Chevrolet introduced its Spark EV at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show, and, according to the company, it should be in dealerships by next summer. Fully battery-powered, it will apparently be part of a model-wide electric technology push on the part of GM.
Let’s hope it’s a more driveable proposition than the current internal-combustion Spark, which is on sale now. I’m hard-pressed to think of another vehicle that has so little going for it….maybe the Smart, and possibly the Scion iQ.
But before I get into it, a few stats on the Chevy Spark. Built in Korea, This sub-compact is powered by a 1.2 litre four cylinder that develops some 83 horsepower. It’s available as a four-door hatchback only and you can choose from either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. My tester, a middle-of-the-range 1LT, had the latter. Standard equipment includes things like front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS, seating for four, 883 litres of cargo room with the back seat folded, power windows, and with the 1LT, Bluetooth and Sirius satellite radio.
That leads me to my first complaint. This engine is awful. It’s loud, unrefined, and, well, gutless. GM claims that the Spark has “plenty of juice” for getting around town. I disagree. There’s no juice here, just some dregs. You’ve got to really give it some welly just to keep up and on the highway, it practically drowns out the radio. I guess I should be thankful it’s not mated to a CVT, which would be a nightmare.
The upgraded radio, by the way, is part of GM’s MyLink system and may be the worst designed sound system I’ve ever encountered. The layout and controls just don’t make sense, and I spent ‘way more time than I should have just trying to figure out simple things like changing stations and adjusting the balance and tone. A few years back, an acquaintance of mine had an accident because he was trying to adjust the radio settings in his new Audi, and the Spark is almost as bad. Just really poor design here.
But what really rubs me the wrong way about this one is the price. GM claims that the base model starts at just under $12,000. That may be true, but my tester, with a few extras such as the autobox, cruise control, tilt steering, air conditioning, and the aforementioned GM’s MyLink set-up, comes in at just under $18,000. And it doesn’t even have heated seats. For that, you have to step up to the 2LT version, which is almost two grand more. Listen: if I shelled out eighteen large – almost $20,000 after taxes and extras – for this tin can, I’d be one unhappy camper. You can pick up superior models from Honda, Hyundai, Kia and just about everyone else for less and you get more car for your money. Just for the sake of discussion, you could also buy yourself a two or three year-old Honda Accord or a new VW Jetta for about the same money, and be happier for it.
Indeed, even Chevy’s own Cruze, which is a superior automobile in every way, starts at around $15,000. You’d be much better off spending your money on a Cruze than a slapped-together puddle-jumper like the Spark.
I’m also kind of confused about the marketing of this one. GM introduced the Chev Sonic last year, which, although it’s a little pricier than the Spark, is much the same in design and purpose, but is a better car in almost every way. It’s got a bigger engine, more content, and is much more driveable and easy to get along with. From where I sit, these two are now competing against each other, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Maybe GM is just trying to flood the market.
All that said, there are a couple of bright spots for the Spark. Number one: it’s pretty good on gas. GM is claiming 7.1 L/100 km in town, and 5.2 on the highway, for a combined rating of 6.2 L/100 km. While manufacturer’s fuel economy figures are suspect these days and tend to be on the optimistic side, these are good numbers, if only slightly better than the Sonic turbo….especially in the city, which is where these two will spend most of their time. Number two: it is manageable and nimble in city traffic and is easy to park and man-handle around town.
But the Spark is being marketed as a low-cost city car with a high fun quotient. It’s neither. Rivals such as, oh, the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, and even the Mazda2 and Ford Fiesta are just as thrifty, if not moreso, more enjoyable to drive, more powerful, and feature better build quality .
Maybe the electric version will be better.
AT A GLANCE
Base Price: $17,945; as tested: $19,545
Engine: 1.2 litre four cylinder
Horsepower: 83hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 83 ft. lb @ 4200 rpm
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 7.1 city; 5.2 hwy. Regular fuel
Alternatives: Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Chev Sonic, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Kia Rio5, Fiat 500, Toyota Yaris, Smart ForTwo.