"The Chevrolet Spark fulfils its role as basic city transport, though rivals offer similar space and offer better value."
The Chevrolet Spark has bold looks designed to attract young buyers, and while it is certainly an improvement over the car it replaces, the Chevrolet Matiz, it does feel like it's trying too hard compared with some rivals, such as the Kia Picanto or the new Hyundai i10.
There's a choice of two petrol engines - a 68bhp 1.0-litre and an 80bhp 1.2-litre - with both returning an identical 55mpg in combined fuel economy. The Spark's small dimensions do house a reasonable amount of room inside, with just enough space to squeeze in five adults.
However, the boot is tiny and although the interior definitely looks good, it uses too many cheap, hard plastics – it's certainly not up to the same standards as the Volkswagen up!. The Spark comes in three specifications – entry-level LS, mid-range LT and top-of-the-range LTZ.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
Two four-cylinder petrol engines are available - a 68bhp 1.0-litre and an 80bhp 1.2-litre, with no diesel option on offer.
However, unless you really rack up the miles on the motorway on a regular basis, a car of this size doesn’t actually need a diesel, and both petrol models offer the same claimed combined fuel economy of 55.4mpg. CO2 figures are disappointingly high, however, at 119g/km – the Hyundai i10 offers free road tax thanks to sub-100g/km emissions, by comparison.
However, the insurance group for the Chevrolet Spark is low, and zero percent finance deals are available, so it's not a bad car for first timers. Experienced drivers should definitely look elsewhere in the sector.
Interior & comfort
Oh dear. While we accept that it can be harder to make a small car genuinely comfortable, the Spark really doesn’t come close.
The driving position is adequate, offering a good view through the large windscreen, and the seat is height adjustable – but the steering wheel isn’t adjustable, making it difficult for some drivers to get genuinely comfy.
In the back, leg and headroom is adequate at best, which is odd considering the car's high and boxy shape. The middle back seat is very narrow and barely usable except on extremely short trips.
The suspension isn’t bad, thankfully, soaking up enough bumps to make the Spark cushioned around town, but it's simply not as comfortable as most rivals, especially on the open road – there's loads of body roll when driving through the corners, and the engine noise is nearly unbearable when driving on the motorway.
So, if you only ever do slow, short trips, the Spark is fine. Anything more than 20 minutes, then we’d avoid it.
Practicality & boot space
Chevrolet claims that there's space for five in the Spark, but you really don’t want to try it for a journey of any length. The middle seat is really tiny, while the car is narrow and has small windows that make the rear feel claustrophobic – plus, there isn’t much shoulder room, either.
But it is good for zipping around town traffic and parking quickly. Just don’t expect to fit much in the 170-litre boot on those trips.
Thankfully, the standard-fit split-fold back seat folds down flat to expand the boot to a more useful 568 litres. The front is roomier and has an array of cup-holders, storage cubbies and a reasonable-sized glove compartment.
Reliability & safety
Chevrolet managed to jump into 20th position in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey's manufacturers rankings - coming from nowhere, having not made it into the top 30 in 2012. And considering its previous showing was last place in 2011, this shows some real improvement.
It did it with a decidedly middle-of-the-road performance in all categories – kind of damning itself with faint praise. But what's interesting is that it still didn’t get any cars into the survey's list of top 150, so there's no rank for the Spark.
Launched in 2010, the Spark's reliability record has so far been decidedly average – but even that is substantially better than the Matiz it superseded.
In terms of safety, the Spark was awarded only four out of five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests, which is a short fall from nearly all of its more modern rivals, such as the Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii, who all tend to get full marks.
One reason for this is that electronic stability control (ESP) is only an option on entry-level cars, though six airbags and ABS brakes are still standard across the range.
All Chevrolet cars come with a five-year/100,000 mile warranty, which should give some peace of mind, while fixed price servicing should keep running costs low. In the end, like most of the categories here, it's not bad, but not great either.
Engines, drive & performance
Light steering and easy-to-use controls make the Chevrolet Spark a breeze to drive around town. The 68bhp 1.0-litre and more powerful 80bhp 1.2-litre petrols are the only engines available, with no diesel or automatic gearbox options.
Ordinarily the lack of a diesel would be a big issue, but the Spark's lightweight body and small dimensions mean that the petrols return a reasonable mpg. But it's major failing is revealed once you get out on the open road – the engines have to be revved to within an inch of their life to generate any power, and they certainly make a big noise about it. That would be okay if the sound insulation wasn’t so ineffective.
Also, the steering gives the driver hardly any feedback, to the point that it can be unclear which way the front wheels are going.
It also takes too long to brake from speed. It's basically no real challenge to the VW up!, which is better to drive, nicer to be inside and just an all-round better car.
Price, value for money & options
The basic model, the 1.0-litre LS, comes with a four-speaker stereo and basic 13-inch steel wheels, but if you spend a little extra on an LT, then it adds air-conditioning, central locking and electric front windows. Top-spec LTZ models get a generous amount of equipment and accessories, including climate control, electric mirrors, a trip computer and steering-wheel-mounted controls for the stereo.
However, the LTZ's list price is pretty expensive compared with rivals of a similar spec, making the VW up! and Skoda Citigo much better value overall. All cars come fitted with six airbags, but electronic stability control (ESP) is an optional extra on all but the top-spec LTZ.