Einstein was right. Time is relative. It wasn’t that long ago we were extolling the virtues of nine-passenger SUVs that could tow the equivalent of a small planet or deftly climb the highest mountain in an uncharted territory. Of course, we rarely mentioned the less-than-impressive fuel economy numbers because it didn’t matter. Fuel was relatively cheap, and we were all gainfully employed.
Today, it’s a different story. Fuel costs are astronomical, and over 10 percent of us are pounding the pavement looking for a paycheck. We need to save and pinch wherever we can. When it comes to what we drive, small, efficient, and affordable are the key motivators. Cue the 2013 Chevrolet Spark, a vehicle that fits those categories well.
The Spark resides in the mini-car category, which is one step below a subcompact, so you know it’s small. There are only a few competitors to the Spark: The Fiat 500, Scion iQ and Smart fortwo, but that doesn’t mean it will be by itself for long. Rumors are that other manufacturers have plans to bring in their own offerings, depending on fuel prices, battery technology breakthroughs, and if all the planets align. But Chevrolet has one now, and the engineers and designers gave it as much thought and attention as they would to the next-gen Corvette.
The Spark is tiny-puppy cute. There’s not a lot of real estate to work with, so the designers gave it a fast front end, with oversized, swept-back headlamps, decently raked windshield, and a standard roof spoiler to make it stand out from the competition. To give the Spark more presence and personality, exterior colors are vibrant and “flavorful,” to use a Chevy word. Some of the color choices are Jalapeño, Salsa, Lemonade and Techno Pink, which is only for those who are not afraid to be noticed. One feature the designers excelled at was making the four door look like a coupe. The door handles are hidden high in the C-Pillar, but are still easy to operate. And the fact that there are four real doors for entry and exit is a huge advantage versus the competition.
The Spark beats its competition in both wheelbase and overall length. It’s three feet longer overall than the Smart fortwo, two feet longer than the iQ, and five inches longer than the Fiat 500, which means passengers won’t have to fold their body parts like origami to ride along.
Inside, the Spark also wanted to make sure you didn’t mistake it for anything else. The instruments are motorcycle-inspired, the plastic trim is as brightly colored as the exterior and the seat fabrics match the spirit and attitude perfectly.
As far as roominess goes, the Spark does provide decent leg and head room. Our partner during the press drive was a strapping 6-footer, and we had him get comfortable in the driver’s seat, then see if he could sit behind himself. He was able to do it, although his knees were to the sides of the driver’s seat. He admitted about a half hour would be all he could take, but sometimes that’s all you need to take along your friends to dinner or an event. If the front-seat passenger is oversized, you will be touching his/her leg during manual shifting, so it’s a great way to get closer to your friends/date/family!
When it comes to carrying things instead of people, it’s best to fold down the second row seats; drop down the seatbacks after folding forward the seat cushions. The cargo area is only 11.4 cubic feet with the seats up, but a respectable 31.2 with them folded.