The Chevrolet Spark is the smallest Chevy ever made, a relatively tall box on a tiny footprint and a champion at parking and zipping around the city. All Spark models come with a 1.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine. There are no electric or hybrid versions in the 2017 Chevrolet Spark lineup.
Spark was designed for global sales. It started out with good timing, selling well in North America during its first three years from 2013-2015. But now, in the second year of its second generation, its road in the U.S. gets steeper against affordable gasoline and reasonably priced midsize sedans.
However, Spark offers features not found among competitors, such as the Mitsubishi Mirage. Every Spark has a WiFi hotspot, 10 airbags, a rearview camera and rear parking sensors, as well as safety options that are rarely found on cars like this, such as lane-departure warning, blind-spot alert, and forward-collision alert.
But mostly, it actually seats four adults.
With a name like Spark, it’s natural to assume Spark is an electric car, but GM stopped making the Spark EV late summer 2016 and so far we have heard nothing about a new electric-powered Spark coming out. Buyers who want a small electric car should check out the new Chevrolet Bolt EV.
The 2017 Spark is powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 98 horsepower. Buyers can choose between a 5-speed manual gearbox or continuously variable transmission. The CVT gets a tiny bit better fuel mileage, but it’s not a particularly great feeling CVT. We prefer the 5-speed manual because it brings more life to the small engine and more fun to the driver.
Fuel economy for a 2017 Chevrolet Spark with the manual 5-speed transmission is an EPA-rated 29/38 mpg City/Highway, or 33 mpg Combined city/highway, while the CVT rates 30/38 City/Highway, or 33 mpg Combined.
Spark ACTIV is the same car with a new appearance package, upgraded interior and expanded feature set. Here the word ACTIV describes the intended buyer, not the drivetrain, which is identical to that of the standard Spark, a small four-cylinder gasoline engine. No hybrid powertrain here. Spark ACTIV rates 29/37/32 mpg with manual, 30/37/33 with CVT.
Thanks to a strong body shell, the Spark gets good crash ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This second-generation Spark gets the top Good score from the IIHS for moderate-overlap front crash and side impact crash.
The 2017 Chevrolet Spark LS comes with a choice of 5-speed manual gearbox ($13,000) or CVT ($14,100), and it comes standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, WiFi hotspot, OnStar with 4G LTE connectivity, Chevy’s MyLink info system, 10 airbags. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Spark 1LT ($14,825) adds power locks, cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, satellite radio, remote keyless entry, and a theft-deterrent system. Spark 2LT ($16,325) features leatherette upholstery, leather-wrapped steering wheel, enhanced driver-information display, rear park assist, chrome body trim. All are available with CVT. A power sunroof is optional.
Spark ACTIV ($16,070) includes Chevy MyLink with 7-inch color touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, rearview camera, SiriusXM, OnStar, remote keyless entry, and special exterior trim. It’s also available with CVT ($17,170).
You wouldn’t think that a snub nose would add presence to a super-small car, but it does on the Spark. And the character lines on the sides aren’t gratuitous, as they are on some cars, they’re appreciated on the Spark. Chevy says the sheetmetal is shrink-wrapped over the chassis, with the wheels pushed out to the corners to give the tiny car a cheeky stance.
Elliptical headlamps sweep dramatically around the corners of the hood, almost to the windshield, bending back from a vertical grille with a horizontal bar. The taillamps stick out from the body as well. Everywhere you look, when you look, the Spark gives you attitude.
The driver of this second-generation Spark is greeted by a grown-up dash with a small cluster of conventional instruments and dot-matrix LCD. There’s a traditional centerstack and seven-inch touchscreen for MyLink radio in the center of the dashboard, that uses a swipe-based interface like a tablet.
The dash and doors use body-color panels on some models, silver trim on others. The interior materials, for example the fabric seat upholstery, feel better than economy.
The front seats are low, but well bolstered. Spark’s height provides remarkable headroom.
Cargo space is decent for a tiny car, with the rear seatbacks folded down; behind the rear seat it’s marginal at best. Spark holds more inside than a Mini Cooper.
Even set on high maximum, we found the air conditioning can’t keep up on a seriously hot day.
The underpowered Spark works hard to keep up with traffic, but it’s the kind of car that’s rewarding and even fun to put through the paces.
The powertrain can take it, especially with the light and engaging 5-speed manual gearbox. The CVT does what it can, which isn’t enough; it makes the engine scream at high revs under full acceleration, which is often needed.
The ride is comfortable and the handling and roadholding decent. The Spark is no VW GTI, but like any good small car, the springs are soft enough to be forgiving on choppy pavement, and the suspension responsive enough to be engaging.
If it’s a tiny car with a manual transmission that you want, there’s no reason not to consider the Chevy Spark. It’s fun, practical, and inexpensive.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports from The Car Connection.