I will say this about the Spark: the MyLink touchscreen interface is simple to operate and it works. Seconds after syncing my phone, all my contacts and contact histories were right there, up front in the colour screen. During frequent and long stretches of being stuck in Vancouver traffic, I was able to legally punch up friends and business colleagues and sort through business issues and social plans as I crawled through traffic.
Mind you, there is a price for this. My fancy 2LT model Spark with automatic transmission stickers for nearly 20 large – $19,745 to be exact. Sure, it’s equipped with everything from 10 air bags to StabiliTrak, not to mention air conditioning, Stitcher SmartRadio, SiriusXM radio, cruise control, fog lights, roof rails, unique aluminum wheels, “leatherette” seating with heat up front and even a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Loaded.
The young buyer looking for a car that is simply inexpensive, however, can opt for the base Spark ($13,495), which still has a long list of standard gear – power windows and door locks and six months of OnStar included. That model, like all the rest, is powered by a 1.25-litre four-banger rated at 85 horsepower. Chevy says you’ll get away from a stoplight and hit 96 km/h in 12.5 seconds. At least the tight turning radius (5.0 metres) makes the Spark ideal for manoeuvring around IKEA’s always-jammed parking lot. And the Spark uses regular gas.
Still, the iQ is rated at 94 hp and uses less fuel (4.7 litres/100 km versus the Spark at 5.2). Fiat’s 500 churns up a even healthier 101 hp, but is thirstier (5.7 litres/100 km) and wants premium. The Spark’s pint-sized mill is not what I’d call a smoothie, either; it feels and sounds coarse. Good thing most Spark drivers will be talking on the phone or listening to music. What does powertrain sophistication matter to them? On that point, the manual gearbox is a five-speed, while the auto is a four-speed. Neither offering is cutting-edge.
Smartphones and fuel economy aside, Chevy likes its monthly payment story and plans to push it. According to company officials, a 48-month lease on a Spark LS with autobox and air will set you back $242 a month ($0 down, 2.6 per cent lease rate); the monthly payment on a 72-month finance deal comes to $254 ($0 down, 1.99 per cent).
As for these socializing Millennials, the Spark’s current competitors are all two-door grocery-getters. Chevy ticks the “friends” box for the four-door Spark, citing it as a big advantage. Foursomes can easily pile in and, if you get the roof rails, there’s even room for Mitt Romney to tie down his dog.
And the design is interesting, from the “elliptically sculpted” headlights to the arcing roofline to the hidden handles on the rear doors. The production version of the Spark is really quite true to the Spark concept we saw many years ago as it made rounds of the auto show circuit. Chevy swears six ways and up and down that quality will also be good – 3 mm panel gaps are an example – and the power train warranty is five years/160,000 km.
In truth, cabin ergonomics are not ideal. The steering column tilts but does not telescope, so not everyone will find a comfy place behind the wheel. For me, the reach to the touchscreen seemed overly far and visibility to the side and rear could be better. Overall, I felt like I was sitting in a chair in car, not a seat contoured to fit me and fit me inside the Spark.
Will anyone care? Perhaps not in Vancouver. This is a town that celebrated Car Free Vancouver Day on June 17, Father’s Day. By 2020, city council wants 50 per cent of all trips in the city to be by foot, bicycle or public transit. Vehicles? Well, the city will tolerate car-sharing and electrics.
Chevy has a plan there, too. Next year the Spark EV will go on sale as a 2014 model. And Smart’s EV is a 2013. The anti-car cars are here and more are coming.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Auto
Type: Four-door minicar hatchback
Base price: $19,745 ($1,500 freight)
Engine: 1.25-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 85 hp/82 lb-ft
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.1 city/5.2 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Fiat 500, Scion iQ, Smart fortwo