The concrete jungle is becoming increasingly tougher to navigate. The streets are clogged, parking fees are ridiculous and fuel is far from cheap. Survival demands a minimalist transportation module with maximum space for people and cargo. For both urbanites and suburbanites, the Chevrolet Spark is arriving by mid-2012.
Chevrolet has been the recipient of numerous accolades lately for its compact and sub-compact brands. The one-year-old Cruze has been a huge hit and it appears that the newly released Sonic sedan and hatchback will follow the same course for 2012. And with a growing list of recently released competitors, it seems as though North Americans are beginning to embrace fuel efficiency and a smaller footprint as a way of life.
The Spark hatchback’s impending arrival serves to add fuel to the sub-compact fire. Versions of this Korea-built four-door hatchback have been buzzing around the streets of Europe, Asia, South America, Australia and Mexico for a few years. Now it’s our turn.
The Spark’s secret, it seems, involves getting the most room out of the least amount of space. Its upright body offers generous door openings for easy access and plenty of headroom for four adult passengers. In fact, the car is nearly six inches taller than a Mini Cooper. In other aspects the Spark is slightly shorter overall and there’s less distance between the front and rear wheels than the Mini. You also won’t find much stowage area in back, but enlarging the space for life’s bulky stuff is just a split-folding-rear-bench away.
Interior styling is perhaps best described as youthful with body-colored bits and pieces on the door panels and dash. There’s a single-pod speedometer, adjacent (and very cool) tachometer/fuel gauge display plus a trio of temperature and ventilation control knobs. A seven-inch touch-screen that operates the audio, navigation and hands-free communications systems is also available.
Chevrolet has also crafted a neatly designed exterior, highlighted by bulging fenders containing wheels that have been pushed out to each side for the sake of stability and passenger room. And as with the larger Sonic hatchback, the rear door handles have been integrated as part of the window frame, giving the car a two-door appearance, which is all the rage these days. Up-level models come with additional visual enhancements, including rocker-panel molding, chrome trim and roof rails.
In keeping with the Spark’s modest transportation role, the standard powerplant is a 1.2-liter four-cylinder that generates an equally modest 85 horsepower and 82 pound-feet of torque. That’s obviously not a lot, but wrapped in a 2,300-pound vehicle built for urban commuting with short-lived jaunts at highway speeds, it’ll do just fine. Catering to sporty lifestyles, it’s also likely that aftermarket suppliers will devise turbocharger and/or other power-enhancing add-ons, if Chevrolet doesn’t beat them to the punch.
A five-speed manual transmission, or optional four-speed automatic will direct power to the front wheels, but the manual with its extra overdrive gear will likely offer the best combination of performance and economy.
At an estimated base price in $13,500 range (including destination charges), the Spark will attract plenty of looks, especially considering its list of standard features. Buyers will get air conditioning, power windows, ambient interior lighting and 10 airbags, including knee protection for both front occupants. The options list contains leather-like seat covers, heated front seats, alloy wheels and a premium audio package.
In fact, the Spark could very well be the envy of competitors such as the Smart Fortwo, Scion iQ, Fiat 500 and Mini Cooper. But the bigger question remains, will the size-small Spark find an audience beyond a relatively small knot of fuel-economy-obsessed buyers? The limited popularity engendered by some of its peers would indicate it won’t be easy, but don’t discount the little Spark’s practical attributes — and that hard-to-quantify cute factor — from firing up newbie and veteran urban-jungle warriors alike.