2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT HD Video Review

Let’s play word association.  Say “minicar” and you’ll probably answer smart fortwo, Scion iQ, or Fiat 500 (since they’re they only ones available in the US).  Say “Chevy” and Silverado, Suburban or Impala probably come to mind because everyone knows that GM only makes big cars and trucks.

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Believe that and you deserve to be associated with the word “misinformed”.

Chevrolet has been pumping out great small cars for the past three years in the form of Cruze, Sonic and now the 2013 Spark minicar.   It’s about a foot and a half shorter than a Honda Fit.  Spark could possibly be the best urban runabout sold in the states if you consider the word “value”.  It’s more roomy, refined and useful than fortwo and iQ, thousands of dollars less than 500.  Spark starts at 13 grand with shipping.  The 2LT model Chevy has dropped off stickers for $15,800.

Spark has sold over 600,000 copies in Asian and European markets since 2009.  Assembled in Korea, it wasn’t simply shipped over as-is.  Chevy engineers brought it to Milford, MI to retune the suspension, reduce vibration, add safety features and quiet the cabin.  Many of those improvements were used globally.

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Let’s Start With Design

Spark doesn’t look like other competitors unless you’re shopping for a Naboo N-1 starfighter (Star Wars geeks should get that one).  Personally, I kind of like the baby robot shape.  Jalapeno paint works pretty well with the extroverted design. You may prefer Techno Pink (pictured right), Lemonade, or Denim.  Hidden rear door latches, darn good faux carbon fiber trim and stylish 15’ alloy wheels are all done well. Headlamps the size of Spark’s windshield are a bit much (I’m kidding, sort of).  Roof rails come with the 2LT trim.

Spark is intended for city slickers and it slots into slices of parking spaces most cars forfeit.  Unlike the other competitors, it has four doors (okay, technically a five-door hatch).  The real advantage is a back seat that’s perfectly useable by two humans.  Not just small ones either.  At 5’9” I have enough knee and foot room.  The seat is actually kind of comfortable even with a shorter cushion length.  There’s only one seat pocket, no power port, and no storage in the door panel but I’ve seen that AWOL on twice the price Spark.  A console for drinks and snacks dissects the two seat positions.

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People Want To Know

Spark got a lot of questions in the week I drove it.  Many think it’s a hybrid or electric car (nope, but there will be a limited-production electric version soon).  There are wisecracks about finding it in a cereal box (buy a couple cases if you find that to be true).  The nuclear Jalapeno paint draws a surprising amount of compliments and the inevitable Kermit the Frog comparisons.

Not aimed at the Corvette crowd, Spark gets its spark from a 1.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder that manages 84 horsepower @ 6400 rpm and 83 lb-ft @ 4200 rmp.  It runs pretty smooth considering .

This fury is tamed by an optional four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual I’m driving.  Important- Don’t be afraid of the manual. 2013-chevrolet-spark-023 A hill holder feature means Spark doesn’t roll backwards on steep hills.  The clutch is very forgiving, it’s pretty tough to stall Spark out.  Throws are on the long side but the shifter has a nice engagement and feel about it.  It’s more fun to drive than the automatic and delivers substantially better fuel economy.  The EPA numbers are 32 city/38 highway for the manual, 
28/37 for the auto box.

You Were Expecting Massive G-Forces?

Spark isn’t a lightning bolt.  0-60 strolls up in about 10.5 seconds, but you’ll probably win drag races against Prius c.  Acceleration is perfectly fine from 0-35 mph, the kind of city driving that is Spark’s natural habitat.

Ride quality is on the firm side.  Spark is tall so chucking it into a corner brings a good amount of body roll.  Not much road feel either.  Still, it’s a fun tossable urban car, beat only in driving dynamics by the substantially more expensive Fiat.  Spark will buck a bit on choppy pavement, expected since it’s a very small car with a short wheelbase.

Spark scores parking spots most cars will forfeit but manages to avoid the tin can feeling.  There’s road noise and a little wind noise at freeway speeds but not much more than say a Hyundai Accent, and less than the smart and iQ.

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Honesty Is The Best Policy

Instead of doing poor imitations of luxury surfaces, Spark’s interior embraces the look of affordable plastics.  This honest approach looks as good as possible in the cheap and cheerful kind of way.  A motorcycle inspired gauge cluster tilts with the steering wheel.

