THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Terrific value, good fuel economy, lots of features
- What’s Bad: A bit underpowered, cheap interior plastics, upper trims expensive with options
There are a lot of one-size-fits-all vehicles out there – crossovers being the most obvious example – in response to a growing pressure to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive market. Then there are those that serve a specific niche of the industry, and make no pretensions of reaching outside their segment.
If you’re looking to buy a new sports car, or off-roader – go elsewhere. There’s nothing to see here. But if an honest and simple runabout is in your budget, you could do a lot worse than the Chevrolet Spark. It proudly wears the mantle of Canada’s least expensive car, while delivering great fuel economy and a long list of standard features.
Chevrolet’s 4-door subcompact first arrived here in 2012 and quickly became a contender for Canada’s Cheapest Car, a fiercely-fought 3-way battle between the Spark, Mitsubishi’s Mirage, and the Nissan Micra. They may belong to the “cheap and cheerful” category, but the competition between these pint-size punters is anything but cute. In this segment, where price is the bottom line, the Spark’s $9,995 buy-in makes it the only new car in Canada under $10,000. At that price, you’ve got to roll-your-own windows and row-your-own gears, but in return you get a standard backup camera, Bluetooth, wifi hotspot, 3rd generation MyLink connectivity with a 7” screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, OnStar, traction control, and 10 airbags. The $10,995 Micra is admittedly more fun to drive and has a slightly bigger cargo hold, and the $10,998 Mirage is the overall fuel consumption winner – but neither one delivers as much content for so little.
For 2019, the Spark has been lightly refreshed, with a revised front grille and headlights, available chrome trim, new colours and wheel options, two illuminated USB ports, and some updates to its safety and connectivity technology.
Our tester, a 2LT trim in Orange Burst Metallic, is as bright as a new copper penny. Remember those? Not so endearing are the bright red wheel inserts, which look like they belong on a plastic kid’s toy and were rather embarrassing for a middle-aged grownup to be tootling around town on. They’re also a staggering $2,180 option. It’s otherwise a cute little car, with sharp creases, and large, geometrically slashed headlights.
Inside, the playful cabin features faux-leather upholstery trimmed with orange accents, which is repeated on climate vents. A lot of thought has gone into moulding a stylish space using budget materials. There’s an abundance of plastics, but they’re arranged in interesting shapes and a variety of textures. The ovoid centre stack blends “piano black” (a fancy word for glossy plastic) surfaces with faux brushed-chrome trim. It houses a small but serviceable 7” colour touchscreen, and a trio of easy to use climate control knobs. There’s no centre-console storage, but there are two cupholders and a small cubby ahead of the shifter, and space in the door pockets. Instrumentation is simple; right of the speedometer, tachometer and gas, there’s a small information screen relaying fuel consumption, direction and range. There are no mysteries – everything is ergonomically simple.
At this trim level, the Spark 2LT has more features than we have space to list. Notable additions include: Sirius XM, heated leatherette buckets, keyless passive entry and push button start, steering wheel controls, air, power windows, driver information centre, rear cargo security shelf, power sunroof, chrome trim, rear spoiler, power heated side mirrors. Safety features include: forward collision alert, lane departure warning, low speed forward auto braking, rear park assist, traction control, hill start assist.
It’s a pleasant little car to drive, but with less than 100 horsepower, there’s no denying that the Spark is a bit underpowered. This becomes evident during highway merging – especially if loaded with passengers – when the buzzing engine and groaning CVT broadcast how hard the little car works to get up to speed. Fuel consumption is rated at 7.9/7.1/6.2 and during the week I averaged 6.7L/100 km.
But for the urban dweller, the Spark is delightfully easy to manoeuvre through busy traffic and narrow streets. It handles well in most conditions with a comfortable amount of body roll, though it becomes unsettled over deep potholes. Front seat comfort is good, and there’s a towering amount of headroom and visibility afforded by the tall roofline. Rear passengers get less legroom, but it’s tolerable enough for two adults.
There’s no available Navigation system, but by linking my phone to the onboard 4G LTE hotspot, I was able to use the Apple CarPlay app without having to use my own data.
My tester also had $2,785 in options, which included the aforementioned painted wheels, $450 for the orange paint scheme, and another $150 for an engine block heater.
At just over $19,000 before options, our 2LT test model is twice the price of the entry-level LS manual. For the budget buyer, the LS Manual is equipped with enough features to make it an attractive value proposition. But let’s be honest – most people don’t want a manual transmission anymore. Those buyers will have to pay $14,295 for an LS CVT, at which point it makes sense to pony up another $1500 to get the 1LT CVT, which adds air conditioning, Sirius radio, cruise control, power windows, heated mirrors and keyless entry. For $15,895 before freight and taxes, the 1LT CVT Spark is still cheaper than the starting point for the similarly equipped Hyundai Accent, or Honda Fit and would be my recommended pick of the Chevrolet Spark lineup.