2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Review: Introduction
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is a curious entry into the subcompact space. At first glance, the vehicle would appear to slot in directly below the recently-added Chevrolet Sonic hatchback, with an eye towards providing bargain-conscious buyers a lower purchase price and better fuel mileage thanks to its smaller package and even tinier engine. The funny thing is, when objectively evaluating the Chevrolet Spark against the Sonic, one finds more similarities in MSRP and fuel mileage than differences. The Spark is only about $2,500 cheaper initially than the Sonic hatch, and delivers but more one-mpg in its combined EPA rating. Add in the fact that the Spark is considerably smaller inside, has a much weaker engine, and seats one fewer passenger, and the value-based argument for selecting it over its larger sibling becomes somewhat harder to make.
Who, then, is the 2013 Chevrolet Spark aimed at? According to General Motors, the Spark isn't designed to dramatically best the Sonic in fuel mileage or pricing but rather appeal to urban dwellers who simply want to drive - and park - the smallest possible car they can without making too many sacrifices in terms of comfort. Whether such a buyer truly exists is up for debate, but given that most of the competing models in the Spark's immediate size vicinity, such as the Smart fortwo, the Scion iQ and the FIAT 500, are either considerably more expensive (Fiat, Scion) or considerably less practical (smart) the vehicle seems to have the field all to itself for the time being.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Review: Models and Prices
The base 2013 Chevrolet Spark LS starts at a very low MSRP of $12,185, but loading it up with enough options can see the car nudging up against the $16,000 mark in its top trim with an automatic transmission. In fact, the vehicle that we piloted for a week was a 2LT edition with an auto tranny, which is the most expensive version of the Spark that money can buy (MSRP $16,010 before destination).
What creature comforts did the Chevrolet Spark 2LT give us that the Spark LS could not? Although the Spark LS comes with power windows, air conditioning, a tilt steering wheels and a trip computer (as well as a very basic radio), the 2LT introduces floor mats, Bluetooth connectivity, the MyLink vehicle interface, steering wheel controls for the upgraded stereo system, Internet radio, and leatherette seat covers. It also features seat heaters for the front two positions, which we appreciated during the cold December weather, and a more attractive exterior appearance thanks to several trim touches front and rear.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Review: Design
- The Chevrolet Spark is an all-new model that a way replaces the older Chevrolet Aveo - which was itself replaced by the Sonic.
- Exterior design retains the broad single-bar grille found on most Chevrolet models
- Interior cues are in step with the Sonic, such as the motorcycle-style gauge pod.
Despite being the least-expensive model in the entire Chevrolet lineup, the 2013 Chevrolet Spark is actually a good-looking car. Careful attention paid to its overall proportions have ensured that the Spark doesn't suffer from any of the awkwardness that can plague a tiny hatchback (see: smart fortwo), and Chevrolet's bold front fascia works well with the Spark's short hood without being visually overpowering. 15-inch wheels - a rarity in the modern automotive universe - are the perfect size for the Spark's fender wells, and the hidden handle for the second set of doors takes up residence at the top of the rearmost pillar just like in big brother Sonic.
Inside, the Chevrolet Spark 2LT makes a valiant effort to provide driver and passengers with a riding environment that doesn't scream 'low-rent.' Leather coats the steering wheel, and something that looks like leather flows over the front and rear seats. Hard plastics can be found on the door panels, but in general, the presence of the ultra-bright, high-resolution MyLink screen and the fun, but occasionally difficult to read analog speedometer and digital tachometer (nestled in a housing that movies up and down with the tilt steering adjustment) had us feeling cheerful while piloting the subcompact.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Four passenger seating is a first for a Chevrolet hatchback.
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark prides itself - at least in its advertising materials - as being one of the few ultra-tiny hatchbacks to provide four-door access to its passenger compartment, which means that those riding in the rear don't have to clamber over a tilted seatback and squeeze past the door pillar when getting in or out of the automobile. While this might be true, the reality is the rear accommodations in the Spark are far more useful for hauling around packages and backpacks than they are friends - at least, on trips that last more than just a few miles. The Spark's two back seats could be legitimately labeled 'for emergency use only' from an adult's perspective.
While this might sound like a condemnation of the Chevrolet Spark's packaging, nothing could be further from the truth. After all, the Spark is within a couple of inches of the Miata when it comes to overall length, and no one expects the Mazda roadster to transport more than a pair of people at a time. Riding up front, the Spark offers decent support and a good view of the road ahead, although we would have liked to be able to pull the steering wheel closer to us. We also wished that the teardrop-shaped side view mirrors were significantly larger, as their shape and size made them difficult to use effectively in traffic.
From a cargo perspective, we were able to overwhelm the 11.4 cubic feet of space located between the hatch and the rear seatback with a single trip to the grocery store, leading us to use the back seat for its true purpose (handling additional bags of food and other essentials). Folding the rear seats forward is easy, and frees up three times as much storage space.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Review: Features and Controls
- Chevrolet MyLink makes an early appearance in the Chevrolet lineup.
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT keeps things simple almost completely across the board when it comes to vehicle controls, and when it does take a step towards integrating advanced technologies it does so almost flawlessly. Basic buttons and dials control the car's heating and air conditioning controls, and while we had a bit of an issue figuring out the right sequence for calling up the trip odometer and other vehicle information on the small display pod that also houses the digital tachometer (accessed via small, flat buttons mounted to the right of the bezel), we had no complaints about the steps needed to use the Spark's most important features.
