- Fits four adults
- Cargo space useful
- BringGo app-based navigation
- Fits in the tiniest parking slots
- 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
The 2015 Chevrolet Spark can actually seat four adults and manage frugal fuel economy; it's best of the minicars.
The 2015 Chevrolet Spark may shock buyers who think minicars are too tiny for all circumstances. If, that is, they can be persuaded to climb inside the smallest Chevy on the market. Turns out it will actually hold four adults capably, if not luxuriously, and comes with some neat advanced-technology features to boot. That may be why Chevy has had to boost its import numbers a couple of times on the Korean-made Spark, which was launched in the rest of the world as a mainstream vehicle back in 2009.
While it's exactly 3 feet shorter than the Chevy Cruze compact sedan, the Spark offers ample headroom for those four adults. It may be the best value among a growing number of competitors in the minicar and subcompact category that offers the most basic transportation. While it's inexpensive, the stylish (if somewhat stubby) lines of the 2015 Spark should banish any bad memories of the old "econobox" tin cans of the 1990s.
Competitors to the Spark, which is now in its third model year, include the underwhelming, underpowered Mitsubishi Mirage, which is just incrementally larger in some dimensions--and the only other five-door hatchback this small, which is to say, smaller than subcompacts like Chevy's own Sonic, the excellent Honda Fit, and others that include the Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris. Other Spark competitors are all far less practical: the two-seat Smart ForTwo, the soon-to-be-discontinued Scion iQ with its "3+1" seating, and the more stylish but also more pricey MINI Cooper and Fiat 500 ranges.
The proportions of the 2015 Spark hide its size, and it doesn't look as small as it is unless you park it next to something really big--a Chevy Suburban, say. Up front, the traditional Chevrolet twin-opening grille and big wraparound light units eliminate much of the snub-nosed look. 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.
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.
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 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).
That the Chevy Spark may be the best all-around value among its varied small-car competitors is a real testament to the little minicar, which sells in much higher volumes in India and Asia (where it's sometimes known as the Beat).
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. It's by far the most powerful Spark--and hence the most amusing to drive--with a 105-kilowatt (140-hp) electric motor powered by a 20-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. (A new and slightly lower-capacity pack for 2015 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.
2015 Chevrolet Spark
The 2015 Chevy Spark is a short, tall box on small wheels, but the motorcycle-influenced instruments add panache inside.
The 2015 Chevrolet Spark is the size of a minicar in length and width, but its secret packaging weapon is height. The five-door hatchback is fully 3 feet shorter than a Chevy Cruze compact sedan, so it's ideal for city driving and slipping into parking spaces that even subcompact drivers won't dare try.
But careful use of accent lines--including exaggerated wheel openings, a kicked-up window line, and headlamps swept back almost to the windshield--plus rear door handles hidden in black trim make the little Spark look less boxy and slab-sided than it is.The traditional twin-opening Chevrolet grille helps mitigate the snub-nose look, and a horizontal wind deflector extends the roofline over the rear hatch, adding visual length. Just don't park the Spark next to a Chevy Suburban, where its tiny size becomes apparent.
Inside, although the Spark offers real accommodations for four adults, it makes no efforts to look more upscale than it is. Points for honesty and unpretentiousness. We'd call it cheap and cheerful. The vinyl or synthetic cloth seats look like what they are, and the dash is composed of textured hard plastics. Still, the stylists have added visual flair by using body-color plastic accents on the dash and doors, recalling the painted metal found in economy cars of half a century ago.
The "motorcycle-influenced" instrument pod is small and stands proud of the dashboard, moving up and down with the steering column. Once you get used to its coarse digital readouts for speed and a few other metrics, it's easy and intuitive to use. The dash and console also have lots of useful storage bins and pockets and cubbies, feature that too often gets cut from cheap cars in the name of penny-saving. Higher-trim Spark LT models offer a 7-inch color touchscreen display in the dash, which on a car this small lends some punch to an otherwise very Spartan design.
Overall, the Spark's design is a step above what you might expect--and certainly has more flair and visual interest than, for example, the Mitsubishi Mirage, which pretty much defines "small, bland, anonymous econobox."
