Last week I teased you with a review of a small city car from Volkswagen called the Up, a tidy hatchback much smaller than the Golf that VW sells here. The Up isn’t sold here, though Volkswagen is toying with the idea of eventually putting it on sale in theU.S.
But how about a very small new car that you can buy today? Well there is one, and it’s made by Chevrolet. The Spark officially debuted this summer, and you should see them zipping around the streets very soon.
If you’re familiar with the current Chevy lineup, you might know the Cruze, a car most people would consider a “compact.” It’s done well for Chevrolet, and even though officially sold in the compact category, the actual interior volume is more like that of a mid-size sedan.
Introduced in the past year or so is a car that’s smaller than the Cruze, the Chevrolet Sonic. It’s a true compact, or sub-compact as the designation goes. To many people, the Sonic is pretty darn small, even though it really has plenty of room inside.
Well, here comes the Spark, even smaller than the Sonic, in a category that Chevy calls “mini car.” It’s downright itty-bitty by today’s standards, but it seats four people and has a decent amount of cargo space. It’s bigger than the Smart car, but then again, so is everything else.
The category the Spark falls into is sometimes referred to as “city car,” and with people in larger metropolitan areas increasingly moving back in to urban settings to live in lofts and use public transit at times, it should be a good fit for that somewhat narrow demographic.
Chevrolet knows that’s a small niche here inNorth America, but the Spark is already a hit in other parts of the world. Ten years ago they might have skipped us in deciding where to sell the car, but there is obviously a business case to bring it here.
Before you instinctively dismiss something so small as inadequate, you might be surprised at how roomy and feature-filled the Spark is. Its tall shape means there’s plenty of headroom, and even the back seat (accessed through real doors that are somewhat hidden) can accommodate two adults in relative comfort.
On the safety front there are 10 airbags throughout the car, and electronic stability control is standard. Also standard are air conditioning, power windows, an audio system with an auxiliary input jack, and even aluminum wheels.
Move up to the LT model, and the Spark also contains an LCD screen that’s part of Chevy’s new MyLink infotainment system. This essentially lets you link your smartphone to the car, so any apps you have with regard to communications or music (Pandora streaming radio, for example) are then repeated on the car’s display and played through the system.
As far as how it drives, pretty nicely, actually. The 1.25 liter four cylinder makes just 84 horsepower, but that’s enough to scoot this little ride around city streets very well. I drove an automatic model (a 5-speed manual is standard) with the air conditioner cranked on the crowded streets ofVenice, and it did just fine.
The Spark also does just fine in the fuel economy department, averaging 34 miles per gallon in combined driving. And Chevrolet likes to point out that the Spark runs on regular gasoline, unlike competitors from Smart and Fiat.
This is also a money-saver up front, with a starting price of just a tick under $13,000 for the LS grade. To get an automatic and the MyLink, the 1LT version is $14,495. If you were to step up to the 2LT package (lots more fancy trim items inside and out), you’d still be under $17,000, even with the automatic transmission. There are also lots of interesting color choices available. “Techno Pink,” anyone? How about “Jalape?o”? It’s quite a palette available for this car.
Are mini cars for everyone? Certainly not. But if you just need something to get around locally that’s easy to park and easy on the wallet, the Spark could be for you.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave.