2013 Chevrolet Spark: First Drive

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Yeah, we drove the pink one.

The 2013 Chevrolet Spark, the first Chevrolet minicar in many, many years, comes in a remarkable array of pastel colors, including one called Techno Pink.

One of two Sparks we tested yesterday came in that very distinctive shade; the other was Salsa (lime green). Other colors include Denim (pale blue), and Lemonade (pale yellow).

The little Spark isn't quite as small as the Mitsubishi i electric car we recently drove, but it's 3 feet shorter than the Chevy Cruze compact sedan--and 14 inches shorter than the Chevrolet Sonic five-door hatchback.

It competes with a growing set of minicars in the U.S. market, including the Fiat 500 (a three-door hatchback or convertible), the Mini Cooper (in a growing array of body styles), the electric Mitsubishi, and a pair of two-seat urban cars, the aged Smart ForTwo and the brand-new Scion iQ.

Against this competition, the Spark comes off quite well for interior space. You can actually fit four adult male humans into the Spark, with a bit of negotiation on front-seat position, and rear-seat passengers don't have to contort themselves to sit comfortably.

It's tight, don't get us wrong--and narrow--but it's tolerable.

In performance, however, there are two different Sparks. There's only one engine option--an 84-hp 1.2-liter four-cylinder--but while it comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox, you can order a four-speed automatic for an additional $950.

Don't do it.

2013 Chevrolet Spark shown at Los Angeles Auto Show, Nov 2011

2013 Chevrolet Spark shown at Los Angeles Auto Show, Nov 2011

Enlarge Photo

The 2013 Spark has one of the starkest differences between automatic and manual versions that we've seen in recent years. Our 30-mile drive, mostly in urban areas, didn't produce any performance data, and Chevy (perhaps wisely) hasn't provided any.

So while the five-speed manual is hardly a quick car, it can be hustled along to keep up with traffic if you wring the engine out.

The automatic, on the other hand, is a dog. Its first gear ratio is high enough that the automatic Spark is slow off the line, but we really didn't get what we felt was adequate power at any speed.

2013 Chevrolet Spark

2013 Chevrolet Spark

Enlarge Photo

It left us apprehensive about switching lanes, let alone overtaking.

We couldn't get any real-world gas mileage data in our 25-mile jaunt around New York City, but the five-speed manual Spark gets EPA ratings of 32 mpg city, 38 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 34 mpg--as good as anything in the minicar class.

The problem is that those numbers are slightly lower than several larger compact sedans, which benefit from longer bodies that give them better aerodynamics.

The automatic Spark comes in lower, at a combined 32 mpg (28 mpg city, 37 mpg highway)--along with higher price and worse performance, yet another reason not to choose it.

READ MORE: 2013 Chevrolet Spark - Review

Given its relatively tall profile on small 15-inch wheels and tires, the Spark handles fine in cities. The ride is quite firm--you'll be intimately acquainted with your local road surfaces, and their flaws--but it handled deep potholes without crashing or feeling unsafe.

2013 Chevrolet Spark minicar, New York City, Aug 2012

2013 Chevrolet Spark minicar, New York City, Aug 2012

Enlarge Photo

The electric power steering delivers adequate road feel, and noise suppression (beefed up for fussy U.S. buyers) is quite good for such a small car.

We had some other impressions, but those are the main points from our short NYC drive event yesterday.

The pink 2013 Chevrolet Spark that we drove the longest was the 2LT model with automatic transmission.

The base price for that configuration is $15,970, and with a mandatory destination charge of $750, the total price was $16,720.

At that price, we wonder how many buyers will think the Spark is a better value than the five-door 2012 Chevy Sonic hatchback, which gets 33 mpg combined with a far more powerful 138-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged four and a six-speed manual (or 31 mpg with a six-speed automatic).

Depending on specs, that Sonic may only run $1,500 more than the Spark. Which one makes more sense? Buyers will decide.

Still, we look forward to getting our hands on a 2013 Chevy Spark for a longer test, including real-world gas mileage numbers.

Just not the automatic, thank you.


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Comments (20)
  1. I'm surprised that Chevy went with a 4 speed auto tranny. I was considering the spark but there is nothing worse than a small car that doesn't feel zippy.

  2. Yes, amazing and very disappointing to see a brand new model introduced with just a 4spd auto trans. In fact most of the minicars mentioned have poor mpg w/ auto trans(even the 6spd auto trans of the Fiat). I think we'll be seeing more CVTs in these minicars for those buyers that don't want manual. The mini minicars IQ n Smart use those n get better combined mpg then the rest. I'd pick n recommend the manual in this model but no way for the auto trans.

  3. Why are 80% of EVs butt ugly? Everything but Tesla and Fisker (when they aren't on fire) is just so damn ugly.

  4. Why are you commenting on the wrong article?

  5. @Nick: The standard 2013 Chevrolet Spark is not an electric vehicle. There will be a low-volume, "compliance car" electric version of the Spark, which will be called the Spark EV.

  6. Nick is just throwing feces around guys...check his pic

  7. Isn't this a rebadged Daewoo design?

    I saw a pick one in my Chevy Dealer and I don't know why anyone would want that color beside Avon/Mary Kay saleswoman.

    Also, I agree that Sonic and Cruze are probably better buys...

    I wonder if this chassis will impact the upcoming Spark EV...

  8. Actually, I would prefer you took on the task of a longer test in an automatic version. Too often, the performance and economy specs are highlighting the manual tranny version where most are going off the dealers lots with automatics.

    Looking at Nick Willan's comment, I have to say the title did not call the car electric and the body of the article said the test car had a 1.2 liter 4 cylinder with a 4 speed automatic.

  9. @Mark: Fair point. Ideally, I'll try to test both. But no guarantees.

  10. Yikes: so a CVT-equipped '13 Altima equals the EPA fuel economy of the '13 Spark A/T version (city and hwy). Plus the Altima goes 0-60 in the low 8's.

    Don't get me wrong, I am a HUGE supporter of much smaller mobility solutions, and I think cars like the Spark are in principal a great idea. But if you're starting with far less mass, you should develop a matching propulsion solution that reflects significantly better fuel economy than a standard sedan!

    This class of car should minimally be in the 35/45 mpg class (using US EPA req'ts here) with a self-operating transmission.

    Bad Chevy, bad car maker! Go to your room and don't come out until your homework is REALLY done!

  11. @Clayton: This is, in part, because of what's necessary to comply with U.S. safety regulations, now by far the world's most stringent (and getting tougher).

    See, for comparison, our drive of the non-U.S. Volkswagen Up minicar, which does much better on mileage with a much smaller engine, in part because it's about 300 pounds lighter:

  12. Not sure how this relates to the Spark disappointment. I recognize that it's not 1995 anymore and the Geo Metro couldn't POSSIBLY make the cut. But both the Altima and the Spark have to pass equivalent tests, and the Spark does not experience a weight disadvantage. The base weight of the '13 Altima is 3108lb; the Spark (wtih A/T) is only 2269lb. The Nissan weighs more, it's faster, and fuel economy is virtually identical. For goodness sake, Chevy: you should be able to do 0-60 in 10 sec and still achieve SIGNIFICANTLY better mileage in an A/T-equipped vehicle that weighs 750lb less.

  13. Altima has a few more features that have been specifically tweaked or reworked for better mpg that the Spark does not: existing 4 cyl motor, CVT, and far better aerodynamics. These were good on the previous gen Altima but now they're great. Nissan tweaked the hell out of them, along w/ shaving some lbs, to be the current midsize sedan mpg champ. We'll see if it stays best when the new Fusion n Accord come later this year.

    And I think John mentioned that the small proportions for minicars limit the ability to obtain similar low coefficient of drag numbers as the bigger compact or other bigger cars. However,again, I'm with u that GM should hide in shame for this poor auto trans in the new Spark. Hopefully the CVT n diesel will come soon

  14. So, how come according to http://blog.caranddriver.com/2012-bmw-3-series-fuel-economy-ratings-out-328i-scores-36-mpg-highway/ the 2012 BMW 328i gets 36mpg in highway cycle? The BMW is a bigger and safer car than this Spark.

  15. @Al: Worth noting that the BMW starts at $36,500, or roughly 2.5x the cost of a Spark. I suspect the two are not cross-shopped very often. :)

  16. True, but the BMW is a better built and better engineered car. :)

  17. Exactly Clayton. GM should drop a small turbo diesel in the Spark to get those numbers u listed or even better. However, the combined mpg on this manual Spark is good(not great) n I'll think we'll find that CR n GCR testing might have actual hwy mpg in the mid 40's. But that's still not good enough or what the Spark's apt potential can achieve.

    BTW Clayton, you are off a bit on your mpg numbers w/ the new Altima n Spark auto. Check fueleconomy.gov for particulars on those n other models. Although, I think the Altima might get better mileage overall in real world conditions cause that little Spark 1.2L w/ auto is going to work like crazy most of the time....and of course the Altima is a much better car.

  18. Corrections: both the IQ n Smart car have better combined mpg then the Spark manual.

    Good article overall John. Perhaps this model will buck the trend for consumers avoiding manual transmissions in economy cars. The auto trans in the Spark really sucks.

    I think I remember reading an article about the Spark months ago that stated its going to have a good amount of standard equipment. Hey if it gets the good safety scores, decent reviews, and proves to be reliable...I have a couple friends that this little runabout might be good for. Small people with small parking spaces in primarily urban, suburban evirons might like it. Possibly great first car for teens too cause it will be harder to get a freaking speeding ticket.

  19. Another (UGLY) gasser that brings little to the innovation table and it only provides 34 mpg combined. Yawn! Ho hum -- they can keep it. What’s up with Chevy? Brother, are they losing their touch?

  20. Too bad this isn't a good little car. Of course, totally imported and at a price point just shy of the Sonic.

    Sonic is partly imported (sticker says transmission = Korea) but made in the USA. I'd much rather go and pay another $2K for a Cruze made with US-engine, US-build, Ohio manufacturing. Plus, they're nice cars too. Many buyers of these are leasing or perhaps buying - and the "monthly price" is how they buy. A Sonic or Cruze over a Spark will only be about $30-40 difference on a Lease.

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