full-sized trucks and sport-utility vehicles. Surface streets and highways are flat and have wide lanes. It’s not unusual for surface street traffic in my neighborhood to exceed 50 miles-per-hour.
Then there’s the heat. Unfortunately, robust air conditioning systems require robust air compressors, which run best off of large engines. The best air conditioning system I ever saw was the double pulley Harrison unit on a ’58 Buick Invicta. The car didn’t get much in the way of gas mileage, but in the heat of the summer, the vents blew ice cubes.
So test-driving the demure Spark at the end of June put the car at a distinct disadvantage. While I gunned the engine in order to keep up with 85 mph highway traffic, the air conditioner worked overtime in order to maintain tolerably cool temperatures inside the car.
Having said that, I still think that the Chevrolet Spark is a lot of car for the money. Standard safety features including ten airbags, OnStar automatic collision notification and stability control make the Spark a good choice for young drivers purchasing their first new vehicle. And for urbanites who need the small footprint, the Spark’s four-passenger capability gives it a distinct advantage over both the Smart and Scion iQ.
There are a couple of sticky wickets I’d like to see fixed. The key on the test car didn’t slide smoothly into the ignition slot. I also think the shift lever should be shorter. The current unit looks and feels as if it belongs in a pickup truck.
There are some rather large blind spots in the back corners due to the Spark’s thick rear pillars. An available rearview camera would be a useful option, especially since I often found myself parked between much larger, high profile vehicles.
Aside from that, the Spark is a nice package. The 84-horsepower engine can motor along just fine at speeds exceeding 80 miles-per-hour. There is enough range within the gears to prevent the driver from having to shift constantly. Shifting is crisp and precise.
Engineers pushed the car’s wheels as far into the corners as possible, which makes the Spark quite stable moving through cloverleaf entrance and exit ramps.
The electric power steering system provides plenty of assist for low-speed maneuverability while maintaining a pleasantly heavy feeling on the highway. The independent front suspension and solid rear axle works fine for a car of this size. The Spark doesn’t have the silky smooth ride of a Cadillac, but I think that’s as much a function of wheel size as its shocks and struts.
Room for four
The Spark is surprisingly spacious inside for a car with a 93.5-inch wheelbase. As a five-foot-six adult, I fit just fine in the second-row seats. The front seats have enough room for most adults, although a taller colleague said he ran short of legroom.
Designers wisely kept most of the storage space around the perimeter in order to maximize hip room for both rows of passengers. The center console contains cupholders but no storage bin. In the second row a storage area between the seats includes an open bin and cupholder.
The glovebox is on the small side, but functional, and both front doors have map pockets and bottle holders.
I found both the gauges and center stack screen easy to read in bright sunlight. All of the controls are logically arranged and easy to access from either front seating position. My only complaint is the sticking ignition slot mentioned at the beginning of this story.
MyLink on the test car gives the driver hands-free phone operation as well as access to some apps, such as BringGo navigation and TuneIn global radio. I’m not sure how useful the navigation is since most people have that on their smartphones, but the internet radio is a nice alternative to subscription satellite service.
With the rear seats in place, the cargo area is small but functional. A cargo net on the test car keeps grocery bags from sliding around.
The Chevrolet Spark comes with front, side, side curtain, driver’s and front passenger knee airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, a hill-hold feature that prevents the car from sliding backwards on steep grades, tire pressure monitoring and six months of complimentary OnStar emergency response services.
Chevrolet builds the Spark in Changwon, KY Korea.
Like: An affordable, versatile subcompact hatchback with a high level of standard safety and convenience features. Its safety and connectivity features make the Spark a good candidate as a driver’s first car.
Dislike: Long shift lever seems awkward in a small car. Large blind spots in back of the car limit visibility.
Model: Spark 2LT Manual
Base price: $15,085
As tested: $15,895
Horsepower: 84 Hp @ 6400 rpm
Torque: 83 lbs.-ft. @ 4200 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 32/38 mpg city/highway
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