Much has been written over the past few years about the rapid change in consumer taste from cars to SUV and crossovers, and the subcompact car segment has been particularly vulnerable to this. New subcompact crossovers have been sprouting like mushrooms after a spring shower, and companies such as Mazda and Ford have opted to give up their subcompact cars in favour of new crossovers. Others such as Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Toyota have extended the product cycle of their current subcompact lineup way past their usual best before dates.
The Chevrolet Spark we have on hand this week is relatively fresh, as the current generation started in 2016. Our sample this week is the 2019 Chevrolet Spark 2LT, the crown jewel in the lineup, wearing a striking Orange Burst Metallic paint job. With proper proportions, sophisticated-looking projector headlights, LED daytime running lights, and some cleverly placed body creases, the Spark is a decent looker.
It looks more modern than many subcompacts in the market, which is not a hard thing to do, as many look rental-car-ish. The problem with the look of our tester, as you will have noticed right away and not be able to un-see after, is the presence of optional 15” black painted aluminum wheels with red inserts. It looks toy-like and very out of place on an orange car, and the package costs a mind-blowing $2,180 extra. Stick with the 15” wheels that come with the Spark 2LT without the goofy colours, please.
All Sparks come with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 98 horsepower at 6,200RPM, and 94 lb-ft. of torque at 4,400RPM. Our 2LT model is equipped with a CVT, and those who would prefer to row their own gears can do so with a manual on LS and 1LT trims. Don’t let the low horsepower figure fool you; the naturally aspirated engine is effective in moving the 2,312-pound Spark along in most situations. The CVT’s operation is on the noisy side, and its slow response demands patience from those who are in haste.
Due to its size, the Spark is an easy car to drive. Steering is light, and although response is not razor sharp, it is on par with everything else in its segment. There is excellent visibility out front, but the view rearward is a bit limited because of the small mirror. A rear vision camera is standard across all trims, and our tester comes with a rear park assist system to help drivers navigate any parking situation. It also was equipped with Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning, providing peace of mind for novice drivers who are considering the Spark as their first car.
The Spark has rated fuel efficiency of 7.9L/100km city and 6.2L/100km highway, right around average for the subcompact segment. We observed 7.4L/100km during our week of mixed commuting, therefore despite its small 34L gas tank, the Spark still managed close to 450km between fill ups. As expected, given its economy price point, regular grade gasoline is all that you need to keep the Spark going.
More often than not, when one hears economy, the expectation for interior appointments are automatically be lowered. Fortunately, for the Chevrolet Spark, it exceeded that expectation pretty easily. The interior layout is simple and functions are easy to operate. Our tester was equipped with jet black and orange burst leatherette seating surface that matches its exterior colour, and the steering wheel is also leather-wrapped giving it an upscale feel. The orange trim pieces brighten up the cabin to avoid looking monotonous like many of its peers.
Despite the Spark being one of the smallest cars in the market, there is a surprising amount of head and legroom inside. The front seats are comfortable, and we were able to quickly find a decent driving position. The back row has a fair amount of legroom, however thigh support is minimal and the thick C-pillar obstructs much of the rear passengers’ view.
The Chevrolet Spark uses the Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system controlled by the seven-inch colour touchscreen on the centre console. SiriusXM satellite radio is standard for the 2LT model, and it supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The latter is important as this essentially means drivers are be able to navigate using onboard GPS navigation, a feature that is usually omitted for the sub-$20K car segment.
So, we mentioned the Spark is in the sub-$20K segment, but the shocking truth is that our tester actually does not fit in that segment. The Chevrolet Spark 2LT starts at $19,095, and our tester was equipped with the 15” wheels for $2,180, Orange Burst Metallic paint at $455, and engine block heater for $150, bringing the as-tested total to $21,880.
That is a whopping $11,885 more than the $9,995 base price of the LS, and the price is our biggest gripe against the 2LT. It prices the Spark out of the subcompact segment, and buyers would be able to find compact cars that are similarly equipped for about the same money. For example, an all-new 2019 Mazda3 GX with optional Convenience Package would be $20,300, and the excellent Toyota Corolla L CVT starts at just $20,790. These cars offer way more refinement and comfort than the Spark can.
The 2019 Chevrolet Spark is a fine vehicle on its own. It is impressive to see how good cars have become overall, even down to the subcompact segment. The only problem is that once its price reaches close to $20,000, the competition becomes way fiercer, and there are excellent compact car and crossover offerings in that price range. We think that the Spark 2LT’s sweet spot would be around $15,000, where buyers will appreciate the long equipment list and city-friendly driving dynamics.