2015 Chevrolet Spark
The 2015 Chevrolet Spark's gasoline engine is far from speedy, but the low-volume electric Spark EV could be the hot rod of minicars.
The 2015 Chevy Spark is powered by the smallest engine General Motors puts in any passenger vehicle, an 84-horsepower, 1.2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder that provides throwback economy-car performance. The base Spark comes with a five-speed manual gearbox, and it's the best way to get the most out of the limited power. Drive the Spark aggressively, and you'll feel sporty while (mostly) keeping up with traffic.
Last year, a new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) superseded the deficient four-speed automatic transmission with which the Spark was launched in 2013. The CVT is a notable improvement, both in smoothness and in fuel efficiency, aided by an unusual "two-step" function that multiplies the range of available ratios by two different output ratios--giving the transmission a much broader range of speeds in a more compact package. The throttle mapping is good enough to hide most of the "CVT effect" in which accelerating causes the engine to rev to high speeds while the car slowly gathers speed.
In a test drive, a CVT-equipped test car essentially nailed the Spark's combined 34-mpg EPA rating for gas mileage. That rating applies to both the manual and CVT versions, which also share a highway rating of 39 mpg. The manual is 1 mpg better on the city test, though, at 32 mpg against the CVT's 31 mpg.
Then there's the Spark EV, the hot rod of the lineup, although it's available only in small numbers and only in California and Oregon. With up to 400 lb-ft of torque from its 105-kilowatt (140-hp) electric motor, it will spin the inside front wheel accelerating out of turns and deliver a 0-to-60-mph time of just 7.6 seconds, according to Chevy--far faster than the gasoline version. It's quiet, responsive, and its 82-mile range rating was confirmed during our test drives of the electric Spark. Among the smaller plug-in electric cars, the Spark EV is the best of the bunch: more enjoyable to drive than the Nissan Leaf, even more eager to be tossed around corners than the Honda Fit EV, and more coherently integrated than the aging Smart Electric Drive.
The Spark's small size is most clearly conveyed in its ride, which transmits almost every bump, pothole, ridge, and ripple when traveling on anything less than smoothly surfaced roads. There's never any crashing or jarring, but the ride is firm and the wheels and tires are small. Passengers will sense body roll--the Spark is tall--but the feel isn't bad through the electric power steering. The Spark's no MINI Cooper to toss around, but it's a joy to park and you'll find that with practice, it's quite the little urban warrior, changing lanes into spaces other cars wouldn't even attempt.
2015 Chevrolet Spark
Comfort & Quality
You might not expect it, but the 2015 Chevrlet Spark actually can carry four adults in reasonable comfort.
It may be a minicar on the outside, but the 2015 Chevrolet Spark has enough interior space for four adults--albeit sitting more upright than they might in a longer vehicle. The adult-sized rear seat (for two, only) is by far the biggest surprise from the smallest Chevy.
Up front, the seats are small and somewhat narrow for American-sized occupants. We'd have appreciated another 2 inches of rearward travel on the seat tracks, as taller drivers may find their knees brushing against the climate controls. You'll notice the added load if you carry four adults, but with a little negotiation between front and rear riders, it's entirely possible in the Spark--unlike the Fiat 500, MINI Cooper, and of course the two-seat Smart ForTwo or "3 + 1-seat" Scion iQ. Only the slower and less stylish Mitsubishi Mirage even comes close on rear-seat room.
Fold down the 60/40 split rear seat, and you get 31.2 cubic feet of cargo space. With the rear seat up, there's 11.4 cubic feet under the hatch, enough for 10 to 12 upright grocery bags or smaller boxes and bundles.
2015 Chevrolet Spark
The 2015 Chevy Spark is the sole minicar to be deemed a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS; it comes with 10 airbags.
Among minicars, the 2015 Chevrolet Spark is clearly the safest pick--and a recent safety test of new small cars underscored that point in a big way.
The Spark was the only minicar to receive a passing grade from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) in its recent crash testing of several minicar models. The IIHS gave the Spark its top rating of "Good" for moderate-overlap frontal, side, and rear crash tests, along with roof strength. More crucially, in the new and tougher small-overlap front crash test, the Spark received an "Acceptable" rating, just below "Good." Consequently, it's a 2015 Top Safety Pick.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Spark a four-star rating for overall safety, derived from four stars for frontal crash, five for side impact, and also an impressive five stars in the Federal test that simulates impact into a pole from the side.
