2013 Chevrolet Spark

Promising thrifty city fuel economy, brand-new minicar aims squarely at the under-30 market
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General Motors bills the 2013 Chevrolet Spark as the company's "first mini car for the U.S. and Canadian markets." Definitions of "mini" may vary, but in the era before the current push for smaller cars, Chevrolet offered several micro-sized automobiles: two generations of Suzuki-built Geo/Chevrolet Metros (1989-2001), plus the previous Korean-made Chevrolet Sprint.

Built on a 93.5-inch wheelbase, the Spark measures 144.7 inches long overall-nearly 14 inches shorter and some 400 pounds lighter than Chevrolet's recently-launched Sonic. A four-passenger, five-door hatchback, the Spark holds a 1.25-liter four-cylinder engine that makes a modest 84 horsepower and 83 pound-feet of torque. In comparison, the Sonic uses 138-horsepower engines. A five-speed manual transmission is standard in the Spark, with four-speed automatic optional.

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Trims and Pricing

On sale globally before its U.S. introduction, the Spark contains 10 standard airbags. Placed on sale in August at dealerships in 18 key markets, Sparks are offered in LS, 1LT, and 2LT trim levels.

Pricing for the 2013 Chevrolet Spark starts at $12,995 (including destination charge) for an LS model with manual shift. Topping the Spark line is the 2LT with an automatic transmission, stickering for $16,770. No separate options are offered. Buyers just pick a trim level and transmission choice. A Spark BEV (electric) model is expected later.

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Design

Seemingly scoffing at the segment of "cute" minicars, Chevrolet touts the Spark's "solid, powerful stance." Chevrolet claims more passenger and cargo space than in other minicars, including the Fiat 500, Smart fortwo, and Scion iQ. Specifically, there's 11.4 cubic feet behind the rear seat, growing to 31.2 cubic feet with that 60/40-split seat folded.

Chevrolet promotes the Spark's "three-door" basic design, featuring "hidden" rear-door handles. The palette of "vibrant colors that can't be ignored" includes Salsa Red, Jalapeno Green, Denim, and Techno Pink, as well as three traditional hues. Elongated headlamps add a distinctive note to the body. Aluminum wheels hold 15-inch tires.

Spark designers "brought exterior colors into the interior of the vehicle" to make it lively, said small-car marketing manager Michael Weidman during a Spark press preview. Heated leatherette seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel are included in 2LT models. Air conditioning and power windows are standard in all.

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Performance and Handling

Handling is this minicar's top attribute. Chevrolet promotes the Spark's 32.5-foot turning circle as an aid to maneuverability in urban driving, and it's an accurate claim. Nimble and quick-responding to the steering wheel, the Spark needs little correction on city streets. Steering has a pleasantly light feel, at least at low speeds.

Ride comfort is marred a bit by typical small-car roughness: definitely tolerable, but not exactly easygoing through urban potholes. Spark riders won't get the overall comfort experience provided in Chevrolet's Sonic. Even when a hard bump is hit, however, recovery is near-instant.

Performance is acceptable-about as expected for this class-but yielding more engine noise than action. Buzzy while accelerating even moderately, the engine grows quite noisy when pushed, but then eases back neatly for low-speed cruising. Automatic-transmission shifts are smooth enough, except for an occasional jolt when accelerating hard at low speed, as the four-speed unit downshifts to low gear.

Fuel economy ranks as thrifty but not quite stunning, compared to several larger but more aerodynamic cars that can reach the "magic" 40-mpg mark in highway driving. According to EPA estimates, a Spark with manual shift would average 32 mpg in city driving and 38 mpg on the highway. Automatic drops the estimate to 28/37 mpg (city/highway). The Spark's fuel tank holds only 9.2 gallons.

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Tech Goodies

Connectivity is a big attraction for young buyers. Chevrolet claims the Spark is the only car in its segment to provide MyLink Radio: a 7-inch touchscreen radio that can display smartphone-based music, videos, photos, and contact details for hands-free calling. MyLink is standard in both LT models. Two embedded "apps" work with Pandora internet radio and Stitcher Smart Radio.

Essentially, it's an "extension of your smart phone," said Sara Leblanc, global program manager for MyLink infotainment. Occupants can even watch movies via a USB connection, but Leblanc emphasized that this activity must be enjoyed "only in park." For about $50 extra, LT buyers can add a BringGo "app" that provides navigation assistance, using map data that's already stored on one's phone.

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Dimensions and Interior Space

The driver's seat is quite comfortable and well-cushioned. Roomy enough, too, though a hair more left-foot space might be handy. A motorcycle-style speedometer sits within a nacelle directly ahead, with a tiny tachometer display in an adjoining panel.

"It's not designed for everyone," Weidman said, but Spark is a "great choice" for those who drive mainly in the city. Weidman noted that 40 percent of under-25 buyers take a small or compact car.

Rear-seat riders endure a slightly knees-up position and somewhat hard seat, but headroom isn't bad at all. Backseats fold flat, but only after raising seat bottoms and pushing them down and forward. Chevrolet touts the Spark's ample cargo space, comparing against the Fiat 500 and Scion iQ, but luggage volume behind the rear seat is moderate. This is a really small car, after all.

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