"It’s aimed directly at young downtowners, who live in small but upscale condos, and who buy into the creed that less is more."
If I could give readers a word association test and said “microcar,” I’ll bet not many would answer “Chevrolet.”
Yet Chevrolet is betting large that the new 2013 Spark - the smallest car it has ever offered - will be the big hit the marque has been looking for since the wildly successful Cruze in 2008.
If its marketing department is right and people really are “crying for small cars,” then it could be a smash. If it’s wrong? Price alone should assure Spark’s success.
At $13,495 for the base LS model, Spark undercuts the slightly larger Chevy Sonic hatchback by $660. Even fully loaded, Spark 2LT tops out at $19,745.
Make no mistake, Spark is a microcar meant primarily for urban dwellers. It’s aimed directly at young downtowners, who live in small but upscale condos, and who buy into the creed that less is more. But that doesn’t mean it won’t find a home in a lot of suburban garages as a second car.
The target audience also likes to stay connected and Spark offers an optional MyLink system with seven-inch colour touch screen, USB port and Bluetooth. With the $50 BringGo app - through a smartphone, drivers will be able to access emergency information, search for points of interest, get 3D maps and locate their car’s present position.
Actually, the Spark we’re getting in North America is a mid-cycle freshening of a car that’s been on sale in other parts of the world for two years.
Spark has the same kind of coupe styling as big brother Sonic, with rear door handles hidden in the blacked out window frames. There’s not a lot you can do with a tall, short box - with no rear deck - but GM stylists have done a good job to make Spark stand out. The standard 15-inch alloy wheels really help, and are pushed to the car’s extremities to give it a solid stance on the road.
Bright colours help too, and Spark comes in eight different paint schemes including Jalapeno (green), Lemonade (yellow) and Salsa (red) - some with matching interiors.
Only one engine is available, a 1.2-litre inline four with direct fuel injection, but it can be mated either to a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The stick will deliver the best fuel economy in city driving; on the highway, they’re about the same.
Power is adequate for most driving situations. But if a bit more bounce is needed to get past slower traffic or to climb a long hill, you can put your foot to the floor and maybe wring a few more km/h out of the little 1.2L engine - with a maximum of just 84 hp and 83 lb.-ft. of torque, sometimes there ain’t a lot left to give.
That said, however, the nimble little Spark has no trouble zipping through and around city traffic or keeping up on the expressway. Chevy claims 0-100 km/h acceleration in the 12.0-second range.
The front seats are supportive - no problems there other than the fact that, unlike the driver, the passenger doesn’t get a fold-down armrest.
Headroom is good, front and rear. And back seat shoulder room and hiproom are almost on par with the front. It’s legroom where rear seat riders will suffer, with a maximum of just 894 mm - much less if there are tall passengers up front. Still, that’s more than the two-door Fiat 500 and Smart doesn’t even have a back seat.
The trunk is small, with only 323 litres of cargo space. But when the split rear seat is flipped forward, that almost triples to 884.
Spark has yet to be crash tested in North America, but with 10 standard airbags, and a four-star rating in European impact tests, good marks should be assured.
Spark is manufactured in Korea and is now on sale at Chevrolet dealerships across Canada, a couple of weeks in advance of deliveries to stores in the U.S.
2013 Chevrolet Spark
Trim levels available: LS; LT
MSRP range: $13,495 - $19,745
Freight & PDI: 1,495
Notable options: air conditioning ($1,050); 4-speed automatic ($1,250)
Configuration: Front engine/ front wheel drive
Available engines: 1.2L 4-cyl. (84 hp/ 83 lb.-ft.)
Available transmissions: 5-spd manual; 4-spd automatic
Fuel (capacity): regular (35L)
Fuel economy ratings (L/100km): 6.3 city/5.1 hwy(man); 7.1/5.2 (auto);
Warranty: 3 years/ 60,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 160,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Fiat 500; Scion iQ; Smart Fortwo
Strengths: good front seats; fuel economy; easy to drive
Weaknesses: tight rear seat; top end power