Chevrolet’s Spark is a confusing car.
Why? Chevy has a perfectly fine entry-level car, the Sonic. Why it felt a need to go bargain basement with its Spark, a Daewoo designed four-door micro or city car, seems like a decision from the pre-bankruptcy General Motors.
The Spark is small, riding on a 93.5-inch wheelbase and weighing just 2,269 pounds in 2LT trim, as I drove it, with a four-speed automatic transmission. Consider that most cars now have five- or six-speed transmissions, and you can see what road we’re headed down.
Spark is made in South Korea and comes in three trims: base, 1LT and 2LT. Its base price is $12,245, close to its main competitor, the Nissan Versa, but you’d also compare it with Scion’s iQ or Hyundai’s Accent.
Compared with Sonic, the nice riding and handling compact Chevy hatchback, the Spark is nearly 16 inches shorter at just 144.7 inches long and weighs about 400 pounds less. A base Sonic begins at $14,800 and is far more comfortable and refined.
The Spark features a 1.2-liter Ecotec I4 that creates 84 horsepower and coupled with the test car’s four-speed automatic offers mild acceleration. Press the gas pedal hard for a quicker start, and the cast iron engine with alloy cylinder head howls like a hound dog that’s being whipped.
There also is a lot of road noise via the wheel wells. Drive the Spark on a wet day and it sounds like someone is spraying a hose up in there. The ride is rough and delivers sharp jolts too, which you can blame mostly on its tiny wheelbase.
Handling, though, is light and fairly quick. So you’ll feel like you’re driving a go-cart with roof and seating for four. Go with the five-speed manual transmission and you’ll be better able to use the car’s mild power, but it still won’t feel peppy.
Gas mileage is good, but not as high as you might expect in a micro car. The test car with automatic was rated 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. I managed 34.1 mpg in an even mix of city and highway driving.
The top-level 2LT includes some features that make the low-cost buyer take note. Not only are there power door locks, windows and mirrors, but the Spark dishes up one-level heated front seats, air conditioning, leatherette seats (two-tone in the test car), keyless remote entry and a premium sound system with six speakers. The steering wheel also has cruise control, radio and phone buttons on its hub.
I give the dash high marks for simplicity, and the 2LT also features a 7-inch touch-screen MyLink radio with Pandora and Stitcher Smart Radio apps with Bluetooth audio streaming – prime for young buyers. Those techno goodies also come on the 1LT model.
For safety there are 10 air bags, while outside you get aluminum wheels and a small rear spoiler.
The steering wheel is tilt only, but I appreciate all those buttons on its hub. Spark’s seats are fine for city driving with fairly flat, firm bottom cushions. These are manually adjusted, naturally, and the back cushions have modest side support.
Head and legroom were fine up front, and with shorter front-seat occupants there is room in back for a couple of small adults. Those seats are firm, so you’d only want to take folks on a short commute, especially if anyone has long legs.
Those rear seats flip forward and then sort of flat for added cargo space. The process is a bit sticky, and the seats do not fold as easily as most split seats do in other cars. You’ll need that extra space if you are hauling anything more than a couple of grocery bags. With the rear seats in place you can probably line up three bags sideways under the hatch. Chevy claims 11.4 cubic feet of cargo room, but that figure seems overly generous.
At its base this is a good solution for someone looking for a small economy car and prefers new to used. But the 2LT starts at $15,970. Add in the $750 delivery charge and you’re at $16,720. At that price you could certainly consider more accommodating compacts, such as a base Hyundai Elantra or its smaller cousin, the Accent, Ford’s Focus or Chevy’s Sonic.