Certain paint colors get followed inside for visual pop. There are lots of storage bins, only the glove box is covered.  Seats are vinyl but will probably look better than leather after five years of use. They’re heated too.  Yes, there is standard AC and switchgear feels decent.  OnStar is on board too.

Modern car buyers expect a lot.  Not too long ago, things like powered locks and windows, anti-lock brakes and stability control were luxury car features. 2013-chevrolet-spark-061  Spark gets all that plus navigation when using a smartphone data plan and the MyLink system (standard starting with 1LT models).  Check out the video featuring the $50 Bringo navi app plus free Pandora and Stitcher apps.  MyLink is surprisingly elegant to use and Chevy says more apps can be added..

Coming to Spark and Sonic in early 2013 is a new feature for iPhone users- Siri with Eyes Free mode.  Push the talk button and make voice activated phone calls, request specific songs, ask for sports scores, plus listen to, compose and send text messages.  This basic version of Siri keeps drivers connected but not distracted.

Gripes?

The radio has no bass at all, equivalent to a good a clock radio.  Pulling on the inside door release does nothing when the doors are locked.  It’s annoying to manually (and loudly) unlock them.  My big coffee mug doesn’t fit in the front cup holders. There’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel but it’s nicely contoured for the hand.

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A small car like Spark might have you worried about safety.  Chevy has stuffed 10 airbags into Spark to reassure buyers.  NHTSA has not tested Spark at this writing but it achieves five-star scores on all three of the Korean equivalent tests.

Best In Class Cargo

Considering Spark’s diminutive size and comparatively roomy back seat, the cargo hold is impressive.  With the back seat up, two packs of Kirkland brand bath tissue can be stuffed in with the security cover in place.  Scion iQ has no storage at all with passengers wedged into the backseat.

Of course the seats split and fold but a flat floor requires the cushions to be flipped up and headrests begrudgingly removed.  Singles or couples will often buy Spark so I brought out a dozen packs of TP for fun.  Turns out I was pessimistic.  13 will squeeze in with the rear seats down. There’s no spare tire, only a repair kit.  Kind of expected.

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“Overachiever” is the word that comes to mind with Spark. Chevy’s first minicar does an admiral job of balancing performance, features, utility and budget.  It’s basic transportation done well.  Add every option- automatic transmission, premium Black Granite paint and, for you folks in Duluth, an engine block heater, and it just cracks 17 grand.  There are option packages on luxury cars that cost more.  So if your parking space or paycheck is on the small side, you’d be smart to cross shop a Spark.  No need for a high iQ there.

FULL GALLERY BELOW. ALL STILL IMAGES PROVIDED BY GENERAL MOTORS.

10 Comments

  1. bob4116 says:

    Nice way to get the “Smart” and “IQ” mentions in toward the end! Thanks for the chuckle, and congrats on another fine review.

    I looked at this car recently at the Detroit auto show. Keeping in mind what the car is, I was very impressed with it. Not quite a realistic purchase for me (Sonic or Fit would be more suitable), it is nice to see that Chevy is getting serious about competing in these markets. I’d love to drive one, just to see how it compares to the Sonic, which I really liked. I couldn’t believe that it actually had heated seats. Heck, my ’12 Rav4 Base doesn’t even have those.

    Again, great job!

  2. faceless_el says:

    after watching your video i decided to go to the dealers to actually see this car for myself.
    it actually isn’t “half” that bad, no pun intended, since it is half a car by north american standards.
    i did my own evil twin test sans the twin and i was surprised that i still had a comfortable seating position in the back even though my knees were touching the back of the front seat.

    wasn’t able to do a test drive since i wasn’t really there to buy so they didn’t give me the time of day, however i’m hoping to get one as a rental on my trip to Arizona, with all the driving i’ll be doing there atleast it will give me an opportunity to see for myself how the 1.2l engine performs (even though i know the rental companies don’t offer the 5 speed manual for a rental)

  3. fatbaldandhappy says:

    I must be getting too old and set in my ways to appreciate these newfangled half cars. When I first saw a smart car I thought it must get 70+ MPG, cost a bit more than a Walmart bicycle on rollback, and maybe it folds up into a briefcase for easy stowing when not in use. When I found out it gets average mileage, isn’t cheap, and won’t fold up to fit under my cubicle at work- my reaction was the same as my reaction to this one… Why? What do I get with this that I don’t get with an entry civic or something similar? The Honda Fit I can understand because it doesn’t take the compromises to such an extreme, and I’ll admit I may simply be the anti-hipster, but I think it’s time to tell the emperor he has no clothes.

