New & Used Chevrolet Spark: In Depth
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The Chevrolet Spark is the smallest car currently sold by General Motors in the U.S. This city-friendly hatchback is more than a foot shorter than the next-smallest Chevy—the Sonic—making it a rival for vehicles like the Fiat 500, the Mitsubishi Mirage, and the truly tiny Smart ForTwo and Scion iQ.
An all-new 2016 Chevy Spark will go on sale during the fourth quarter of 2015. It replaces the first-generation model, which was introduced as a 2013 model and ran through 2015.
The new 2016 Spark has a more powerful, 98-horsepower, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, giving it 16 percent more power than the 84-horsepower, 1.2-liter four used in 2013–2015 Sparks. As before, that engine drives the front wheels through either a five-speed manual gearbox or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Chevy hasn't released fuel-economy ratings for the 2016 model, but we can expect them to be at least on par with if not better than today's model.
The 2016 model also gets more grown-up styling—it's still handsome but has lost most of its cartoonish characteristics. New camera-based safety systems, only rarely found on cars this small, will be offered and include lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and forward-collision alert.
Chevy also offers an electric version of the first-generation Spark (get it?) in California and Oregon only. It's known as the Spark EV, and has been sold as a 2014 or 2015 model, but only in small quantities.
As the only five-door in its size category, the current Spark wins the practicality war against cars like the Fiat 500 and MINI three-door hardtop. (The slightly larger Mitsubishi Mirage five-door is a competitor as well, but sits somewhere between the minicar and subcompact classes.) It's much easier to get people and things in and out of the back seat with the Spark's extra doors, even if the interior is just about as tight as in those rival models. Four adults can fit inside, but they'll likely want to keep the journeys short since their elbows will be touching. The Spark is also taller than its main competitors, giving both driver and passenger a better view out, which aids visibility when ensconced in a sea of SUVs.
Chevy made one important change after the Spark's first year on the market. In 2013 only, a four-speed automatic was available for an extra $925; that transmission was slow-reacting and didn't do the small car many favors. From 2014 on, however, the two-pedal option has been a continuously variable transmission, which is a better match for the car. The standard five-speed manual makes for the most fun in a Spark, however, and also requires no added investment.
Chevy offers the gas-powered Spark in three trim levels, starting at about $13,000. The base LS model comes standard with air conditioning, power windows, a rear wiper, a trip computer, 15-inch alloy wheels, a flip-forward 60/40 split folding rear seat, and OnStar built in.
The dashboard is simple, with a large speedometer flanked by a digital gauge with extra information. All Sparks come standard with a version of the Chevrolet MyLink connectivity system, offering apps for Pandora internet radio and Stitcher Smart Radio.
The mid-level 1LT model includes power locks, power mirrors, cruise control, an audio system with a 7-inch color touch screen, steering-wheel audio controls, Bluetooth pairing, and satellite radio. The top-of-the-line 2LT trim level adds different alloy wheels, trim upgrades, and even heated seats. Chevrolet also added the GogoLink embedded navigation and real-time traffic application later in the Spark's first model year.
The Spark is one of the smallest cars on sale with four doors, which helps distinguish it from other extra-compacts like the Scion iQ and Smart ForTwo. It's a minimalist's car with modern amenities, and a happy little car to boot. It also comes in an interesting palette of colors, including several pastels—sky blue, lime green, pink, yellow—for those who want to really stand out from the big-car crowd.
The 2014 Chevy Spark EV is what our sister site Green Car Reports calls a "compliance car"--an electric car built to satisfy coming California clear-air regulations that require automakers to sell battery-powered electric cars in order to continue doing business in the state. That means that while you may see a disproportionate volume of media and advertising on the all-electric Spark, you shouldn't pay it a great deal of attention. It's by far the most powerful Spark, and its lack of a transmission delivers the electric power in one single rush of acceleration, but volumes are very low--only about 100 cars a month.