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The 2015 Chevrolet Spark, the smallest Chevy to be sold here in many years, is a five-door hatchback minicar precisely three feet shorter than a Cruze compact sedan. It's inexpensive, and it does a better job at being very basic transportation than the rest of the competitors in the segment--whether they're fashion-forward three-door hatchbacks that only really fit two adults (Fiat 500, MINI Cooper) or the underpowered, underwhelming Mitsubishi Mirage.
The 2015 Spark has more "grown-up" proportions than most other cars in the category, and it doesn't look as small as it is unless you park it next to something really big--a Chevy Suburban, say. Its accent lines, exaggerated wheel-opening flares, and black-plastic panels that continue the window line all help alleviate the tall-box-on-little-wheels look, as does a spoiler at the top of the tailgate that extends the horizontal line of the Spark's roof. Up front, the traditional Chevrolet twin-opening grille and big wraparound light units eliminate much of the snub-nosed look.
Inside, the front seats are small and and a little narrow for American-sized occupants--and a little more rearward travel would be good too. Taller drivers may find that their right knee brushes the climate controls at times. With a bit of negotiation between front- and back-seat riders, four adult humans can occupy the Spark and travel in reasonable space--even in the upright rear seat--which can't be said of the Fiat 500, MINI Cooper, or the two-seat Smart ForTwo. The Spark offers 11.4 cubic feet of cargo space--enough to hold 10 to 12 full paper grocery bags with ease--with the rear seat up, which can be expanded to 31.2 cubic feet if you flip and fold down the 60/40 split rear seat.
The materials used for the interior don't make a lot of attempt to be upmarket; the dash is textured hard plastic, and the synthetic cloth seats look like what they are. But the body-color trim inserts on the dash, doors, and inside the door bins are a nice touch that harkens back to painted metal panels on inexpensive cars of the Sixties. The instrument cluster is "motorcycle-inspired," meaning it's a small pod mounted on the steering column, and has one large dial gauge and quite a few colored lights and monochrome graphics. We give the Spark's interior designers credit, though, for lots of useful storage in the doors, console, and the dash face itself--including a slot on each side of the center stack that's perfect for a smart phone. On the top-end LT trim levels, a 7-inch color touchscreen display sits in the center of the dash.
The Spark is powered by an 84-horsepower, 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine, with a five-speed manual gearbox standard and a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) as an option. The manual can be hustled along to keep up with traffic if you drive it aggressively; the CVT gives automatic ratio adjustment and still delivers tolerable performance while avoiding the drone that can afflict small cars with CVTs. Fuel economy is 34 mpg combined and 39 mpg on the highway cycle with either option; the manual's city rating of 31 mpg is 1 mpg better than the CVT's 30 mpg city.While the Spark holds the road decently, the ride is somewhere between firm and hard, and passengers will feel nearly every bump, pothole, ridge, and ripple in the road. They'll also feel some body roll on corners, the inevitable price of a narrow car in which passengers sit up tall and ride on small wheels and tires. While the Spark is no MINI Cooper, its electric power steering provides some road feel, and it's easy to slip into vanishingly small spaces in traffic--or parking spaces--that other cars won't attempt.
The Chevy Spark was the sole minicar to receive an "Acceptable" rating in the new and tough small-overlap frontal crash test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It also earned a four-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with impressive five-star side and side pole ratings. Outward vision is good, too, despite the lack of a rear camera system. Ten airbags are included as part of the Spark's standard equipment, as are electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes.
The base 2015 Chevrolet Spark LS starts at about $13,000. All Spark models come standard with air conditioning, power windows, a rear-window wiper, and a trip computer. And even base cars have 15-inch painted aluminum wheels--no plastic covers over slotted metal wheels here. Infotainment is actually much better than what's offered in most other small cars, and even better than the systems in some much more expensive vehicles.
Throw in an extra $1,500 to upgrade from the base LS to the 1LT model, and you'll add Chevrolet MyLink with the 7-inch touchscreen dashboard display, audio controls on the steering wheel, a USB port, Bluetooth audio pairing, and built-in Sirius XM radio with 3 months of free service. It also includes remote keyless entry, power door locks, an anti-theft system, power door mirrors, cruise control, and floor mats.
Move up to the top-of-the-line 2LT model and you add 15-inch alloy wheels,leatherette seats with heated fronts, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lamps, and a long list of cosmetic upgrades. Automatic headlamps and daytime running lamps were made standard last year, along with heated power-adjustable body-color side mirrors with integrated turn signals on the 2LT model. For 2015, the main changes are 4G LTE connectivity through the OnStar built-in cellular connection, and an available WiFi hot spot. The array of dealer-installed accessories has grown somewhat, and colors include both predictable hues (white, silver, red, black) and some startling shades like Techno Pink, Lime Green, and Denim (a kind of baby blue).
The Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system includes an AM/FM stereo with the 7-inch display (Sirius XM can be added), Bluetooth streaming, and compatibility with Pandora and Stitcher apps. The Spark is the first Chevy to offer a navigation system that's not built into the car, but runs via an optional $50 smartphone app called BringGo. It compresses the entire North American map database into a 2GB app that runs on the user's smartphone and essentially transmits the display to the vehicle system. New for this year, if you have an iPhone, you can use Siri hands-free through the system (using your smartphone's data connection, again). It's a smart solution and works well, although we don't know whether Spark owners will pay even $50 to get a more integrated solution or simply spend $12 on a bracket to hold their smartphones running Google Maps (or listening to the voice instructions with the phone tossed in a cupholder).
There's another Spark model, the Spark EV battery-electric version, but it's sold only in small numbers and only in California and Oregon. Its 105-kilowatt (140-hp) electric motor is powered by a 20-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack (a new and slightly lower-capacity pack for 2015 that delivers the same range and efficiency as its predecessor). Chevy quotes a 0-to-60-mph time for the Spark EV of just 7.6 seconds, and the EPA rates the electric Spark at 82 miles of driving range and 119 MPGe, making it the second most-efficient car sold in the U.S. this year.
- Fits four adults
- Cargo space useful
- BringGo app-based navigation
- Fits in the tiniest parking slots
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Gas mileage unimpressive for size
- Front seats are narrow, small
- Electric Spark EV only sold in CA, OR
- Pink, baby blue colors not for everyone