COURT AND SPARK
Chevy’s new mini car for 2013
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Thu, Oct 4, 2012
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Is America ready for a Chevy mini car? The boys and girls behind the bowtie hope so and have come a courting with their littlest offering ever. It’s called the Spark, and LA Car Editor-at-Large Doug Stokes was courted. By Doug Stokes LA Car was invited to hear about (and drive) the 2013 Chevrolet Spark sub-compact at, of all places, a way-cool, fashionable boutique hotel named ERWIN. And not just ERWIN, but ERWIN with the R turned around and facing the other way, in way-cool, fashionable Venice, California. And not just AT the hotel but on the hotel’s elegant fifth floor, which was serviced by a very small, very slow elevator. The travails that we automotive journos go through to get our faithful readers the story are often pretty forgettable, but this day was not, and the little car we found out about and drove honestly has a big heart. Our review-drive rallye course takes us through the west side, across Hollywood, down the Sunset Strip all the way to the ocean and past the Santa Monica pier back to where we started. I drove half the course in the base 5-speed manual model and the other half in the mid-grade model equipped with a 4-speed automatic.
We have a couple of quick takes for you. First of all (and you may already know this, but this is official): The S**t-box era of small cars once foisted on the American car-buying public by major manufacturers is over. The Chevy Spark is a very small car, but the packaging is only part of the good news. It is also a well-designed, brightly-packaged and actually quite useful mini-car*. The 50-something-mile drive that I took was set up by the Chevy folk to give us a local sites tour, take us out on the freeway, up some moderate grades, past the Hollywood Bowl and by Rudolph Valentino’s former home on Highland Avenue, and around some nice, flowing canyon roads (Sunset Boulevard from the ‘Strip to the Sea), none of above at all able to fluster either version. The clean ride was the real surprise, and then I got a look at the unitized chassis/body that’s under the cute candy colors on the exterior panels. The Spark’s got a stout frame that encapsulates the interior and allows the suspension to do the work that it was designed to do. We hit a bunch of bumps (this IS LA Car, after all) on this route and I was amazed at this car’s stability and poise. Looking at the spec sheet we find that this one has all the big car stuff like StabiliTrak and four-wheel ABS brakes (with assist) as well as six months of one of best safety devices of them all: OnStar.
Part of the attraction of the Spark gathering was the fact that many of the engineers and designers who had been on the build team were there with us to talk about the philosophy behind this smallest Chevrolet of them all. The consensus was that every car in a manufacturer’s line needs to be a good example of the type of machine that it’s supposed to be (be it sub-compact car or two-ton heavy-duty truck). No longer does a manufacturer have the luxury of building a car that makes the other machines in its line look good by comparison. Every single model in the line needs to star on its very own P&L sheet. That’s what Chevrolet has done with the Spark. It’s not intended as a loss leader, but a “leader-into” the Chevy family. This time, the idea was to make a good small car and build the Chevrolet reputation back from an economical (NOT “economy”) car on. With a 1,200cc engine that hustles out 84 horsepower, you’d think that you’d be shifting gears a whole bunch just to row this on through traffic. Not really. The Chevy engineers have got the horsepower/torque and gear ratio packed tuned very nicely to normal driving. You are in a small car (no way around that), but I never felt like I was in one of those anemic boxes of old, with everyone driving anything bigger than a baby carriage a mortal threat to my life. VVT – variable valve timing makes the most out of an engine—and with it appearing on the smallest, lowest-priced car in the Chevrolet line, the conversion is complete (next stop: direct injection for everyone).
How Chevrolet will succeed is anyone’s guess as they are up against a fair bunch of very good small compact and sub-compacts with strong reputations and reputable family names. The Spark: If you are looking for a stable ride, sensible price, small car fuel mileage, short-haul transportation for four**, and some short-nosed/cropped tail, spunky styling that sports some slick colors, step up to the cashier’s window, put a 20 (thousand dollar bill) on the counter, get a car and 3 or 4+ grand back in change. This car is compact, no lie, but it drives a bunch bigger than it looks. Chevy also refers to it as a World Car in that respect (they’ve been building and selling an earlier version off-shore for some time now) , I’ll stroll along. This one is Euro-narrow viewed from head-on, but two nominal-sized adults can sit side by side—not staggered—and not rub shoulders (unless they want to of course). There’s also a ton of cool techo stuff that’s built-in to the package (even at these prices), so that one never need relinquish the e-unbilical to the world of ones and zeros. Mylink and Tunein are part of something called Livio which has something to do with Bringo. Pandora and Zardoz are in there too. Sitting there with my eyes glazed and my mouth open, I was patted on the head and assured by the attendants (er, engineers) and told that it was all good out there.
This one makes more sense, feels bigger, and handles better than a couple of its rivals … Hopefully the Chevy dealers will know how and who to sell it to when it hit their showrooms very soon. -Stokes *The Chevy people want to call this one a Mini Car. The MINI (that BMW makes) notwithstanding (and already named that since the late 50’s), the name “Mini Car” sounds to these ears very much like “Toy Car” (you know: Messerschmitts, Isettas, Bonds, Dales, and that little one that even Penske gave up on … what was it called again? ) ** I think this is what we used to call a “2+2” the two people up front will need to be friends (if not downright “friendly”) where the ones who opt for the back seat (even if they are on the low side of “average ” ) will not be looking forward to any two-state trips to over to Grannies. For more information about Chevrolet products, go to www.chevrolet.com
SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2013 Chevrolet Spark Price: $12,245 (base) $13,745 (LT) EPA fuel economy rating: 32 city/38 highway miles per gallon Engine: 1.2 liter DOHC four-in-line with VVT Horsepower: 84 @ 6400 rpm Torque: 83 pound-feet at 4200 rpm Transmission: 5-speed manual 4- speed automatic (optional) Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Steering: Electric power-assisted rack and pinion Suspension Front: independent MacPherson strut Rear: compound crank Brakes 10.1-inch front vented disc and 7.9-inch rear drum, power-assisted, four-channel anti-lock brake system with brake assist Wheels and tires 15-inch five-split spoke siver painted aluminum and 185/55R-15 all-season Dimensions Length: 144.7 inches Height: 61 inches Width: 62.9 inches Curb weight: 2237 pounds (manual)