- More grown-up looks
- Truly seats four adults
- Impressive active-safety features
- Fully modern infotainment
- Must be driven hard to keep up
- Gas mileage took a hit this year
- No safety ratings yet
- Marginal air conditioning
The 2017 Chevrolet Spark is one of the best tiny cars you can buy in America, with its laudable array of active-safety systems.
In a world with very low gas prices and inexpensive mid-size sedans, the 2017 Chevrolet Spark runs counter to just about every prevailing trend.
It's in its second year in a new body, and the Spark still intrigues us for doing a very good job at a couple of things: parking and zipping around urban frontiers. The Spark is the tiniest Chevy you can buy, and that means it's almost overlooked in the Chevy lineup of trucks, SUVs and crossovers. (It's right over there...hiding behind them, maybe?)
Three trim levels are offered: base LS, mid-range 1LT, and top-of-the-line 2LT.
We give the Spark a rating of 5.6, with its best rating, predictably, in fuel economy. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
Chevy Spark styling and performance
This second generation of Spark has more substantial and adult looks, slightly more power, and some sophisticated features found neither in other minicars nor its predecessor. From the outside, its snub nose gives more presence while accent lines break up what could be very slabby sides. The interior is no longer "motorcycle derived," and now has conventional instruments and a standard 7.0-inch touchscreen in the center of the dash.
To keep up with traffic in the small and underpowered Spark, you'll have to drive it hard; if you do so, it'll reward you with a compromise between a comfortable ride and decent handling and roadholding. The powertrain is a 98-horsepower 4-cylinder engine paired to either a standard 5-speed manual gearbox or an optional continuously variable transmission. The CVT will give you better gas mileage, but adjustments to EPA calculations this year have cut its fuel-economy ratings this year against last.
Spark comfort, safety, and features
The Spark offers the surprising ability to carry four adults inside a very small footprint.
The interior of the Spark can shock onlookers; it doesn't appear to offer much room, but its tall stance gives enough head room to accommodate four actual adults, who will sit upright and close, but not at all hunched over. Cargo space is acceptable for such a small car, though we expect many Sparks to live out their lives with the rear seat backs folded down some or all of the time.
The 2017 Spark hasn't received any NHTSA ratings at all, and only two from the IIHS, although its predecessor got the best IIHS scores among 11 different small cars. And it offers an array of optional active-safety systems (only on the top 2LT trim level) that are very rarely found on smaller cars, making it by far the most advanced minicar on the market.
The base Spark LS with manual gearbox starts below $14,000, including delivery, and every 2017 Spark comes standard with with power windows and door mirrors; air conditioning; a built-in wi-fi hot spot; OnStar with 4G LTE connectivity capability; and the MyLink display system. The CVT adds a substantial $1,100 to the sticker, however.
The mid-level Spark 1LT version adds power locks, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, satellite radio, remote keyless entry, and a theft-deterrent system. Above that, the Spark 2LT includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel, enhanced driver-information display between the gauges, rear park assist, and chrome body trim. A power sunroof is optional on either LT trim.
The Spark will never be Chevy's best-selling car, though the previous generation sold better than expected during its three years on the market. It was primarily designed for buyers in more than 40 countries around the world where a car this small provides basic family transport. For buyers in North America, it's more likely a city car or a first vehicle—and for those purposes, we'd say it's a good choice against competitors.
2017 Chevrolet Spark
The 2017 Chevy Spark has more presence than the previous model, and its interior is more adult this time.
The 2017 Chevrolet Spark is pretty much a tall box on a small footprint, but while the wheelbase gets incrementally longer than the previous generation, the car is about an inch and a half lower than it was through 2015.
We give it a baseline score of 5 for styling. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
Chevy's design team says the sheet metal of the Spark is "shrink-wrapped" over its cabin, with each wheel pushed out to the corner. Compared to the first generation, though, the Spark has a more defined hood and nose, with elliptical headlights that sweep back around the top corners of the hood, almost to the base of the windshield. Its vertical grille and the horizontal bar that divides it give the Spark more presence and stance than the previous model's wedge-shaped front. It's still a very small car, mind you, but it appears less toy-like and more adult now. The slabby sides are broken up by accent lines, and further visual interest is provided by taillight lenses that protrude from the body.
Inside, the Spark's dashboard and doors still use body-color panels on some versions, silver trim on others, but the center of the dashboard now has a more traditional center stack. A small but traditional instrument cluster features a new dot-matrix LCD display between actual gauges, and the center of the dash holds a 7.0-inch touchscreen display for the Chevrolet MyLink radio system.
2017 Chevrolet Spark
The best way to drive a 2017 Chevy Spark is hard, and that's really the only way to keep up with fast traffic.
Performance isn't what shoppers seek in a Spark, so it's no surprise it gets a subpar rating of 4 from our editors. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
The 2017 Chevrolet Spark is propelled by a 98-horsepower 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, driving the front wheels through either the standard 5-speed manual gearbox or an optional continuously variable transmission (CVT). You'll get better EPA fuel-economy ratings from the CVT version (although all ratings fell slightly this year), but manual Spark is more fun to drive enthusiastically.
And enthusiastic driving is pretty much a requirement for this small, not very powerful car. Europeans have known this for decades, and the Spark is a good example of the maxim, "It's more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slowly." Drive the Spark gently, and you'll be frustrated as traffic passes you on all sides. But use the full capacities of the powertrain and you'll find that with familiarity, you can keep up with most traffic and do just fine.
