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Chevrolet's new Spark ignites a small revolution

November 15, 2011|By Susan Carpenter
  • The Chevrolet Spark is introduced at the L.A. Auto Show at the L.A. Convention Center.
The Chevrolet Spark is introduced at the L.A. Auto Show at the L.A. Convention… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

With gas prices stuck at $4 per gallon, some of the world's largest auto makers aren't just thinking small. They're going mini with low-cost, barely there vehicles designed for the fashionably frugal. Now Chevrolet is entering a category that's seen recent expansion with the Scion iQ and Fiat 500. Its new five-door four-seater, the Spark, makes its world debut at the L.A. Auto Show on Wednesday.

The North American version of the Spark is a high-mileage urban commuter designed to easily maneuver in and out of tight spaces. Targeting entry-level buyers, the tech-oriented ecomobile is for drivers who want the amenities of a larger car without the price tag.


FULL COVERAGE: L.A. Auto Show


The Spark is the first, and only, vehicle in this fast-expanding class to include a seven-inch color touchscreen. Similar to the compact Ford Fiesta, the Spark leverages smartphone apps for its navigation and infotainment, which includes Pandora Internet radio and Stitcher for news.

Fuel economy, however, is the main selling point here. While Chevrolet hasn't yet announced mileage figures for its 2013 Spark, they're likely to be in the mid-30s city, 40ish highway. Chevrolet spokeswoman Cristi Martabano Landy said city fuel-economy figures will be most impressive. Highway fuel economy will be "closer to other cars in the Chevy portfolio," she said.

Likewise, Chevy hasn't yet announced an MSRP, which Landy said will be priced below its $14,495 Sonic.

The Spark looks like a three-door hatchback, but it is, in fact, a five-door. The handles to the two rear doors are integrated into the C-pillar area to give the Spark a sportier look. An integrated spoiler over the rear hatch door also gives the car a touch of athleticism, while simultaneously improving fuel economy.

How sporty the Spark can truly be with a 1.2-liter, inline-four-cylinder, front-mounted engine remains to be seen, but Chevrolet is eking every last bit of performance out of its horsepower and torque figures, which it has revealed to the decimal. Horsepower peaks at 85.2, torque at 81.7 pound-feet. A five-speed manual transmission is standard; a four-speed automatic is available as an option.

Chevrolet says the Spark offers the most cargo and passenger space in the mini-car class. Still, the Spark's proportions are undersized. Weighing in at a svelte 2,269 pounds, the Spark is outfitted with 15-inch alloy wheels that would be equally appropriate on a Vespa. The front brakes are ventilated discs, but the rear brakes are vintage-style drums.

Recognizing that customers who buy into the mini concept don't want to give up their lives in exchange, Chevrolet has stuffed an impressive 10 airbags into the Spark, including driver and passenger knee airbags in the front. It's also equipped with antilock brakes, electronic stability control, a rollover sensing system, a collapsible steering column and OnStar, which automatically calls for help in a crash.

The car's look-at-me color palette might also serve as a crash deterrent. In addition to a traditional automotive palette of grays, blacks and silvers, Chevrolet is offering the Spark in new hues, with names such as salsa, jalapeno, denim, lemonade and techno pink. Those exteriors  are color-matched to the car's interior cabin, and ambient blue lighting in the door pockets only adds to the youthful, Spark-as-nightclub vibe.

A five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty sweetens the pot on Chevy's latest. Built in South Korea, the original version of the Spark has been available in Europe, Asia, Australia, Mexico and South America since 2008. Modified with different front and rear fascias on the exterior and an enlarged gauge cluster in the cockpit, the North American Spark will be available in mid-2012. A plug-in electric version is due one year later.

2013 Chevrolet Spark
Available: Mid 2012
Base price: Not yet announced
Powertrain: Ecotec 1.2-liter, inline-four cylinder, DOHC, variable valve timing, multipart fuel injection, front wheel drive
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic
Horsepower: 85.2 @ 6,400 rpm (estimated)
Torque: 81.7 pound-feet @ 4,200 rpm (estimated)
Wheelbase: 93.5 inches
Overall length: 144.7 inches
Curb weight: 2,269 lbs. (manual transmission) or 2,337 lbs. (automatic transmission)
Fuel economy: Not yet announced

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