We take the 2016 Chevrolet Spark for a spin in its natural environment on the urban streets of Toronto and it feels right at home.
The Spark is now in its fourth-generation and Chevrolet is pushing the technological envelope with it. The brand pitches its all-new five-door, four-seat mini-hatch as the 'Ultimate Mobile Device', which provides a connected car experience with a plethora of apps and communication devices that have never been seen in the mini-car segment. It's a tiny, inexpensive car that's received more of a mature, yet still fun look to appeal to first time buyers that are looking for the most value in a car.
Chevrolet believes that the Spark represents a car for the millennial generation, which typically cares more about the technology in the car than the car itself. It expects 68% of sales to come from people living in the cities, mostly big cities like Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Quebec City and Ottawa.
Typically, we would keep pricing details until the end of a report but for the Spark pricing is everything. Currently, it has the lowest starting price for any 2016 model year car at $9,995 before freight and taxes (although the Nissan Micra is expected to come in at $9,988 when its 2017 pricing is revealed).
Three trim levels are offered: LS, 1LT and 2LT, ranging in price from $9,995-$18,195. The base version still doesn't come standard with air conditioning, but it does offer a large heap of technology not previously seen at this price range. It's fitted with a seven-inch touchscreen, rear-view camera, OnStar, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and fog lights.The volume seller is expected to be the 1LT that starts at $14,195 and comes standard with remote keyless entry, power windows, satellite radio, steering wheel-mounted controls and 15-inch alloy wheels.
The all-new Spark has a sleeker appearance thanks to a slightly longer wheelbase and a lower roof height. This new styling creates a lower profile that helps to reduce aerodynamic drag. In addition, the wheels have been pushed to the edges of the fenders, giving it a more solid visual presence.
The Spark's looks have matured with swept back headlights that work well with its trapezoid-shaped “dual-port” grille. Strong body line cuts give the Spark a little character, while the hidden side door handles, similar to those found on the Hyundai Veloster, try to give it a little more “cool” - although I'm not sure they accomplish that goal. The thick and angular taillights that flank the trunk complete a nice, new makeup for the Spark.
The layout of the Spark is fun, colourful and modern. It all starts with a centred seven-inch touchscreen that has an icon- and swipe-based interface, but it was the all-white plastic design that surrounded it that caught my attention. It has a cool look to it with a spider-web design that brightens the cockpit and complements its grey interior.
Chevrolet boasts about the amount of technology available, especially in the base model. The Spark features a 4G LTE built-in Wi-Fi hotspot that is particularly useful when travelling to the United States. In addition, the Spark includes the trending Apple CarPlay and Android Auto apps. As long as you have an iPhone or Android-based cell, you can plug it into the car to access Google Maps for instant navigation on the touchscreen, as well as several other applications from your phone.
Even with the lowered roofline, there is plenty of headroom and a comfortable driving position. According to Chevrolet, it used higher quality materials from the seat fabric to the cushion foam to elevate the comfort level inside the Spark.
The lowered roofline may not have affected the front row passengers but it clearly hinders the unfortunate souls in the rear. I sat briefly in the second row and had my legs stuck to the back of the driver's chair. Headroom was manageable, but my head was close enough to the roof for me not to want to be stuck back there for long. And I'm of average size.
We were tasked with picking up items from IKEA to check out the versatility of the Spark. After purchasing a bookcase, two tables and a fake plant, I was impressed that everything did fit in, despite the bookcase protruding in between the front two seats. The split-fold is a little difficult, as you have to flip forward the seat-bottom cushion for it to be close to a flat position. Regardless, it manages to lug a lot within its little envelope.
Under the hood of this front-wheel-drive hatch is a new, lightweight 1.4-litre inline four-cylinder engine that jumps 14 horsepower from its predecessor to a total of 98, with its torque peak also moving up from 83 to 94 lb-ft. The base and 1LT models can be matched to either a five-speed manual or Chevy's continuously variable transmission (CVT). For the top-of-the-line 2LT the CVT is the only option.
“It drives like a car!” I made this joke when asked for my thoughts from the product planner, in reference to Chevrolet's characterization of the Spark as more f a technology device. In reality, the Spark may be diminutive in appearance, but it doesn't feel that way on the road. Rather, it's very much like a regular sedan. It gets up to speed reasonably quickly and the CVT seems seamless in its transitions. As for its handling, the Spark felt quite balanced, managing the many sharp lefts, rights and u-turns on this urban journey with ease. In fact, ease would be the perfect word to define its demeanour when navigating through city streets.
One of the Spark's most surprising attributes has to be its quiet ride. Chevrolet did a top-notch job on its NVH, as I hardly noticed any rattle or noise, even on Toronto's crackly roads. It was smooth on bumps and it didn't feel like you approached lift-off when traversing those IKEA speed bumps.
Like almost all new cars, fuel economy has improved in the 2016 Spark. Shedding 42 kg (90 lb) of mass contributes to the lower fuel consumption ratings, despite the increase in power. The CVT automatic version gets the best numbers with official ratings of 7.6L/100 km in the city and 5.7L/100 km on the highway. The manual version isn't far off at 7.8 and 5.8, respectively.
The Spark gets a number of standard safety features that include a rear-view camera, rear parking-assist sensors, OnStar technology and 10 airbags. More safety technology is optional with features such as Lane-Departure Warning, Side Blind-Spot Alert and Forward-Collision Alert all available.
Competitors were a strong talking point during Chevrolet's formal presentation. The 2016 Chevrolet Spark price and marketing plan are aimed directly at the segment-leading Nissan Micra and most of the talk centred around what you can get in the base model compared to the base Micra. Other acknowledged competitors include the Mitsubishi Mirage, Smart fortwo and Fiat 500.
Chevrolet has started to take orders for the 2016 Spark, which will be available as early as summer 2016.
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