Review of: 2016 Chevrolet Spark 5dr HB Man LS
2016 Chevrolet Spark: Budget-minded
By Jil McIntosh
Apr. 13, 2016
With its crank-down windows, manual locks and lack of air conditioning, the base model of Chevrolet’s subcompact Spark likely isn’t showing up in the garages of anyone named so far in the Panama Papers.
But the Spark, which is redesigned for 2016, could be in a few as a first car for a new driver, or as a second-car city runabout. It can also be a viable alternative to a used vehicle, and one that comes with financing and a warranty.
That said, while the entry-level $9,995 price is enticing, it’s not likely that most people will opt for this ultra-base LS model, which comes strictly with a five-speed manual transmission. In fact, it’s not all that likely that your local dealer will even have any of this rock-bottom trim in stock.
The base model’s only option is a package of automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) and air conditioning, which takes it to $13,895 (A/C alone can’t be added to the stick-equipped LS). Three other models follow: the 1LT with stick shift for $14,195, or with CVT for $15,295; and the 2LT, which comes only with the CVT and tops out the line at $18,195.
GM no doubt chose the Spark’s $9,995 starting tag because it was three dollars less than the Nissan Micra, making it the country’s lowest-priced new car. So Nissan promptly dropped the Micra to $9,988. We could well have a downward bidding war here, ten bucks or so at a time.
Pros & Cons
- + Value for money
- + Transmission
- + Stereo
- - Folding seats difficult to adjust
- - No exterior trunk release
- - Turning circle
With its Chevy-signature split grille and more smoothly-integrated headlights, this newest generation of the Spark is considerably better-looking than its odd-duck predecessor. Three sharp creases define the side profile, while large taillights wrap around the corners. Fifteen-inch steel wheels are stock on the LS, while all other trims swap them for painted aluminum rims.
The mirrors are manual, with two interior joysticks for adjusting them. Common to all GM cars, the headlights are automatic.
Power locks and keyless entry don’t arrive until you move up to the 1LT, and I had to insert and turn the key to unlock my tester’s doors. Oddly enough, even though there’s no power lock button, the driver’s door (and only the driver’s) electrically locks itself when you start driving, and unlocks when the ignition is switched off.
You must also manually unlock the rear hatch, and that’s the only way you can open it, since it’s missing the touch-pad that electrically opens it on other models. Forget about sitting behind the wheel and waiting while passengers toss their items into the cargo area: you have to hand over the keys before they can. I found it very annoying and longed for the Micra’s lock-plus-handle hatch.
Things get better inside, where I think the Spark’s cabin looks more upscale than the Micra’s. That’s primarily because the focal point is a seven-inch centre screen that’s included on all trim lines, even this most basic one.
There are no stereo controls on the steering wheel—nor is there cruise control, which starts at the 1LT level—but the centre stack switches are easy to reach and simple to use. Three large dials with pushbutton centres handle the heater functions, and the vents are also easy to direct. Small-item storage is good, and the USB and audio jack are in the cubby so you can stash your devices while they’re plugged in.
Ten airbags are standard on all trims, including rear seat-side, and driver and front passenger knee bags.
The seats are fine for city jaunts but, not surprisingly, get hard on longer drives. The rear chairs are even flatter and firmer, and handle two passengers. They fold to increase the cargo area, but it’s not a one-touch operation. You have to remove the head restraints, flip up the bottom cushion and then drop the seatbacks, which don’t fall completely flat.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find that it’s easier to sell a car that doesn’t have a steering wheel, than one that doesn’t offer connectivity. The base Spark’s MyLink infotainment system packs in OnStar, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming audio and Siri, along with a backup camera.
OnStar 4G LTE is also included, which turns this little car into a WiFi hotspot for up to seven devices, although you’ll have to pay for a subscription once the trial period is up.
In fact, the only items found on the higher trims but missing on the LS are two extra speakers—four instead of six—and satellite radio.
The Spark’s 1.4-litre four-cylinder spins out 98 horsepower and 94 lb.-ft. of torque, screwed to a five-speed manual transmission on my base tester. Everything’s relative: in a car with a curb weight of just 1,019 kilos, it’s decently peppy, especially if you ignore the efficiency-minded upshift light and run out the gears a little. I would have appreciated a sixth gear on the highway, where that little engine works very hard in fifth, but I also reminded myself that, after all, it’s a $10,000 car.
Handling could be sharper, and the turning radius is much wider than I expected for the car’s size (it’s 10.5 metres to the Micra’s 9.3), but it gets the job done. The clutch and shifter are surprisingly smooth and will be forgiving for less-experienced drivers, especially since hill start assist is also included.
The Spark with stick shift is officially rated at 7.8 L/100 km in the city, and 5.8 on the highway. In combined driving and cold weather, I averaged 6.5 L/100 km.
There are a few inexpensive hatchbacks in this segment, including the Mitsubishi Mirage, Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio, but I’ll stack the two obvious contenders: the rock-bottom base trims of the Spark and the Micra.
Both have variable intermittent wipers, tilt steering wheel, four-way manual driver’s seat, floor mats, and manual windows, locks and mirrors.
In the Micra’s favour: 109 horsepower to 98, simple-folding rear seats, five-passenger seating versus four (hope the middle passenger’s skinny!), and a separate rear hatch release.
In the Spark’s favour: driver’s-seat armrest, ten airbags versus six, automatic headlamps, backup camera, seven-inch touchscreen versus 4.3-inch display, USB port, phone app integration, better published fuel economy, and a longer powertrain warranty.
Although I find the Micra to be a sharper-handling vehicle that’s more fun to drive all around—and it is $7.00 less!—the bottom line for stuff-for-the-money has to go to the Chevy.
While I don’t mind stretching out in a feature-laden luxury car, I love the practicality of economy vehicles. The Spark has a few things I don’t like, but it also has a lot that I do, and at a decent price. I know it’s the loss-leader and most people will drive out of the dealership with more than the base model, especially since the top-line Spark, at $18,195, throws in such stuff as lane departure and collision warning, rear park assist, heated seats, pushbutton start and a sunroof. But if all you want is transportation, especially if you’re looking for a used car at this price, give this little puddle-jumper a try.