By Allen Penticoff
Mr. Green Car is back with another small-car test/review. This time, the tiny Chevy “Spark.”
The Spark is based originally on the 1998 Daewoo Matiz. A Korean car I’m sure you’ve never heard of — I certainly had not. There have been three generations of evolution with the Matiz, and the Spark you buy at your local Chevy dealer is the third that was introduced in 2010, but has only recently appeared in U.S. dealer lots.
The Spark goes by other names in other countries. General Motors took control of Daewoo and has since dropped that company name.
For General Motors, the Spark is a true world car — assembled in several different countries and sold with many variations worldwide. While Americans don’t think much of it (they’d rather drive their SUVs), the rest of the world needs small, fuel-efficient, four-passenger cars. Here, the Korean-built Spark is targeted at young people who live in urban markets — it is a “city car.”
I recently took a short test drive of the well-equipped, “Lemonade”-colored, 2014 Chevy Spark 2LT CVT with the help of sales rep Dave Tillis at Bocker Chevrolet in Freeport, Ill. My first impression of the car was that it was well-thought-out in layout and interior design. The exterior styling is up to date — and is the result of online voting favoring the Chevy Beat concept car revealed in 2009.
I found the seating, both front and back, to be firm and comfortable — although in driving, I found the front headrest to be intrusive … there was only up and down adjustment, and it was always touching the back of my head. Good for safety, but I personally did not like it. It may not bother you at all. Otherwise, leg room is good, and there are plenty of pockets and holders for cups and stuff.
Access to the rear seats was fairly good, although rather small doors … far better than crawling in via two doors of a coupe. The rear seat backs have a two-third split folding back. They’ll need to be folded down to carry anything more than a couple of bags of groceries.
Driving it, I liked the clear analog speedometer, but the flanking digital display of other information was a bit crowded for easy observation. There is a rather large display of the audio system and optional navigation off to the right. The climate and other controls were simple and clear knobs and buttons.
One of the first things I did was circles in the parking lot. This is where the Spark shines — its 93.5-inch wheelbase allows for a very tight turning radius. Parallel parking is a cinch — dive in head first and stop. This maneuverability is cherished in big cities, where parking is on the street and is often very limited — the Spark can take those places ordinary cars have to pass up.
The ride was typical of a small, short wheelbase car. Firm and responsive to road irregularities, but not harsh. It is a comfortable ride. Acceleration with the 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT transmission was reasonably good — if a bit noisy and buzzy. With a CVT automatic transmission, the engine RPM goes high as you put your foot down, and the transmission catches up a bit later. These are becoming common on smaller cars. I would probably prefer this car with a five-speed manual, but in the city, an automatic is always more convenient. The Spark 2LT CVT rates 30 mpg city and 39 mpg highway.
In other countries, the Spark is available in diesel versions and LPG versions. Recently, Chevrolet began production of an all-electric version of the Spark. It has been available in limited areas for sale and lease. It is General Motors’ first all-electric vehicle since the famed EV-1. Glad to see them back at it. Consumer Reports says the Spark EV is the best version of it. There is plenty of info online if you want to know more about it.
The Spark has fairly good safety ratings, despite its diminutive size. Ten airbags help a lot. And if you were to spend the $17,500 or so for the Spark 2LT CVT, you will get a five-year/100,000-mile warranty and many other services. It packs a lot of high-end features into a small economy car — so there is no driving around in a tiny, stripped-down, barebones car to enjoy its thrifty fuel economy and city-friendly manners.
From the Oct. 2-8, 2013, issue