We're fond of the Chevrolet Spark minicar; it's by far the best-executed of the several smaller-than-subcompact cars sold today.

But our fondness had been limited to the five-speed manual version; the four-speed automatic offered in 2013 was, in a word, awful.

2014 Chevrolet Spark 5dr HB CVT LS Steering Wheel

2014 Chevrolet Spark 5dr HB CVT LS Steering Wheel

Now we've driven a 2014 Chevrolet Spark fitted with the newly optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) that replaces last year's automatic option.

DON'T MISS: 2013 Chevrolet Spark: First Drive

We're pleased to report that over 325 miles of our usual test cycle--two-thirds highway and one-third stop-and-go city and suburban driving--it delivered an indicated 33.6 miles per gallon.

2014 Chevrolet Spark 5dr HB CVT LS Front Seats

2014 Chevrolet Spark 5dr HB CVT LS Front Seats

That pretty much nails its 34-mpg combined rating (30 mpg city, 39 mpg highway)--which now matches the five-speed manual rating, unlike last year's 32 mpg combined for the old automatic version.

And  we revved the engine of our test Spark pretty hard, often necessary in little cars to keep up with traffic.

Hard driving is also part of the fun of little cars. As the old race-driver saying goes, "It's more fun to drive a slow car fast than it is to drive a fast car slowly."

CVT: better than old automatic

But back to the new transmission for a moment. It's the same small CVT used in the Mitsubishi Mirage, with a "two-step" function that effectively spreads the range of ratios over two different output ratios--giving it a broad range of speeds in a more compact package than if the little two-speed gearbox weren't attached.

We didn't like the old Spark automatic because it seemed to sap what little enthusiasm the Chevrolet minicar offered from its 84-horsepower 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine.

Its strange shift points delivered so little power at certain speeds that--in a couple of cases--we felt the automatic Spark could be deemed unsafe to drive.

ALSO SEE: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV: First Drive Report Of Electric Version

The new CVT is better, though we'd probably still take the row-your-own fun of the five-speed manual gearbox. But U.S. buyers demand automatics, and the CVT is definitely a better car than the former automatic.

2014 Chevrolet Spark, Catskill Mountains, Apr 2014

2014 Chevrolet Spark, Catskill Mountains, Apr 2014

Other than that, we continue to enjoy the Bringgo mobile-phone app that links to the Spark's Chevrolet MyLink system and provides navigation and routing on the central dashboard touchscreen display, using the mobile phone as its brains.

Alerted every 8 seconds

For the first time in several different drives using Bringgo, however, the app crashed--twice--requiring us to restart the phone and the navigation system.

We also discovered that somewhere buried deep inside the app is an alert that broadcasts over the car's stereo system to warn the driver that he or she is exceeding the prevailing speed limit on that particular route.

We happened to be driving through New Jersey, where speed limit signs are not just ignored but laughed at--and we were late as well.

As a result, the Bringgo app warned us, "Speed Limit Exceeded!" every eight seconds.

Literally, every eight seconds. For the entire trip.

We didn't have time to pull over and filter through menus in an unfamiliar app, but let's just say that while we continue to like Bringgo, that message should be set to repeat every couple of minutes--not every eight seconds.

But we digress.

2014 Chevrolet Spark, Catskill Mountains, Apr 2014

2014 Chevrolet Spark, Catskill Mountains, Apr 2014


Compared to the crude, slow Mitsubishi Mirage, the aging, unpleasant-to-drive Smart ForTwo, the fun but fundamentally two-person Fiat 500, and the uninspiring Scion iQ, the 2014 Chevy Spark is stylish, comfortable, and cleverly designed inside.

And its four doors and very upright form mean four adults will actually fit inside. No kidding.

Our top-of-the-line 2014 Chevrolet Spark 2LT CVT in Lime green had no options, so with a mandatory delivery fee of $825, the bottom line on the window sticker was $17,210.

Final note: If you're shopping for a used Chevy Spark, we have to recommend that you avoid 2013 Spark models with the four-speed automatic.

Not only is it slow and unpleasant--bordering on unsafe, as noted above--it's also a one-year model.


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