2013 Chevrolet Spark: Introduction
The new 2013 Chevrolet Spark’s mission is to make America’s youth fall in love with a Chevy, so that they keep buying Chevys, or Buicks, or GMCs, or Cadillacs in the future. You see, General Motors has determined that if it can attract young buyers, and keep them as customers in the years and decades that follow, the loyalty will translate into $500,000 in revenue over that customer’s lifespan.
This represents a remarkable and rare example of long-term vision and strategy for a large, publicly traded corporation, and it explains why the new Spark doesn’t look or feel as inexpensive as its price might lead you expect.
Before we get to all the details about the new 2013 Chevy Spark, you might be interested in knowing that 2011 was the best year in 100 years for Chevrolet. So yeah, Chevy is better off now than it was four years ago.
Nevertheless, Chevy isn’t shifting into neutral and taking its foot off the gas. The Spark is the first of 13 all new or significantly updated Chevy models set to arrive by the end of 2013.
As for the Chevy Spark, Americans are the last to get their hands on this global mini-compact hatchback. More than 600,000 have already been sold around the world, and for 2013 the Spark rolls into U.S. dealerships ready to serve customers looking for new-car smell, a new-car warranty, and new-car technology for between $13,000 and $17,000.
The 2013 Chevy Spark is sold in LS, 1LT and 2LT trim levels. The base price for the Spark LS with a manual gearbox is $12,995. A Spark 2LT with all available features runs $16,990.
Standard equipment for the Spark LS includes 15-inch aluminum wheels, air conditioning, power windows, a tilt steering wheel, a stereo with an auxiliary audio input jack, cloth seats, and a trip computer.
Upgrade to the 1LT ($14,495) and the Spark comes with a color touchscreen radio, two additional speakers, a USB port, three months of free satellite radio, and Chevy MyLink connectivity technology. Cruise control, floor mats, power exterior mirrors, power door locks with remote keyless entry, an outside temperature display, and infotainment system controls mounted on the steering wheel are also included on the 1LT model.
The Spark 2LT is equipped with leatherette seats, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, roof rails, fog lights, sportier exterior styling, and unique machined-face aluminum wheels. The car in the photos is a Spark 2LT painted Techno Pink.
All 2013 Sparks are equipped with 10 airbags, antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, and stability control. Automatic Crash Response, Crisis Assist, and Emergency Services are includes for the first six months through the standard OnStar telematics system.2013 Chevrolet Spark: Competition
Chevy thinks it has the mini-car market cornered with its all-new 2013 Chevrolet Spark, but then, given the current competitive set, this isn’t necessarily a challenge for a four-passenger, five-door hatchback that a company representative called “bubbly fun.”
The FIAT 500, Scion iQ, and Smart fortwo were named as the Spark’s primary competitors. On that basis, the Chevy is clearly the best car in the class in terms of passenger room. Four full-size adults will, in fact, fit into the Spark. But the Fiat 500 and Smart ForTwo are emotional choices that frequently transcend socioeconomic strata, whereas the Spark is more likely to be purchased solely on the basis of price.
Chevy also sees the Spark as a better alternative to small used cars, citing the warranty, safety features, and technology as key upgrades over older models selling for about the same amount of money. Again, I’m not convinced the 2,269-lb. Spark makes more sense than a certified pre-owned used car with more room, more power, and more weight for greater crash compatibility on SUV-clogged American highways.2013 Chevrolet Spark: Competition
Chevrolet sees the new 2013 Spark’s styling as an advantage in the mini-car class, and having spent several hours with it, we’ll confirm that the Spark looks better in person than it does in pictures. But let me share a little story from our day plying the city streets of West Los Angeles.
My co-driver and I were seeking a good spot to swap seats, and we stopped in front of Palisades Charter High School as classes were getting out. Students were lined up along the curb, chatting, punching their fingers into their phones, probably waiting for nannies to come and fetch them. We watched to see if anyone noticed the Jalapeno Green Spark we were driving. Finally, a blonde girl saw the car, began to giggle, told her friends to look, and then they all started to snicker.
That’s probably not the reaction Chevy is looking for with its new youth-oriented mini-car. But then again, these kids are probably getting the keys to a new BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes C-Class when they turn 16 – it was Pacific Palisades, after all – so take Blondie’s reaction to the Spark with a grain of salt.2013 Chevrolet Spark: Interior
I am not a small person. I’m six-feet tall, and I weigh at least one preschooler more than I should. Yet, I was perfectly comfortable inside of the narrow 2013 Chevy Spark, even in the back seat, except for the 2LT model’s leatherette seats, which are, apparently, designed to marinate occupants in their own juices on warm, muggy summer days.
My 2LT test car’s driver seat featured a manual height adjuster, which provided a tall, commanding position behind a thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped, tilt steering wheel that was pleasing to grip.
The front passenger’s seat also sits high off of the floor, providing good thigh support, as do the rear seats. Because of the way the dashboard is shaped, taller people can easily move the front seats a little bit forward in their tracks to allow similarly sized passengers to tuck in behind them. From this perspective, the Spark has its primary competition beat by a mile, and could even battle subcompact and compact cars for overall room and comfort.
