"The Chevrolet Spark fulfils its role as basic city transport, though rivals offer similar space and are more entertaining to drive."
The Chevrolet Spark is a big step forward compared to its predecessor the Matiz. The bold nose and angular shape are designed to appeal to younger buyers, but in reality the Spark looks fussy compared to rivals like the Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto. Power comes from a choice of two petrol engines, a 68bhp 1.0-litre and an 80bhp 1.2-litre, with both returning identical 55mpg economy. Considering how small the Spark is adequate, with room for five at a push – but the boot is small. And while the cabin looks smart, the hard, shiny plastics that it's made from feel quite cheap next to high quality rivals like the VW up!.
Light controls mean the Chevy Spark is easy to drive around town, and it feels eager and agile in stop-start traffic. There are two petrol engines to choose from, a 68bhp 1.0-litre and a more powerful 80bhp 1.2-litre, but no diesel and no automatic option. This isn’t too much cause for concern, though, as both offer impressive fuel economy thanks to a lightweight body and tiny dimensions. However, venture out of the city, and the car's shortcomings become clear. Both engines need to be revved hard to make the most of what little power is on offer, and they’re noisy when doing so. Sound insulation is poor, and the lifeless steering provides little feedback as to where the front wheels are going. Braking and is another negative, as the Spark takes longer to stop than its rivals. The VW up! is not only better to drive, its comparatively plush interior makes it a nicer place to spend time, too.
The large windscreen means there's a clear view of the road ahead, and the driver's seat is adjustable for height. That said, the steering wheel of the 1.0 model isn’t tilt adjustable, which makes it harder for the driver to get comfortable when behind the wheel. Take a seat in the back and you’ll notice head and legroom is only average for the class, which is surprising given the car's tall shape and boxy dimensions. There is a middle seat, though that's extremely narrow and near enough redundant on all but the shortest journeys from A to B. The suspension does a decent job of soaking up bumps, making the Spark cushioned around town, but not as comfortable as some rivals on the open road. There's lots of body roll in corners, and the noise from the engine is almost unbearable at motorway speeds, confirming this as car for short trips rather than long weekends away.
The Spark was launched in 2010, and reliability issues so far seem few and far between. It should be a lot better than the Matiz it replaced, though, which scored poor marks for reliability in the Auto Express Driver Power survey. In terms of safety, the Spark was awarded just four out of five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, falling short of more modern rivals like the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii – which both managed full marks. Electronic stability control is an option on entry-level cars, though six airbags and ABS brakes are standard across the range. All Chevrolets come with a five-year/100,000 mile warranty, which will give added peace of mind, while fixed price servicing should keep a lid on running costs.
Officially, there is space for five in the Chevy Spark, though you wouldn’t want to bench three across the back for any length of time. The middle seat is tiny, while the car's narrow width and tiny windows mean the rear feels claustrophobic with compromised shoulder room. That said, as a car for nipping in and out of city traffic and easy parking, it certainly fits the bill. Boot space is a major let-down, as the car's 170-litre capacity trails the Hyundai i10's 225-litre boot. The rear bench seat splits and folds to create more space, though you’ll find more room up front with a large array of cup-holders, cubbys and a decent sized glovebox.
Value for money
Go for the entry-level 1.0 LS, and you only get a four-speaker stereo and basic 13-inch steel wheels, but spend a little extra on an LT model, and you instantly add air conditioning, central locking and electric front windows. Top-spec LTZ versions have a generous amount of kit, including climate control, electric mirrors, a trip computer and steering-wheel-mounted controls for the stereo. However, the LTZ's list price is quite high compared to rivals of a similar spec, making the VW up! and Skoda Citigo better value like for like. All cars get six airbags, but electronic stability control is an option on all of them, bar top-spec LTZs.
There are two four-cylinder petrol engines to choose from: a 68bhp 1.0 and an 80bhp 1.2, but no diesel option. However, unless you’re doing lots of motorway driving, a car of this size doesn’t really need a diesel, and both petrol models have the same claimed fuel economy figure of 55.4mpg. CO2 figures are disappointingly high, though, at 119g/km, while the Hyundai i10 offers free road tax thanks to sub-100g/km emissions. However, the Spark's insurance group is low, and zero percent finance deals are available, making it an ideal car for first-time drivers.