REVIEW DATE: 25 Feb 2010
The price is right for the entry-level Chevrolet Spark but how does the rest of the package shape up? Steve Walker reports.
In today's market, about £7,000 is the bottom end of what you can pay for a brand new car. There are all kinds of weird and (not so) wonderful models priced substantially below that but when you venture down through the bargain basement into the abandoned mine of affordability, you need to be ready to accept a whole lot of compromises. Rather than merely ticking the boxes marked 'four-wheels' and 'engine', Chevrolet's Spark appears to be a cohesive and well-rounded small car. With prices that pepper the £7,000 barrier, should the 1.0-litre version be grabbed with both hands or left teetering on the precipice?
Chevrolet's efforts to grow its profile in the UK market were hindered from the outset by its reliance on ex-Daewoo models. Trying to make the best of a cheap and not particularly cheerful model range that had already been intensively marketed as the lowest expense, lowest involvement way into a functioning new car proved challenging. Where the famous American brand has been able to put its own stamp on its products, the signs have been much more encouraging. The Captiva 4x4 and Cruze saloon both have something to be said for them and the Spark, a compact citycar with MPV tendencies that replaces the long-serving Matiz, is another model for which there are high hopes.
The entry-level engine option is usually worthy of consideration in citycars. If you're sitting in urban traffic jams most of the time or crawling along in search of a parking space, a lack of power isn't so much of a problem. The Spark's entry-level unit has a 1.0-litre capacity and four-cylinders unlike many units of its size that make do with three. It has 67bhp which is 12bhp less than the 1.2-litre unit that occupies the next rung up in the range. It's a modern powerplant with alloy cylinder heads, double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. A multi-port fuel injection system works to optimise the combustion process, getting the maximum from each drop of unleaded.
".it will be quite adequate for getting about urban areas"
Given the full beans, the 1.0-litre Spark will accelerate to 62mph in 15.5s which isn't particularly rapid but a 96mph top speed should mean it's up to motorway journeys if not overly comfortable on them. The Spark has a compact footprint, with the wheels pushed right out to the corners of its body for a tight turning radius of just five meters. The suspension is as you'll find in most modern small cars with a MacPherson strut independent set-up at the front and a torsen beam at the rear. The power steering, however, is hydraulic and gives greater feel than the electric systems more commonly used in citycars.
The Spark is 3,640mm long and 1,597mm wide, so it's less dinky than committed citycars like the smart fortwo or Toyota iQ but on a par with other models like the Ford Ka and Citroen C1 which still attempt to offer a realistic four person capacity with a usable boot. There's a definite MPV aspect to the Spark's shape, with its flat sides and high roofline helping to make even more of the space available. It's far from frumpy though, with huge headlights, a narrow glass area and a deep front bumper that curves around the car's nose blending with the bulbous wheelarches. There's plenty going on but the Spark is attractive and has a bit of attitude about it as well
The cabin area is roomy with good head and legroom for a pair of rear seat passengers and the option of squeezing in a third. A boot of 170-litres is ok for a citycar and with the seats folded, there's an impressive 568 litres available. Chevrolet has also built in some engaging features like the instrument cluster that sits on top of the steering column which takes its design inspiration from that of a motorcycle. All of the controls are illuminated in a fetching electric blue when the headlights are turned on and there's the usual array of storage features including a centre console with cup holders and a pot for MP3 players or mobile phones.
Pricing for the Spark 1.0-litre looks very attractive but tread with caution because the entry-level version is about as well equipped as a man climbing Everest in Speedos and a sombrero. With no stereo, manual windows and not even a clock, the main purpose of this model is attracting buyers into showrooms with its £7,000 asking price. The real value is to be had at Spark + level where air-conditioning, electric windows, central locking and a USB compatible four-speaker stereo are all included for a modest price increase. The LS grade is the next step up with body-coloured exterior appendages, a rear spoiler, front fog lights and remote central locking.
Safety is a Spark strong point with six airbags included even on the entry-level models. Various crumple zones have been incorporated into the design, there's a pedal retraction system to safeguard the feet of the driver in a front end collision, ABS brakes and seatbelt pretensioners. An ISOFIX child seat attachment is also thrown in on all models.
Running costs are obviously crucial in any citycar and the Spark's compact petrol engines should deliver the goods. Emissions of the 1.0-litre car are pegged at 119g/km and combined cycle economy is 55mpg. There are more economical small cars out there but the Spark holds its own and keeps upfront costs down. It should also hold its own against mainstream citycars in terms of residual values.
With its good looks and lots of interior space, the Chevrolet Spark is a strong contender in the citycar sector but it does rely on its low prices to compete with the class leaders. Those prices can be misleading because few buyers will be satisfied by the paltry equipment list included on the entry-level car but climb one or two rungs up the ladder and the value proposition is much more compelling. The 1.0-litre engine isn't the last word in performance or economy but it will be quite adequate for getting about urban areas.
The results below show the top SPARK deals on buyacar
|Chevrolet Spark 1.0i + 5dr hatchback|
|Chevrolet Spark 1.2i LS 5dr hatchback|
|VIEW MORE DISCOUNT SPARK DEALS|
|For SPARK 1.0|
|OVERALL||6.8 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||7|
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