The Spark’s controls are easy to master, though the Chevy MyLink color touchscreen radio proved challenging for me. Developed with LG, the seven-inch screen and MyLink technology are designed to be a “simple and safe” extension of the driver’s smartphone. Through a paired smartphone, MyLink runs Pandora and Stitcher apps, and Chevrolet says a new Tune-in app will be available during the first quarter of 2013.
MyLink employs three touch-capacitive buttons on the dashboard underneath the screen combined with touchscreen buttons on the display. I had trouble with the touch-capacitive controls, which did not respond to dry fingertips or to authoritative stabs, but the touchscreen is large, simple, mostly free of glare, and features pleasing high-resolution graphics.
What I really like is MyLink’s new BringGo application, which is the future of in-car navigation. In exchange for $50, you can install the BringGo app on your smartphone, pair your smartphone to MyLink, and run the app via the MyLink touchscreen. It works just like one of those mega-buck hard-drive navigation systems from the factory, but it costs just 50 bucks. BringGo will be available to Spark buyers in the fourth quarter of 2012.
The Spark’s 11.4 cu-ft. cargo area is small, but Chevy says it will hold four carry-on roll-aboard suitcases with no problem. Fold the rear seats down, and the Spark holds 31.2 cu-ft. of your junk in its trunk.2013 Chevrolet Spark: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
A 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine is the only one offered in the 2013 Spark, and it musters – barely – 84 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 83 lb-ft. of torque at 4,200 rpm. A five-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a four-speed automatic available as an option.
Row your own gears, and the EPA says you’ll get 32 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway. Let the transmission do all the work, and those fuel economy estimates fall to 28 in the city and 37 on the highway. As usual, those estimates are optimistic. During our driving on the streets of West L.A., the Spark’s manual transmission returned 28 mpg, while the automatic provided 24 mpg.2013 Chevrolet Spark: Driving Impressions
One might conjecture that those unimpressive fuel economy numbers could be due to enthusiastic driving conducted by automotive journalists testing acceleration capabilities, but given the daily gridlock of L.A., such opportunities to wring the engine for all it was worth were few and far between.
Rather, I can assure you that they are partially the result of drivers who continually mashed the pedal to the floor in an effort to avoid serving as a slow-moving Techno Pink traffic cone or becoming a Jalapeno-colored smudge on the pavement.
In city driving under part-throttle acceleration, the Spark feels sprightly. The thing is, if you mash the gas pedal, such as when trying to enter traffic, or when switching lanes to go around traffic, or when making a left turn across multiple lanes of oncoming traffic, the Spark’s diminutive engine doesn’t really produce much extra oomph. In this car, you’ll always want to leave extra room. And you’ll never want to try to beat a light.
The manual transmission proves more satisfying, because the driver has greater control over the power curve. The shifter’s throws are long, but shift action is pleasing and refined with little of the ropy, vague gear engagement typical of cheap, small cars.
Hill start assist is standard on the Spark. We decided to test it on North Kings Road off of Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, a steep residential street. I brought the Spark to a stop, took my right foot off of the brake pedal, revved the engine, and began releasing the clutch. As the clutch came up, the hill start assist turned off, and the car sputtered and almost stalled before struggling to accelerate up the grade. If you live someplace hilly, you are going to want the automatic transmission. I guarantee it.
The Spark’s electric steering is nicely weighted and quick enough to make the Spark feel lively and nimble. Moreover, it is superior to what Fiat installs in the 500 – even the performance-tuned Abarth model. As is expected, the car provides a very tight turning radius, which makes it easy to park almost anywhere.
A set of front disc/rear drum brakes proved better to employ than their humble description might suggest, the brake pedal inspiring more confidence than we’ve come to expect from such components.
On L.A.’s aging pavement and patched blacktop, the Spark’s simplistic compound crank rear suspension produced more jouncing and jittering than we preferred. That said, the lightweight Spark gripped well thanks to its 15-inch wheels and tires, and body roll was nicely controlled in corners. You can pitch this little car into a turn without feeling like you’re about to roll it over.2013 Chevrolet Spark: Final Thoughts
Placed within the context of its direct competition and its price point, the new 2013 Chevrolet Spark is an appealing and technologically sophisticated new entry for first-time buyers, city dwellers, or households needing a second car for errand running.
That said, the Spark desperately needs a turbocharger, if for no other reason than to generate more torque across a broader rev range. Real-world fuel economy needs to improve, because Spark buyers choosing this with expectations of great gas mileage are likely to be disappointed. I’d also prefer cloth seats to the sticky leatherette that comes standard on the Spark 2LT. Finally, the Spark will need to excel in crash tests to be worthy of recommendation to teenagers, and even then the 2,269-lb. curb weight is a liability in a nation where people routinely buy vehicles that weigh twice that amount.2013 Chevrolet Spark: Pros and Cons
- Genuine comfort for four adults
- Chevrolet MyLink color touchscreen radio
- Coming BringGo navigation application
- Interior layout, design, and materials
- Impressive value
- Disappointing fuel economy
- Disappointing engine power
- 2LT model’s leatherette seats no fun on hot days
- Light curb weight potential liability in collisions with heavier vehicles
Chevrolet provided the vehicle for this first drive
2013 Chevrolet Spark photos by Christian Wardlaw