2013 Chevrolet Spark Review

2013 Chevrolet Spark Review
By Brian Harper, National Post
Since its launch in South Korea in 2009, followed by rollouts throughout the rest of Asia, plus Europe, South America, Australia and Africa, General Motors has sold more than 600,000 Chevrolet Sparks. The automaker is now going to find out if the subcompact hatchback will fly in Canada and the United States.
It won’t be sold on its scintillating power!
With the exception of the Smart fortwo, I don’t think I’ve driven a sub-100-horsepower car since I dropped off my trusty, rusty 1989 Toyota Tercel beater at the scrapyard almost a decade ago. Yet, under the hood of the diminutive five-door hatchback – at 3,675 millimetres long, the Spark is slightly longer than a Fiat 500 and significantly longer (by 600-plus mm) than the Scion iQ – beats an equally tiny Ecotec 1.25-litre DOHC four-cylinder engine delivering a mere 84 horsepower. A tiny track terror this isn’t. But, as inter-urban transportation, it is perky.
And that’s the thing. GM says it is targeting young, first-time buyers and city dwellers, counting on the Spark’s “bold” styling and colours, affordability, safety (10 standard air bags), fuel efficiency and manoeuvrability to rack up the sales. Performance is not high on the list.
Unlike some other subcompacts such as the Mini Cooper and the Fiat 500, the Spark has no historical reference to tap into; hence, it’s no retro-themed car. Indeed, its squashed, ultra-modern styling is the automotive equivalent of the late Hollywood star Charles Bronson – ugly/handsome with a hidden pool of talent.
While the Spark looks too small to integrate four doors into its length, GM designers disguised the rear doors by integrating the handles into the C-pillar area, this crafty technique giving the subcompact its sporting appearance without sacrificing comfort and utility. Finding said comfort for four people is another matter, but engineers gave it the old college try, placing the car’s wheels at each of the corners to maximize cabin area and improve the Spark’s stance. The front seats offer surprising legroom – six-footers have more than enough stretch-out room; not so much in the back. Yet, as long as the front seats are not completely back in their tracks, those of more middling dimensions should find reasonable comfort, at least over shorter distances.
Equally surprising as the Spark’s cabin room is its ride and handling. Taking a topline LT2 model with a five-speed manual for a spin through downtown Toronto toward the west end of the city, it displayed the sort of verve that makes it an ideal commuter car. The engine revs willingly and the shifter slips through the gears like a hot knife through butter. The streetcar tracks were noticeable but not annoyingly so, with the suspension soaking up any undue harshness without transmitting it through the body. The electric power steering was suitably light, allowing the Spark to zip in and out of traffic with utmost confidence. There is moderate body roll if one decides to get too aggressive in the corners – it’s no Mini Cooper in this regard. As for safety measures, along with the 10 air bags, Spark buyers can count on anti-lock brakes, StabiliTrak electronic stability control, traction control and Hill Start Assist, which are all standard across the lineup (in addition to the 2LT, this includes the base LS and mid-level 1LT).
Highway driving is a different matter, however. While the Spark will keep up with traffic, it runs out of engine when it comes to passing power, with a downshift to third required to get anything in the way of acceleration. It’s best just to keep the car in the right lane and enjoy the scenery.
Though new to North America, the Spark is in its third year in other markets, which means the 2013 model gets a mid-cycle freshening.
Said freshening includes a new grille and front fascia, a longer rear fascia and modified headlamps and tail lamps. Redesigned outside rear-view mirrors also improve aerodynamics, as does an integrated spoiler over the rear hatch door. In addition, specific improvements to the North American Spark include increasing the engine size to 1.25 litres from 1.2L, retuning the springs and shock damping, adding hill-start assist, variable-assist electric power steering and 15-inch alloy wheels and increasing the amount of sound insulation.
Making sure it’s not lost among the competition, the Spark has several bold shades that make it pop – Salsa Red, Jalapeno Green, Denim Blue, Lemonade Yellow and Techno Pink – to go with the more traditional black, white and silver hues.
Assuming most of the car’s first-time buyers will be tech savvy, Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system – which features the personalized connectivity of Stitcher Internet radio – is standard on 1LT and 2LT trim levels. As for conveniences, power windows are standard across the model range, while air conditioning is optional only in the base trim. A four-speed automatic transmission is a $1,250 option on all cars.
The Spark’s cozy cabin is not as cheeky as the exterior, although the instrument panel with a motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster and lower centre console is a nice touch. Decorative inserts in the front door and instrument panel add some ambience, as does the ice blue lighting. As for audio entertainment, the car comes with Chevrolet MyLink, which consists of an AM/FM/Sirius XM stereo with seek and scan, Bluetooth streaming audio for music and select phones, six speakers and voice recognition for connected phones.
With subcompacts widely popular internationally, GM says it’s seeing an increased demand in Canada and the U.S. Whether the company is correct in this assessment as well as its belief that the Spark will appeal to a hip, youthful audience is a big question mark. What is not up for debate is the fact that the Spark punches above its weight. It might be economically priced, but there is nothing about it that says cheap.
Pricing for the Spark starts at $13,495 for the LS and tops out at $18,495 for the 2LT. A Spark EV is planned for the 2014 model year.
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Drive the new 2013 Chevrolet Spark at NewRoads Chevrolet dealership in Newmarket, Ontario!