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October 23, 2012

The 2013 Chevrolet Spark Ignites the Micro-Car Market

San Francisco, California: It’s been on sale since July in 18 metro markets with success that has outpaced expectations and General Motors has now ordered more from Korea, where it is produced, to meet the increased demand. It is the new 2013 Chevy Spark, brought to the U.S. to join the ever-growing list of micro-compact cars now available in America. This little wedge of a four-seater has a sporty look, with more cargo room than you might expect from a mini machine. With a MSRP that starts at $12,995, Chevy hoped this new model that has sold in global markets since 2009 would ignite its home market—and it already has!

Spark-1While many come to San Francisco for the charm of its cable
cars, Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman's Wharf, souvenir shops in Chinatown and the beautiful Victorian architecture in Haight-Ashbury, a group of autowriters came to San Francisco recently to try out the new Chevy Spark in this upscale and trend-setting environment. We bunked in at the stately-but-not
precocious St. Regis Hotel and, while north of the city for our drive day, we enjoyed the Hilltop 1892 as our lunch and jumping-off point to drive the Spark.

The first impression of the Spark from the outside will bring you to the conclusion that this mini model seems to fight above its weight; designers and engineers have done a superb job of making it appear larger than it is! It has a low-slung front end, scooped out sides and a roofline that slants downward from its A-pillar (windshield support) to the back end, giving the vehicle a pocket-rocket profile. Although it looks like a three-door hatch, the handles for rear doors are integrated into the C-pillar (rear support) to give a seamless look while not subjecting to the graceless entry and exit that can plague little cars.

Spark’s headlamps are crafted like diamonds; they stretch and wrap around the edges of the car, and look large on the Spark’s small face, however it’s a look that surprisingly works. Fifteen-inch aluminum wheels are standard (larger sizes are not available at this time); fog lamps can be ordered on the higher end trim and are integrated into the lower part of the grille.

Slipping inside, you’ll notice that although Spark is not very big, it feels fairly spacious, thanks in part to the clever placement of a few key elements. One principle in interior design is that using just a few large objects in a small space can actually make it look and feel larger than placing many smaller items
in the same space. Perhaps, that’s what Chevy designers had in mind when they put together the concept for the Spark’s cabin. There is also great illumination from the front glass and throughout the car.

Spark-2Spark’s three-spoke steering wheel is a prominent feature, with clean lines and a brushed-aluminum look. The driver and passenger vents are simple, large circles, and the bold body-color accent trim wraps from the insides of the doors nearly to the middle of the dash, providing continuity from the front to the rear. With the exception of the base LS models, Spark comes with a standard 7-inch touchscreen that supports Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system.

But, what’s really impressive is the space behind the rear seat. Spark has 11.4 cubic feet to carry cargo, which is enough for a Costco run, a small collection of flea market finds, or goods and gear for a weekend getaway. With the rear seat folded, the space expands to an impressive 31.2 cubic feet; plus, the rear seat splits 60/40 to make room for longer items like skis and golf clubs, while still keeping space for a solo rear passenger.

Spark is powered by a 1.25-liter, four-cylinder engine with 84 horsepower and 83 lb.-ft. of torque. Its power is not about beating cars off the line, but you’ll find there’s plenty of pep for city driving and enough power for a short jaunt on the highway--maybe just not in the fast lane). Two transmissions are
available- a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic; EPA estimates for the manual are 34 mpg combined city/highway, while the auto version shaves off two mpg.

Spark-3We drove the uplevel 2LT Spark (price as equipped, $16, 720) on roads north of San Francisco; the route included city driving and having fun on country two-lanes. It should be obvious that this mini model is best as an urban runabout and it handled quite well in this fashion. On the open road, the micro-car felt and sounded more micro-powered and took time to get up to cruising speed. We also noted the automatic transmission sounds more like a CVT transmission, without sharply obvious shift points at times (it isn’t-it has a clutch that slips, when under hard throttle).

We liked Spark’s suspension, which has front MacPherson struts and rear compound crank components, and has been engineered for a tight road feel, especially in curves and corners; the turning radius is 32.5 feet, which is just a bit more than the legendary London black cabs boast. Front vented disc and rear drum brakes are standard, along with ABS, traction control, stability control and Hill Start Assist. Despite its diminutive size, Spark packs in 10 airbags.

Notable among a long list of standard features on our model were heated front seats; outside power mirrors; Sirius XM Satellite radio; Bluetooth technology; Hill Start Assist; and OnStar Directions and Connections for the first 6 months.

The 2013 Spark is available in three trim levels: LS (Starts at $12,995), 1LT (begins at $14,495) and 2LT ($15,795). All models in the lineup come with the 1.25-liter four-cylinder motor and manual transmission; the automatic is an option. Spark LS has a few standard goodies, including a 4-speaker AM/FM stereo with auxiliary audio jack, power windows, air conditioning and an auxiliary power outlet.

Stepping up to the 1LT model adds the MyLink infotainment system with a 7-inch screen, USB port and 6 speakers; floor mats, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio, as well as phone controls, power-adjusting outside mirrors and a theft deterrent system.

Top of the line 2LTs add fog lamps, faux leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel exterior chrome trim, silver-painted roof rails and “Sport” badging.  GM has sold over 200,000 Sparks globally, but has re-engineered it for the North American market.

Sue Mead 



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