Every Spark comes with 10 airbags and electronic stability control. Partly due to its truncated and upright back end, outward vision from the driver's seat is good. No rearview camera is offered, however.
2015 Chevrolet Spark
For a minicar, the 2015 Chevrolet Spark has a decent feature set; the optional audio, connectivity, and display system is excellent.
The standard-features list of the 2015 Chevrolet Spark is short. That's no surprise, given its low price and smallest-Chevy status. But choosing carefully can get some remarkable and unexpected features, and the upmarket trims are surprisingly well-equipped. For 2015, Chevrolet has added 4G LTE connectivity for its built-in OnStar functions, along with an available WiFi hotspot that comes with three months and 3 GB of data free.
All 2015 Spark models have power windows, air conditioning, a trip computer, a rear-hatch wiper, daytime running lights, automatic headlamps, and OnStar as standard equipment. The base wheels are 15-inch painted aluminum, rather than painted steel wheels with cheap plastic covers--well done, Chevrolet.
Where the Spark really stands out is its infotainment option, with an AM/FM stereo, a 7-inch touchscreen display running Chevrolet MyLink for connectivity, compatibility with Pandora, Stitcher, and TuneIn global radio, and of course Bluetooth streaming, a USB port and an auxiliary input jack. Satellite radio can also be added as well. If you have an iPhone, you can connect it to the Spark's display and use Siri Eyes Free voice recognition.
Rather than a built-in navigation system, the 2015 Spark offers buyers a $50 app called BringGo. The 2GB app contains the entire North American mapping and routing database, using the connected smartphone for processing power but transmitting the results into the display in the center of the Spark's dashboard. Whether it will prove a long-term competitor to Google Maps with voice commands from a smartphone in a bracket on top of the dashboard is open to question, but it works well and is a clever, innovative solution to the desire for navigation among an audience that simply won't pay $800 to $2,000 for a built-in system.
Beyond the base Spark LS model, the 1LT and 2LT represent the mid-level and top-of-the-line trims, respectively. The 2LT model gets such non-minicar features as heated leatherette seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and power-adjustable side mirrors with integrated turn signals.
Sparks are offered in two types of colors: plain (white, silver, black) and fancy (Lime Green, Techno Pink, Salsa Red, Denim baby blue). A small set of customization options available through Chevrolet dealers as well, though nowhere near the array offered for such style icons as the MINI Cooper and Fiat 500. All Chevy Sparks come with a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
2015 Chevrolet Spark
The 2015 Chevy Spark gets 34 mpg combined, not even 40 mpg highway, but the electric Spark is among the most efficient EVs sold.
It's hard to make very small cars very fuel-efficient, especially on the highway, where their poor aerodynamics use more energy to push aside air than longer, slipperier shapes. While the 2015 Chevrolet Spark is more economical than the average new car, its 34 mpg combined is lower than other minicars--though its performance and driving characteristics are undeniably better.
The 34-mpg combined rating applies to either version of the gasoline Spark, whether you choose the base five-speed manual gearbox or the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). The atrocious four-speed automatic offered only in the Spark's first model year, 2013, and its lousy gas mileage, are now history. Both of this year's transmissions are rated at 39 mpg highway, though the manual is 1 mpg higher on the city cycle--32 mpg--than the CVT version's 31 mpg.
The electric version of the Chevy Spark, however, new for 2014, is the second most -efficient vehicle sold in the U.S. It had the top slot until the launch of the BMW i3, which is rated at 124 MPGe against the Spark EV's 119 MPGe. (The MPGe unit, or miles per gallon equivalent, refers to the distance an electric car can travel on the same amount of energy from its battery as is contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.)
The Spark EV gets a smaller battery pack for 2015, using a new lithium-ion cell from a different maker, but both its efficiency of 119 MPGe and its rated range of 82 miles remain the same. Based on what we've seen in our Spark EV drives, that electric range is a realistic number and should be easy to achieve.