Newcomer aims to set the ultra-competitive small car sector alight
Chevrolet’s new Spark is a step forward for the brand’s small car programme, but against tough competition, it doesn’t make a big enough leap. It’s pleasant to drive, if not as refined as some of its rivals, and offers decent space. The styling lets it down inside and out, though, while the range of engines isn’t versatile enough to be trulycompetitive. And at nearly £10,000 for the 1.2-litre LT model, it’s expensive.
With bold colour schemes, racy detailing and a distinctive interior, Chevrolet’s new Spark is hoping to ignite interest among young drivers.
Inspired by the popular Beat concept car, the supermini brings high expectations – it promises to stand out from the crowd, and offer a new beginning for Chevrolet.
Unfortunately, what might have looked good on the sketch pad hasn’t translated so well into production. Where the concept was neat and stylish, the roadgoing car’s design is fussy and clumsy.
The headlights have become much larger and more bulbous, while the 15-inch alloys on our top-spec 1.2 LT model are lost in the arches.
Adopting a trick first employed by Alfa Romeo in 1997, our car’s rear door handles are hidden within the window frame. It’s a neat touch, but we wish Chevrolet hadn’t used such a large expanse of cheap-looking black plastic. In fact, it’s so big, it restricts the view from the side windows for back seat passengers.
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At the rear, things improve slightly. The tail-lights have a stylish design, and there’s an exhaust shroud, which gives the impression of a large built-in tip – although it houses a much smaller diameter pipe inside.
There’s plenty to catch the eye around the cabin, and it’s here that the newcomer is at its most successful. The centre console is attractive, and the audio and climate control systems are well finished. However, the switchgear is really fiddly, and the stereo distorts at high volume.
What really stands out, though, is the main instrument cluster. It’s designed to replicate the set-up found on a racing motorbike, and certainly looks different. However, it doesn’t mix well with the rest of the interior. Overall material quality is another letdown. The steering wheel, in particular, is wrapped in a cheap-feeling plastic.
Silver or coloured trim is employed throughout the cabin, depending on what spec you choose. In our opinion, the best option is the gloss piano black finish, which gives a much more grown-up feel.
Under the bonnet, thereis a choice of 1.0 or 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, both mated to five-speed manual gearboxes. The smaller of the two is more impressive, offering better refinement at the top end – an area of the rev range you’ll become familiar with, thanks to the unit’s peppy power delivery.
Around town, both cars feel sprightly and willing, but venture out on to the open road, and they soon struggle to keep up with fast-moving traffic. Plus, while the gearbox is relatively smooth when changing ratios, it is let down by a long throw.
Driven with vigour, the Spark provides decent grip, but it can roll disconcertingly. The nose will wash wide quite abruptly if you push too hard. Despite the steering wheel’s lifeless feel either side of centre, it weights up well and provides adequate feedback.
Ride quality is adequate, but it’s nothing to shout about, and could be more supple over broken surfaces.
The new Spark is the best the US manufacturer has got to tap into the lucrative small car sector. But it ultimately fails to deliver on its promise – and is more of a damp squib than a firecracker.
Rival: Hyundai i10 The i10 is more spacious than the Chevrolet. Plus, it’s better equipped, has a higher-quality interior and offers a more grown-up driving experience. In top-spec form, it’s also a cheaper proposition.