Review of: 2014 Chevrolet Spark 5dr HB Auto 1LT
2014 Chevrolet Spark: Very little spark, and no flame
By Jil McIntosh
Apr. 24, 2014
Very small cars can present some not-so-small issues for automakers. While they’re a mainstay in many overseas markets, they can be a tougher sell here. While North Americans are generally more inclined to buy larger vehicles, part of the problem with microcars is that while they’re advertised at a rock-bottom price, most people move up the ladder to get at least a few extra features.
That can drive up the price to the point where the next-size-up starts to look good, and the microcar starts to look expensive.
That was the case with my tester, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark. It starts at $11,945, but my 1LT with automatic transmission pegged at $17,045, and then had a few options added on to bring it to $17,725. It’s quite a chunk of change for a car that doesn’t drive anywhere close to it.
Pros & Cons
- + Interior design
- + Visibility
- + Turning circle
- - Driveability
- - Road noise
- - Folding seats difficult to adjust
The Spark is a global model, built in Korea as was the old Chevy Aveo. It’s a decent design from the rear, and I like that the rear door handles are hidden behind the window, making the car look more like a two-door.
The front end has always looked odd to me, though. While it makes good use of the signature Chevrolet twin-grille front end, the big headlight panels always remind me, weirdly enough, of elongated nostrils.
Unusually for a car in this segment, even the base LS trim comes with 15-inch aluminum wheels; on that and on my 1LT trim level, they’re coated with silver paint. My car’s fog lamps were a $365 option, and while I think such lights are generally pointless, they do add some visual interest to the front fascia.
The Spark’s cabin is a pretty neat design, managing to look both funky and functional even though it’s all hard plastic. I thought the optional interior trim kit was well worth the $155, bringing in the car’s exterior “Denim” paint scheme into the stereo surround, dash cubbies, door pockets, and upper trim panel.
The instrument cluster is a floating pod, similar to that used on the Chevy Sonic, that houses an analog speedometer and digital tachometer. The climate controls are large, easy-to-use dials, although you have to move up to the 1LT to get air conditioning, which is unavailable on the base LS.
The front seats certainly aren’t the luxury variety, although I found them a little more supportive than I would have expected on a microcar. The two rear seats are hard and flat, but passengers in the back have a lot of room to stick their feet under the front chairs for extra space.
The 60/40 rear seats fold flat to increase the cargo space, but it’s an annoying, multi-step process. First you must remove the rear head restraints, and then reach in, pull up the seat cushions, and flip them forward. Only then do the rear seatbacks fold down.
I don’t care if there’s a volume button on the steering wheel: stereos should have a real reach-over-and-spin-the-dial control on them.
The MyLink infotainment system, standard equipment on all but the base LS, is all dependent on touch, and you have to tap the plastic bezel to turn it on, or to adjust the volume. Naturally, the speed at which it obeys your fingertip can lag a little when the car’s been sitting outside in colder weather.
That said, I do like that satellite radio is included with the MyLink system, which also allows for Bluetooth audio streaming, and is compatible with applications such as TuneIn, Stitcher, and Apple Siri. There’s also a backup camera.
Where the Spark loses face is in the driving department. These little cars are meant to be city runabouts, not highway haulers, but the Spark disappoints even in the conditions where it’s supposed to shine.
It’s powered by a 1.2-litre four-cylinder, producing 84 horsepower (at 6,400 rpm!) and 83 lb-ft of torque. It might be fun to wring it out with the default five-speed manual gearbox, but my tester’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) sapped any strength it might have had. Acceleration is tepid, and if you are on the highway, plan your maneuvers well in advance, since there’s not much there when you put the pedal to the metal.
The Spark’s loud, both from the growly engine, and from road noise, which turns into a cacophony when it rains and water splashes up into the wheel wells. The ride’s a bit choppy, as you’d expect from such a short wheelbase, but it does have a very tight turning radius, which is always a bonus when you’re trying to fit it into a parking spot.
The published fuel figures are 6.5 L/100 km in the city and 5.0 on the highway. That’s better than some of its competition, although not quite as low as cars like the Scion iQ or Mitsubishi Mirage. In combined cold-weather driving, I averaged 7.2 L/100 km.
Much of the problem with microcars is that while they’re pint-sized, they still rack up the same development and fixed costs of their larger siblings. The low starting prices are for minimalistic models, and when you add a few items, you can get some serious overlap with models in the next segment up. When I put friends into the Spark and told them it this little city slicker was close to $18,000, they just shook their heads.
In the Spark’s case, if I was looking at GM’s portfolio, I’d far rather have the Sonic subcompact hatchback, an underrated model that’s considerably better to drive.
The Spark’s direct competitors can also get pricey when you add a few features, but for driving performance, I’d be inclined to look instead at a Hyundai Accent or Ford Fiesta, or even the Scion iQ (although it only has three viable seats). Expect the upcoming Nissan Micra to hit the Spark head-on, too. But I’d probably take the Chevrolet over the rough-hewn and wobbly Mitsubishi Mirage, and while the Smart Fortwo is a great size for close-coupled cities, it starts at $18,150 and only holds two people.
Given its global heritage and how well overseas manufacturers can make microcars, the Spark disappointed me: I expected better. It’s cute, and its interior is really well-done for the segment, but when you turn the key and put it into gear, any fondness for it goes away. Even if you’re a diehard GM fan, look at the competition—or consider moving up a size into the far better Sonic—before you sign on the dotted line for this one.