The Chevrolet MyLink system, which adds a welcome splash of color and class to the center of the dash, is in a completely different league when compared to the Automotive 101-style switchgear that dominates the rest of the car. MyLink is based around a seven-inch LCD touchscreen that serves as the interface between the driver and the vehicle's entertainment options, as well as connectivity features that include linking to Internet radio services via a smart phone. MyLink did an excellent job of flawlessly connecting with the Android devices we used to test it out, and we found the system's graphical user menus to be intuitive and quick to learn. Finding a feature such as MyLink in an entry-level car like the Spark (available on 1LT and above trims) is truly shocking and shows just how hard GM is going after younger buyers.
We did have a few complaints about the Spark's features and controls. The stereo system - despite the trick MyLink display - sounded terrible, especially when listening to bass-heavy music. Picking nits, it was also irritating to have the system default to the first radio preset screen when starting the car, rather than the one that was last displayed - a problem that didn't occur if we manually shut the MyLink system on and off ourselves. That on and off button was a bit of an issue, too, as several times during our week with the Spark the bottom of our hand brushed against this touch-sensitive circle and deactivated the system while we were navigating onscreen menus.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Review: Safety and Ratings
- The Chevrolet Spark benefits from knee airbags up front.
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT is a tiny car, and in recognition of this fact it has been loaded with airbags. The Spark features dual forward airbags, side airbags for those riding in all four positioned, a pair of side curtain airbags that deploy along the entire length of the passenger compartment in the event of a serious accident, and knee airbags up front. In addition to electronic stability and traction control, the Spark also comes with hill-hold assist when ordered with a manual transmission. Setting the hatchback apart from competitors is standard OnStar telematics, which can track a stolen car, remotely unlock the doors, and automatically contact first responders after a crash.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Crash-Test Ratings:
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT has yet to be rated for crash test safety by either the NHTSA or the IIHS.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- The Spark features the smallest engine in a GM-branded vehicle since Geos were sold.
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is exclusively motivated by a 1.2-liter, four-cylinder engine that has been tuned to provide 84 horsepower and 83 lb-ft of torque. This output is harnessed by either a standard five-speed manual transmission, or an optional four-speed automatic like the unit found in our test vehicle.
Automatic-equipped versions of the Spark return fuel mileage of 28-mpg city and 37-mpg highway, which is four miles and one mile per gallon thirstier than the manual box for each respective measure. During a week of mostly city driving - including some wheel-spinning in the snow - we averaged 20-mpg in the Spark, which is considerably lower than advertised.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Review: Driving Impressions
The common opinion is that subcompact hatchbacks are penalty boxes designed to be loss-leaders at car rental agencies and not much more. That attitude has become obsolete over the past few years as automakers across the board have brought out surprisingly competent entry-level vehicles that don't obliterate one's soul though the simple act of commuting.
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is one such vehicle. When evaluated based on the specific market it is targeting - city folk who occasionally need a car to take them places public transit can't - the Spark is a decent option. The Spark is certainly not an athletic performer from a suspension perspective, but it is light on its feet and doesn't jar riders like the stiffer Fiat 500 when traveling over rough pavement. Steering feel is good, with no sense of vagueness from the front wheels, and we were unable to upset the Spark even when sliding it across freshly-fallen snow.
84 horsepower is truly a piddling amount of production by modern standards, especially when more frugal four-cylinder engines are using exotic technologies such as direct injection and turbochargers to produce nearly double that amount. In the Spark, however, the plain-Jane, small-displacement four-cylinder engine helps to keep costs down and provides enough forward motivation to keep the car out of its own way around town. On the highway the Spark takes a bit more effort to hustle to cruising speeds than one might expect, and the vehicle's suspension does not feel as grounded as it does at urban speeds. Stopping the hatchback elicited no drama despite the horribly slippery weather and rear-wheel drums, as the vehicle's ABS system performed admirably.
Although the four-speed automatic transmission might seem like the worst possible gearbox to pair with such a tiny motor, we've driven manual tranny Sparks in the past and didn't find that much of a difference in attitude between the two drivetrains. Both are buzzy when pushed hard, but neither is overly harsh, and the Spark's 1.2-liter mill compares favorably with that found in other, similarly-small vehicles. We were a bit confused by the 'I' shift position that was found between 'D' and 'L,' but after asking a GM contact we were told that it stood for 'Intermediate' and that it locked out the vehicle's top gear - for reasons that completely escape us.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Review: Final Thoughts
The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is a good effort from a company that finally has a formidable small car lineup that can stand toe-to-toe with its Japanese rivals. Although not all of the lessons learned in the design of the Cruze and the Sonic have been applied to the Spark, many of them have, especially when it comes to design, ride quality, and feature content. Driving the hatchback was a good experience for us, even with the automatic transmission, and we found the car to wear its small dimensions well.
Can we recommend the Spark to the imagined city dweller demographic that GM is hoping will be intrigued by the vehicle? Not entirely. Truth be told, the Chevrolet Sonic is so much more car in almost every respect - including power, interior room, cargo space, and fuel efficiency - that it makes more sense from a value perspective. If the base Spark were priced at $10,000, then perhaps it would present a better deal, but the 2LT model we drove was just $2,000 less than a top-spec Sonic which offers the same features. While we would happily select the Spark over its Fiat and smart rivals, $2,000 is not a large enough chasm for us to pick the hatch over its more impressive lineup-mate.
2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT Review: Pros and Cons
- Easy to maneuver, solid suspension, comfortable ride
- Reasonable acceleration given engine size
- Inexpensive in its base form
- MyLink system is top-notch
- Not significantly cheaper than the more efficient, more comfortable, and more powerful Chevrolet Sonic hatchback
- Rear seats are not well-suited for adults
- Cargo space is small with back row in upright position
- Fuel mileage is worse than that of several larger cars
GM Canada supplied the vehicle for this review.
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