    • TV says:

      Here’s the deal- it’s not like Chevy is going to sell these like Silverados. Spark is closer to a niche product than anything they sell. It’s for people who find small an advantage (and it certainly can be in large cities). Most people will buy a Fit, Sonic, Accent or Yaris when they’re in the market for a small car. But there’s a market for minicar. I live close to urban Seattle where lots are very small and my Miata just barely slots into a small spot at home. It’s part of the reason I keep it. The Spark fit there too (should have made that part of the story).

  4. motorstreet says:

    I think the Spark has massively exceeded everybody’s expectations. It has gotten good reviews from most magazines because it’s fun and makes such a great city car. The gas mileage isn’t very good, but the city rating is pretty good and that the only one that’s really relevant to this car. This car offers tons of features for the money and costs thousands less than a similarly equipped Scion iQ and even a little less than than the massively inferior Smart. Personally, I would give up some of the features for one of the larger and more powerful cars that cost about as much as Spark LT. I can definitely see why somebody would buy the Spark though.

  5. Chucky says:

    Great review Tom, as always! Comparing this car to Smart Car and Scion IQ, I think Chevy Spark gives compact car shoppers the best bang for their buck in terms of price, technology, and build quality. But Honda Fit is still on top of the class compared to Chevy Spark and other compact cars. The gas mileage of this car is terrible though for its given horsepower and torque. I was expecting it would at least reach 45 on the highway and 40 city. Also, a big drop on the gas mileage on the automatic transmission is kind deal breaker for some shoppers. Regardless, it’s good to see Chevy’s build quality is improving over the past 3 years. Thank you for the review Tom. Looking forward to see a review of the 2013 Honda Civic.

    • TV says:

      I’d say Fit is much closer to Sonic. Spark really is a small car, a few friends were shocked to find it had back doors and a usable rear seat. Besides, it’s over three grand less than the Honda. That could be money well spent, Fit is a great car.

  6. Facepalm says:

    Thanks for checking out the Spark, Tom. Nice review, as always. I love how you always include those little puns and such regarding competitors in this micro-car class (IQ, Smart, etc.).
    Auto critics seem to be really enjoying the Spark (to their surprise, usually), but the average member on MotorTrend or C&D is less than thrilled with it, despite not ever sitting in one and driving it. The whole “it’s from Korea and it’s a Daewoo” crud turns them off, I guess. They’re missing out, I’d say.

    I’ve seen a red one of these on a pretty consistent basis (I’m guessing the owner works/lives near where I go to college), and it’s puny compared to other cars waiting next to it at a red light.
    From behind I sometimes have trouble distinguishing the Spark from a Sonic hatchback at a glance, and vice-versa. I think it’s those clear taillight covers…

    Tom, the electric version will have 400 or so lb.-ft. of torque, which is rather impressive (and 5x the amount of the gas version’s). Would you consider getting your hands on one if possible? It has more HP at 130, too (over the gasoline version’s 84).

    Also, I got the Star Wars bit (w00t), although it took me a moment to get it, lol.

    • TV says:

      C&D and the other buff books are more about performance so it doesn’t surprise me that they’d write Spark off. I haven’t read any reviews (I try to keep my opinion free and clear) but I’ll have to check out what the others are saying. I kind of liked it for squirting around urban Seattle traffic but my Miata is a lot more fun.

      I see a lot of these in my neighborhood. Surprising in a way since my town is pretty hung up on imported brands much like the rest of the west coast.

      I’d love to get my hands on the electric, we’ll see. May the Force be with you…

      • Facepalm says:

        Well, the magazine staff at C&D and MT are impressed by the Spark; it’s the members at their sites (i.e. the readers) who aren’t, as they write off the Spark for petty reasons without ever going near one. Readers on those sites are for whatever reason overly pessimistic, anyway.
        That the Spark was well-received by those magazines is all the more surprising due to their performance-oriented mentalities, as you mentioned.

        I think if I had to use a rental car for a short time while my Focus was in for repairs/work, I wouldn’t mind driving a Spark around. But I’m not sure I’d make it a priority to rent one, lol.