December 15, 2012 in Auto

Chevy Spark is a tiny surprise

Don Adair
 
Chevrolet photo

The Spark is available in a range of vibrant colors. This one’s called Jalapeno.
(Full-size photo)

Chevrolet’s Spark is the company’s first mini-car, a competitor to the Fiat 500, smart fortwo and Scion IQ.

It’s GM’s smallest car and, at $12,995, also its least pricey.

Yet Spark has room for four adults and enough cargo space for a few grocery bags, a gym bag or a couple of overnighters. Dropping the rear seatbacks trebles cargo space.

A mere 12 feet long, the Spark rides on a 93.5-inch wheelbase and weighs in at 2,237 pounds, with its standard five-speed manual transmission, and 2,269 with the optional four-speed automatic.

An 84-horsepower, 1.2-liter engine makes the little thing go. EPA ratings: 32 city/38 highway.

In the spirit of austerity — and weight savings — the Spark has no CD player. A smartphone-based system called MyLink Radio serves as the infotainment center via Bluetooth, cable or USB.

Fifteen-inch low-rolling-resistance tires and a ping-pong-ball curb weight portends third-world ride-and-handling. Aside from road noise at speed, though, the Spark is surprisingly well-mannered.

At 70 mph, the little engine revs along at just over 3,000 RPM, but is smooth and silent at those speeds.

The Spark tracks well on the freeway and handles abrupt lane changes with the poise of a larger car. During the two-and-a-half-hour jaunt between Portland and Drain, Ore., it was possible to forget I was driving a car the size of a walnut with a glandular disorder.

On the winding two-lane Hwy. 38, between Drain and the coast, the Spark carved the road with minimal body lean. Strategic and aggressive use of the manual transmission allowed no-fuss passing.

Rather than nestling into the smallish, thinly bolstered seats, one sits on top of them. Regardless — and absent any obvious lumber support — my back survived long distances pain-free.

The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope, which may bring grief to long-legged drivers. Larger folk are likely to find the cabin too cozy. Storage opportunities are limited, though a small bin beneath the center stack accommodates a cell phone.

Rear-seat legroom is adequate for a pair of adults, though the bottom cushions are thin and sit low. No guarantees from here regarding their long-haul comfort. Unfortunately, front-seat legroom suffers when the rear seats are folded down to increase cargo space.

The gauges perch behind the steering wheel in a column-mounted pod, a nod to motorcycle design. Body-colored plastic trim bits rescue the interior from tedium.

MyLink Radio includes embedded Pandora and Stitcher apps, which refused to pair with my iPhone. Instead of a navigation system, Chevy will offer a $50 phone app called BringGo.

MyLink froze four times in four days. It eventually cleared itself each time, but one does wonder.

The Spark is meant to appeal to young urbanites, a segment expected to grow with the rise of the so-called mega-city. It could also find favor with downsizing seniors and RVers seeking affordable towables.

Building a convincing mini-car is not as simple as seems; props to Chevy for, having lived so long in the Land of Large, getting it so right on the first try.

Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer. Contact him at don@dadair.com.

2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT manual

Base price: $12,245

Trim level base price: $15,045

As tested; $15,795

Optional equipment: Our tester included no options.

EPA ratings: 32 city/38 highway

Regular unleaded fuel specified

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