The 2013 Chevrolet Spark misses being the shortest car ever sold as a Chevy in the U.S. by just an inch or two.

But the five-door hatchback is by far the most modern minicar Chevrolet has ever offered.

And it represents a daring foray into very small cars by a brand better known for its Impala full-size sedan and its massive Silverado pickup truck.

The little Spark comes in some, errrrr, unusual colors: Denim (pale blue), Lemonade (pale yellow), Salsa (lime green), and Techno Pink (yeah, lavender pink).

But get past the colors and you find a modern minicar of the sort that's sold as a first car throughout large portions of the globe, where buying a car may take 10 years of family savings.

The 2013 Chevrolet Spark sold in the U.S. is hardly some developing-nation oxcart, though.

While it's 14 inches shorter than the subcompact Sonic hatchback, it's got no fewer than 10 airbags, handles well in urban settings, and will seat four adults (though not five) with some horse-trading on seat position for at least short trips.

The 2013 Spark offers just one engine option: a 84-horsepower, 1.2-liter four-cylinder that comes standard with a five-speed manual gearbox.

The Spark isn't the single greenest car sold by Chevy--that would be the Volt range-extended electric car--but the EPA rates the manual version at 34 mpg combined (32 mpg city, 38 mpg highway).

That's as good as all but one non-hybrid gasoline four-seat car (a specific Nissan Versa model), much less one with a base price under $13,000.

A four-speed automatic is available as an option, for $950, but we don't recommend it. The automatic makes the Spark significantly slower under most circumstances, and knocks combined gas mileage down to 32 mpg.

The 2013 Chevy Spark also offers one of the smartest infotainment options we've seen; the 7-inch color touchscreen, available with the Chevy MyLink system, that operates on a "smartphone, dumb screen" principle.

This lets Spark drivers plug their smartphones into the system to use the phone's processing power, while providing a larger touchscreen than the handheld device.

A navigation app called BringGo, available for a one-time $50 fee, gives the smartphone all the functionality of a full vehicle navigation system--without having to build it into the car.

BringGo app, in 2013 Chevrolet Spark

BringGo app, in 2013 Chevrolet Spark

The Chevy Spark range will also include a battery-electric model for 2014, although that model doesn't qualify for this year's Best Car To Buy Award.

While the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV is a limited-production "compliance car" that will be sold in only a handful of states, it's by far the most powerful Spark in the range.

The Spark EV's electric motor puts out 100 kilowatts (134 hp) of peak power and a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque, giving it quick acceleration and making it an excellent urban street fighter that you can also park in tiny spaces.

We nominated the gasoline Chevy Spark for the 2013 Best Car To Buy Award because it's small, modern, and clever--and offers a new alternative from a home-grown automaker for minimal motoring.

While it may be the kind of car you think is too small, driving it might possibly convince you it's really all the car you need.

Watch for details on our other Green Car Reports 2013 Best Car To Buy nominees over the rest of this week.


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