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2013 Chevrolet Spark

Is this the best small car for the city jungle?

By Malcolm Gunn

The concrete jungle is becoming increasingly tougher to navigate. The streets are clogged, parking fees are ridiculous and fuel is far from cheap. Survival demands a minimalist transportation module with maximum space for people and cargo. For both urbanites and suburbanites, the Chevrolet Spark is on its way.

Chevrolet has been the recipient of numerous accolades lately for its compact and subcompact brands. The one-year-old Chevrolet Cruze has been a huge hit and it appears that the newly released Chevrolet Sonic sedan and hatchback will follow the same course for 2012. And with a growing list of recently released competitors, it seems as though North Americans are beginning to embrace fuel efficiency and a smaller footprint as a way of life.

2013 Chevrolet Spark (side view). The squinty-eyed headlights seem a bit oversized for its face since they travel from the bumper all the way to the windshield, but that's just one of the ways the Spark keeps from looking run-of-the mill. Speaking of mills, all you get is an 85-horsepower four-cylinder.The Spark hatchback's mid-2012 arrival serves to add fuel to the subcompact fire. Versions of this Korea-built four-door hatchback have been buzzing around the streets of Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and Mexico for a few years. Now it's our turn.

The Spark's secret, it seems, involves getting the most room out of the least amount of space. Its upright body offers generous door openings for easy access and plenty of headroom for four adult passengers. In fact, the car is nearly 15 centimetres taller than a Mini Cooper. In other aspects, the Spark is slightly shorter overall and there's less distance between the front and rear wheels than the Mini. You also won't find much stowage area in back, but enlarging the space for life's bulky stuff is just a split-folding-rear-bench away.

Interior styling is perhaps best described as youthful with body-coloured bits and pieces on the door panels and dash. There's a single-pod speedometer, adjacent (and very cool) tachometer/fuel gauge display, plus a trio of temperature and ventilation control knobs. A seven-inch (18-centimetre) touch-screen is also available that operates the audio, navigation and hands-free communications systems.

Chevrolet has also crafted a neatly designed exterior, highlighted by bulging fenders containing wheels that have been pushed out to each side for the sake of stability and passenger room. And as with the larger Sonic hatchback, the rear door handles have been integrated as part of the window frame, giving the car a two-door appearance, which is all the rage these days.

Up-level models come with additional visual enhancements, including rocker-panel moulding, chrome trim and roof rails.

2013 Chevrolet Spark (rear view with hatch open). The rear opening is crowded by the bumper and taillights and, of course, by the rear seat when it's in the upright position. There are no miracles here: the Spark is a small runabout, not a minivan.In keeping with the Spark's modest transportation role, the standard powerplant is a 1.2-litre four-cylinder that generates an equally modest 85 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque. That's obviously not a lot, but wrapped in a small 1,045-kilogram vehicle built for urban commuting with short-lived jaunts at highway speeds, it'll do just fine. Catering to sporty lifestyles, it's also likely that aftermarket suppliers will devise turbocharger and/or other power-enhancing add-ons, if Chevrolet doesn't beat them to the punch.

A five-speed manual transmission and optional four-speed automatic will direct power to the front wheels, but the manual -- with its extra overdrive gear -- will likely offer the best combination of performance and economy.

At a base price of $13,495 (before destination charges), the Spark will attract plenty of looks, especially considering its list of standard features. Buyers will get power windows, ambient interior lighting and up to 10 airbags, including available front-occupant knee protection. The options list contains air conditioning ($1,150), leather-like seat covers, heated front seats, alloy wheels and a premium audio and connectivity package ($1,000).

In fact, the Spark could very well be the envy of competitors such as the Smart Fortwo, Scion iQ, Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper. But the bigger question remains, will the micro-sized Spark find an audience beyond a small knot of fuel-economy-obsessed buyers? The limited popularity engendered by some of its peers would indicate it won't be easy, but don't discount the little Spark's practical attributes -- and that hard-to-quantify cute factor -- from firing up newbie and veteran urban-jungle warriors alike.

What you should know: 2013 Chevrolet Spark

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive sub-compact hatchback
Engine (hp): 1.2-litre DOHC I4 (85)
Transmissions: Five-speed manual; four-speed automatic (opt.)
Market position: Chevrolet is joining a growing number of automakers offering bite-sized hatchbacks that attempt to combine reasonable passenger space and comfort with exceptional fuel economy and fun-to-drive capability.
Points: All-new design is far from utilitarian; Small-displacement four-cylinder engine won't set any acceleration records, but that's not really the point here, is it; Plenty of content, including up to 10 airbags that is becoming the Chevy norm; Four-speed (only) automatic transmission option is a surprise, but helps keep price low.
Safety: Front airbags; front/rear side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; front-knee airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 6.0/4.9 (MT, est.)
Base price (incl. $1,500 destination charge): Spark LS Manual $14,995.


BY COMPARISON

Toyota Scion iQ
Base price: $18,150
Minimalist practical model is ideal for getting around in crowded cities.

Fiat 500
Base price: $17,400
Thrifty econo-car offers all-adult seating and a sporty style all its own.

Mini Cooper
Base price: $23,550
Sporty looks and slot-car handling, but is a bit too expensive for its size.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted August 14, 2012. © CarTest.ca TM




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