The fuel-efficient CVT will give you as much power as it can, but it suffers from the usual CVT sin of engine howl under maximum power, when the engine runs up to high speeds to generate as much torque as possible. Especially from a standing stop, or on sudden acceleration after loafing along, there's just not a lot of power there, but the CVT can be hustled enough to keep up with traffic—if you flog it. The manual doesn't have any more power, but it's more direct and those willing to shift for themselves will find it light in use and engaging in practice.
Handling and roadholding are typical of a small car that balances springs that are soft enough to keep it comfortable on lousy roads with sufficiently responsive suspension to make it engaging to drive. The Spark is no Volkswagen GTI, but it strikes a reasonable compromise between comfort and handling. And it's certainly small enough to park easily. Not as easily as a Smart Fortwo, granted, but it's shorter than the latest Mini Cooper—and holds a whole lot more inside too.
2017 Chevrolet Spark
Comfort & Quality
The 2017 Chevy Spark can hold four adults in adequate comfort, a surprise for its small size.
The Spark is a very small car, and that naturally factors into its rating here.
We assign it a comfort and quality score of 5. The front seats are more accommodating than you might think, and head room is good for all passengers. The back seat and cargo hold are what you'd expect: barely passable. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
The front seats look small, but for this driver they proved just big enough and bolstered in just the right places. The seats are slightly lower now, which Chevy says is "more engaging" and lets occupants sit "in the seats rather than on them." We'd concur.
Chevrolet also says the materials—everything from seat fabric to cushion foam—are of a higher quality, contributing to a feel that's less like an economy car than before.
Head room continues to be remarkable for something with such a small footprint, and four adults can be accommodated, in somewhat upright seating positions. And the tiny cargo bay will actually hold soft luggage despite its minimal appearance.
2017 Chevrolet Spark
The 2017 Chevy Spark doesn't have enough safety data yet for us to rate it, but it offers many of the latest active-safety features.
The 2017 Chevrolet Spark hasn't been fully rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which gave it the top score of "Good" for moderate-overlap front crash and side impact tests only. Ratings for the rest of the IIHS test suite don't exist yet. And the car hasn't been rated at all by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
That's why we don't assign it a safety score—but we will, once some data is published. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
Chevy maintains the latest Spark's body shell is stronger and more robust than before. And it has something of a track record: the previous generation of the Spark was one of very few small cars to be named an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The 2014 Spark was the sole vehicle in a test of 11 small cars that received a rating of "acceptable," due to its good performance on the new and tougher IIHS small-overlap frontal crash test. Many of its competitors did considerably worse, receiving "Marginal" or "Poor" ratings.
The 2017 Spark stands out from competitors in the same price segment, including the Mitsubishi Mirage, for its level of standard and optional safety equipment. Both a rearview camera and rear parking-assist sensors are standard on every model, as are no fewer than 10 airbags. And various new camera-based optional safety systems, which are very rarely found on cars this small, are offered as options, including lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitors, and forward-collision alert.
2017 Chevrolet Spark
The 2017 Chevy Spark is decently equipped in base form, and offers some options that competitors in this smallest segment don't.
The Spark earns a score of 6 for features. It's decently equipped for a car with such a low price, but doesn't offer much in the way of frills. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
All 2017 Chevrolet Spark models come standard with power windows and door mirrors; air conditioning; a built-in wi-fi hot spot; OnStar with 4G LTE connectivity capability; and the MyLink display system with an icon- and swipe-based interface like those of smartphones or tablets. The base Spark LS with manual gearbox starts below $14,000, including the mandatory delivery fee, although the CVT—likely to be a popular option—adds a substantial $1,100 to the sticker.
Above the base car are two versions of the higher LT trim level. The mid-level Spark 1LT version includes power locks, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, satellite radio, remote keyless entry, and a theft-deterrent system. Beyond that, the top Spark 2LT trim adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, enhanced driver-information display between the gauges, rear park assist, and chrome body trim. A power sunroof is optional on either LT trim, and the electronic active-safety features are options only on the top 2LT model.
One side note: the Spark's relative lack of power can show up in unexpected ways. On a sunny, hot, and humid Detroit day, the air conditioning barely kept up even when it was set to maximum output and its highest fan speed. With all vents pointed at the single driver, it was tolerable, but we seriously question its ability to cool four adults under the same circumstances.
2017 Chevrolet Spark
The 2017 Chevy Spark loses a point on our green scale due to new EPA calculations that lower its fuel-economy rating.
The 2017 Chevrolet Spark is one of the most fuel-efficient cars in Chevy's lineup that isn't a hybrid or a plug-in electric car. But its fuel-economy ratings have fallen from the previous year's car, even though the cars are essentially identical. That's because the EPA changed some of the calculations in a way that affects the most fuel-efficient cars slightly more than those with bigger engines and more performance to spare.
We give the Spark a green score of 8. (Read more about how we rate cars this year.)
The CVT version of this year's Spark gets slightly better EPA fuel-economy ratings, at 30 mpg city, 38 highway, 33 combined, but that's down from last year's 33/41/36 mpg—meaning that the Spark loses a point in our green rating. Similarly, the 5-speed manual version for 2017 is rated at 29/38/33 mpg, against higher 2016 ratings of 30/41/34 mpg.
Note that the larger (but pricier) Honda Fit also took a hit in the ratings, falling from last year's 36 mpg combined for its CVT version to 34 combined this year—or 32 mpg for its 6-speed manual version. The two cars are thus rated about the same, but the Fit is not only larger inside but far more flexible.