Test Drive: Chevrolet Spark keeps the 'mini' ball rolling

Test Drive: Chevrolet Spark keeps the 'mini' ball rolling

April 20th, 2013 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The made-in-Korea Chevy Spark is small on the outside but surprisingly roomy on the inside. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

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FAST FACTS

* Model: 2013 Chevrolet Spark 1LS

* Exterior color: Summit White

* Interior color: Silver

* Engine: 1.2 liter, four-cylinder

* Horsepower: 84

* Transmission: four-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 37 mpg highway, 28 mpg city

* Dealer: Integrity Chevrolet

* Price (as tested): $14,693

Minicars are here to stay.

No longer parking lot novelties -- "hey, looky-there" -- these so-called "city cars" are proliferating.

Let's see, in just the past year we've driven the Fiat 500, the Smart ForTwo and the Scion IQ. And that doesn't count the original Mini Cooper, which started the microcar trend.

Now comes the Chevy Spark, an 86-horsepower, four-cylinder pocket sedan with four doors and enough back-seat room for actual adults.

The new-generation minicars are really optical illusions. Most are just subcompacts with lopped-off rear ends and tall cabins. The result is an egg-shaped cabin architecture that has more shoulder, hip and leg room than you'd imagine.

COMFORT AND FEATURES

Our Summit White Spark test car from Integrity Chevrolet was one of two on the lot earlier this week, according to Michael Hicks, sales consultant.

As befits a car in this price range, the Spark doesn't have some of the bells and whistles you'd expect to see on more expensive cars, but most entry-level buyers aren't looking for layers of luxury.

Our $14,693, made-in-Korea test car was a 1LS model and comes equipped with eight airbags, power windows, GM's excellent Onstar navigation and rescue system, stability control, air-conditioning, four-speaker AM-FM stereo with Bluetooth compatibility and 15-inch silver wheels.

It even has a few options you might not expect, including a hill-holding system, oil-life management function and a five-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty. The only option on our tester was floor-mats ($75).

The Spark's front facia, marked by a high hood line and big headlamp pods, has lots of personality. Sculpted door panels and taillights as big as salad plates are among the car's other design features. The rear door handles are placed high on the window frames -- a design surprise that will throw some people.

Inside, the seats are covered in fabric decorated with asymmetrical stripes for an upscale look. The textured dash has GM's signature double-arches. An analog speedometer rises from the steering column flanked by a digital tachometer and fuel gauge.

The back seat is plenty spacious for two full-sized passengers, and the back seats fold flat to provide cargo room when the need arises.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The Spark is powered by free-revving 84-horsepower, four-cylinder engine with 1.2 liters of displacement. For most urban and suburban driving situations the engine is willing and able. On our short test drive on Highway 153, the Spark scampered down an entrance ramp and merged with ease. Because it's such a small motor, though, it will labor some under hard acceleration. The little sedan wears Goodyear all-season rubber and the steering is light and true.

There was not a lot of wind buffeting -- a bugaboo in some minicars -- even though it was brisk outside on the day of our test drive. Two words that come to mind about the Spark are "comfortable" and "fun."

This strikes me as a car that would be great first car for a teen or young-adult driver.

BOTTOM LINE

The trade-off for modest power under the hood is outstanding fuel economy. The Spark is rated at 37 miles per gallon highway and 28 mpg city. For under $15,000, it's an affordable new vehicle for those otherwise shopping for a late-model used car.

If that sounds like you, these Sparks might just light your fire.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOL UMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycol umnist.