Chevrolet lit a fire under its 2016 Spark and made it a pretty cool little car.
While it is an economy car, it is not a penalty box. With access to techy extras it will be appealing to young drivers, and with its decent cargo space it is a good all-around grocery getter. But even with a possible 41 mpg on the highway, I wouldn’t use it as a long-distance commuter.
The Spark is a five-door, four-seat subcompact hatchback that is built in South Korea and sold in 40 markets around the world. It is Chevy’s smallest car in the U.S. and compares, somewhat, with the Fiat 500 and Smart Fortwo.
It has been redesigned and re-engineered for 2016. A slightly longer wheelbase improves the ride and its height was trimmed by about 1.6 inches to reduce drag and enable fuel economy. It’s not quite 12 feet long and 5.2 feet wide. That’s no match for big trucks on the Interstate — even with its 10 air bags.
There’s probably more power in the audio system than under the hood, but with 98 horsepower and the continuously variable transmission, the Spark has good off-the-line power and it will cruise at 80 mph with no problem — just turn up the radio to shut out the road noise.
Spark is sold in three trim levels, all with front-wheel drive, a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual or CVT transmission. Pricing starts at $13,535 for the LS with manual and goes to $18,160 for the 2LT with CVT, today’s tester. Pricing includes the $875 freight charge from Korea and free scheduled maintenance for two years or 24,000 miles. Can you guess the hues of the three new colors: Toasted Marshmallow, Kalamata and Splash?
Safety features also include stability and traction controls and hill-start assist. Front disc brakes are large for a mini car with 9.3-inch rotors and rear drums.
For $18,355 — with the $195 package for lane departure warning and forward collision alert — the tester was a contemporary and sweet runabout. Heated seats in a subcompact? And smart key locking and a push-button ignition? With CarPlay? I’m in!
CarPlay is a simple way to bring your smartphone music, apps and maps into the car, which are displayed clearly on the 7-inch touchscreen. Many features can be controlled via voice commands. CarPlay will make obsolete some of those features that are hard-wired into new cars, especially awkward-to-use navigation systems. It works with Androids or iPhones.
Other 2LT standard features include satellite radio, rearview camera and rear park assist, height-adjustable driver’s seat, a driver’s footrest, cabin air filter, driver information center (mpg, range, etc.), 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot, cruise control, four floor mats, leather-wrapped steering with controls for cruise and audio, outside temp readout, halogen headlights and a rear window defogger and wiper.
Spark is a thoroughly modern and hip little car. Around the world, it is a city car and in this role it makes the most of small space. Despite its mini dimensions, the front seat area — with a tall 39 inches of headroom — feels broad and open with good shoulder room of almost 51 inches. Having just the two window seats in back is smart, which allows prime elbow room with a center console and cup holders. Legroom is good at 33 inches and there’s plenty of footroom. The cargo space is reasonable at 11.1 cubic feet and the seatbacks fold to expand space.
The leatherette seat upholstery is a quality addition. And while the steering wheel has tilt adjustment, it’s probably too much to ask to have it telescope for $18K.
With the short wheelbase (93.9 inches) and squirmy tires on concrete Interstates, Spark has an “active” ride. And there is wind and road noise, but that can be mitigated with the good six-speaker audio system. With the nine-gallon gas tank you’ll make regular fuel stops, but I got up 37 mpg combined — on 87 octane.
The base model with 14-inch wheels has a tiny turning circle of 31.5 feet and the LT with 15- or 16-inch wheels is still doughnut small at 34.5 feet
If the devil really is in the details, the new Spark is a pointy little rascal.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage