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

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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

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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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