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Chevy Spark: Making more from less

As you would imagine, the base Spark ($12,995, including destination) is relatively spare in the standard-features category. Air-conditioning, power windows, 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-only steering wheel, a trip computer, OnStar telematics and a four-speaker radio with an auxiliary audio jack are all standard, as are 15-inch alloys.

But whichever Spark you choose, the gauges perch behind the steering wheel in a column-mounted pod, a nod to motorcycle design. There’s an analog speedo, a digital tach and a small driver-information display.

All rather basic and functional.

Body-colored trim bits brighten the interior and rescue it from tedium. Ice-blue ambient lighting comes up gently when a door opens.

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.

Predictably, there are minimal storage opportunities, though a small bin beneath the center stack accommodates a cell phone, which otherwise would find its way into a cupholder. 

One sits on the smallish, slightly bolstered seats, rather than nestling into them. Despite any obvious lumber support, my back survived pain-free, despite logging several serial hours of drive time.

There’s adequate rear-seat legroom for adults, though the bottom cushions are thin and sit low to the floor. No guarantees from here regarding their comfort on longer jaunts.

As I learned the hard way, folding the rear seats to increase cargo space reduces front-seat legroom. 

Chevy's interior designers made a valiant effort to maximize the available space. Fact is, there wasn’t that much to work with.

The mighty mini Spark hits the highway

Not even Chevy claims for the Spark the ride and handling package of a German Grand Touring machine.

Twelve feet long and riding on a 93-inch wheelbase, the Spark has more in common size-wise with a washing machine packing crate than an S-class Mercedes.

Fifteen-inch low-rolling-resistance tires paired with a ping-pong-ball-like curb weight of 2,237 pounds promise a third-world ride-and-handling package.

A 84-horsepower, 1.2-liter engine makes the thing go. It can be mated with a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic.

Aside from abundant cabin noise at highway speeds, the Spark acquitted itself well on my thanksgiving-week wanderings, which were not paltry.

Despite an absence of steering feel, the Spark tracks well on the freeway and handles abrupt lane changes with the poise of a larger car. During the nearly three-hour jaunt between Portland and Eugene, I lost track of the fact that I was driving a car the size of a walnut with a glandular disorder.

At 70 mph, the little engine happily revved along at something just over 3,000 RPM, but was smooth and silent at those speeds. The onboard fuel meter consistently read just in excess of 37 mph.

On the winding two-lane Hwy. 38 between Drain, Oregon, and the coast, the Spark carved through curves with minimal body lean and, when I needed to, I could drop a gear or two and get around slower traffic.

Upcoming: Tomorrow, we’ll look at smartphone-base infotainment systems. Further ahead, cabin comfort and amenities.

Chevy Spark: Mighty mite or 2200-lb weakling?

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

The anti-Suburban, if you will.

It’s GM’s smallest car, and also, at $12,995, its most affordable.

Yet the Spark has room for four adults and, so configured, enough cargo space for a handful of grocery bags, a gym bag or a couple of overnightbags. Dropping the rear seatbacks trebles cargo space to 31.5 cubic feet, or a little more than a third of the Suburban’s.

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

EPA ratings: 32 city/38 highway, on regular unleaded.

In the spirit of austerity — and weight savings — the Spark does without a CD player (true fact: an in-dash CD player can weigh 7 lbs). Instead, a smartphone-based system called MyLink Radio serves as the entertainment center via Bluetooth, cable or USB.

Instead of a navigation system, Chevy will introduce a new $50 app called BringGo. For now, owners must rely on the optional OnStar Directions & Connections package that, after three trial months, requires a $28.50 monthly subscription charge. 

Chevy pegs the Spark as a city car for young, first-time buyers. But there's no reason that older folks, with downsized lifestyles, won't also take a look, especially RVers looking for an affordable toad. 

Coming up: We’ll take a deeper look at ride quality, cabin noise and the like, and give some thought to smartphone entertainment systems.