Mini cars, while still a niche market, they are proving their worth in a world of ever rising gas prices. And recent entries, like the Scion iQ and Fiat 500 are seeing some moderate success here in the states. Yet with no major domestic brand testing the waters, it’s hard to gauge their true potential. Well Chevrolet aims to change that with the all new Spark. So let’s see if it can spark the attention of American buyers.
The mini-car, those smaller than a subcompact, has never gained meaningful traction in America. Whether it’s a lack of power, aesthetic appeal, or versatility, buyers here expect style and substance for their hard-earned dollars. But, it only took a short time with the 2013 Chevrolet Spark, for us to conclude that there is plenty of both in this ultra-compact cruiser.
The hatchback Spark fits near the middle of its tiny, city-car class. With an overall length of 144.7 inches it’s about a half foot longer than the Fiat 500, yet dwarves the Scion iQ and Smart ForTwo. Covering so little ground makes it easy to park, although we thought its turning diameter would be smaller than 32.5 feet curb-to-curb.
Our top level Spark 2LT certainly scored style points with us. Its narrow, yet tall two-box shape is complete with trendy details like a chrome-trimmed low slung grille, and expressive headlights. Character lines sweep over standard 15 inch alloy wheels that are pushed to the corners. Rear door handles hidden in the C-pillars give the 5-door Spark the appearance of a sportier 3-door. The slightly-bulged tail end drops off quickly from our car’s hatch top spoiler. Big tail light clusters spill into the bumper, with a integrated chrome exhaust tip completing a look that adds more than a flicker of modern style to this city car.
Inside that flare becomes a flame, as its trendy motorcycle inspired cockpit really shines with a host of “can-do’s”, including plenty of long distance room for two up front, and enough to squeeze two consenting adults in the back. Rear leg room is tight but bearable.
Under the hatch there’s more seat-up luggage room than any other mini car. And, once you figure out how to fold the split seats down correctly…it even took us a while…Spark accommodates 31.2 cubic feet of cargo, also the most in its class.
2LT seat upholstery is two-toned leatherette, and feels comfortable enough. Door and dash get the hard plastic treatment with body color accents. There’s a no-nonsense approach to climate, and heated seats are available. The stripped down gauge cluster augments an analog speedometer with a digital tach and trip computer screen.
We found Chevy’s MyLink touch screen audio system impressively easy to use. Standard on all but the base car, MyLink allows the use of popular apps like Pandora through your smartphone. With more apps coming, visual Navigation maps come courtesy of Bring-Go for a one time fee of only $50. All models include spoken navigation through OnStar.
Under the tiny hood sits a tiny Ecotec 1.2-liter I4. Rated at a meager 84 horsepower and 83 lb-ft of torque, the emphasis for Spark is efficiency. And indeed, Government Fuel Economy ratings place our five speed manual Spark at 32 city and 38 highway, for a combined 34 mpg. The front drive four-speed automatic has a combined of 32. We actually beat the ratings at 39.8 mpg. An Energy Impact Score of 9.7 barrels of annual oil consumption is on par with mini-car rivals. As are annual CO2 emissions of a low 4.3 tons.
Not surprisingly, the Spark didn’t exactly light up our test track, and clocked a zero to sixty time of 11.3 seconds. The quarter mile came in at an “are we there yet?” 18.2 seconds, at 80 miles per hour. And that’s with the five speed manual.
Any shortcomings are easily forgiven with a base price of just $12,995. Even with all the niceties, like MyLink, sport trim, and heated seats, our 2LT Spark rang up to only $15,795.
So is the Spark going to set the car world ablaze? Well it’s hard to say… But at the very least, it shows a domestic brand is finally getting serious about very small cars. And we hope that’s one fire that doesn’t get snuffed out anytime soon.
Engine: Ecotec 1.2-liter I4
Torque: 83 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 11.3 seconds
1/4 mile: 18.2 seconds,@ 80 mph
EPA: 32 mpg city/38 mpg highway
Energy Impact: 9.7 barrels of oil/yr
CO2 Emissions: 4.3 tons/yr