By on August 12, 2011

If you have a pulse and a willful ignorance of the local speed limit, you’re probably not interested in the Chevrolet Spark. If you’re a media-savvy hipster who’s on Facebook sixteen hours a day, you’re probably not interested in the Spark, either. If you’re a techno-geek or an eco-geek, you’re probably still not interested in the Chevrolet Spark.

If you need something to get you from point Alpha to point Beta and aren’t willing to pay too much, you might be interested in the Spark. But only after all the alternatives have been removed from your short-list as being too sensible. And even then, a lobotomy might be required to help you make up your mind.

That’s a shame, because the Spark isn’t really that bad.

The Spark competes in a super-mini class that’s largely ignored in the United States simply because of the lack of motorboat-towing power and decent-sized cupholders. The old Daewoo/Chevrolet Matiz that GM’s global division has been peddling around is even worse than the norm, with a cabin two sizes smaller than the competition and barstools stapled to the floor in lieu of actual car seats. Crash-safety is only noteworthy in the fact that at one time, it scored the infamous “zero stars” on the EuroNCAP tests.

The new Spark is a completely different vehicle. For one, it scores a commendable four stars on the EuroNCAP (missing the fifth for lack of stability control). Unfortunately, they’ve dumped the classic lines of the Guigaro-penned Matiz and replaced it with a deformed, head-shrunken Cruze.

Like the Cruze, it’s the roomiest in its class by a few hair-widths, with legroom more subcompact than super-mini. The seats are still two sizes too small, but they’re comfortable, at least. There’s enough trunk space for about a week’s worth of groceries, and cubbies for oodles of odds and ends. There are even cupholders big enough for Big Gulps.

The Spark tries to pull a Mini by having the instrument gauges mounted on the steering column, but the steering wheel obscures the top of the speedometer and the tiny digital tachometer doesn’t seem to sync up to the engine. The rest of the cabin is nice, though the body-colored trim is tackier than a Dodge Caliber’s. To note: the shiny black cladding around the side mirrors and the hidden rear door handles is pretty pitiful, even for Chevrolet.

On paper, the 1.2 liter engine provides more than enough power and acceleration to satisfy compact owners looking to downsize. Chevrolet claims a 0-62 time of 12.1 seconds. But in reality, you’d be lucky to get within a second of that time. It suffers from the same issues as the 1.8 Cruze, namely a lack of mid-range punch and a pronounced wheeziness near redline. The five speed manual gearbox is well-mated to the meagre power, but finding third is an adventure, hitting fifth is a chore, and finding reverse requires an instruction manual. The mix of rubbery shifter, short gear ratios and laggy tachometer makes overtaking on the highway more exciting than it really ought to be.

On to the good stuff: The Spark drives with some verve. The chassis balance is great, with good body control and composure. While understeer is the car’s default setting, the Spark responds well to throttle-lift and trail-braking. The turning circle is incredibly tight, yet a slow steering ratio keeps it from feeling darty at high speeds. Though it’s not quite Mazda2 keen, the steering wheel actually feels like it’s connected to the front tires, making for a relatively pleasant driving experience.

None of this comes at the expense of the ride, which is supple and absorbent. Even at speeds in excess of 80 mph, which is as fast as you can go without a tail-wind, the Spark feels as stable as a compact car, with minimal wind and road noise. I wish I could say the same about the engine, which sounds ready to explode at higher revs. Despite the mill’s shortcomings, it’s pretty economical, reaching 35-40 mpg in mixed driving. Not at 80 mph, obviously, but hey, you can’t have everything.

I won’t talk much about amenities and gadgets, because a lot can change by the official launch, sometime between now and the twelfth of never. Maybe GM is waiting for everyone to forget the Spark’s debut as the gold-toothed, jive-talking, racist-stereotype “Skids” in “Transformers”. Considering that this abomination of a movie marketing tie-ins has been immortalized in a line of even uglier toys, that may take a while.

Shame, as the Spark is a good little car with virtually no competitors on the US market. But the longer GM waits to release it, the more likely it is that the Spark’s Korean competitors will get there first and ruin the party for the spunky little Daewoo.

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80 Comments on “Review: 2011 Chevrolet Spark 1.2 (Global-Spec)...”


  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    It’s kind of cute in a startled Squirrel just realized somebody is sneaking up on him kind of way.

    Now, it’s been said before and I’m not going to deny it, Jane Fonda called. She wants her headband back.

    • 0 avatar
      obbop

      “It’s kind of cute in a startled Squirrel just realized somebody is sneaking up on him kind of way.”

      A sentence that was a joy to read and envision.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      ‘Startled Squirrel’ would have been an entirely appropriate name for the Spark (or, at least for its styling).

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      Squirrels understand their purpose in life.

      This vehicle doesn’t. The company that produces it doesn’t either.

      If GM made shoes, their Spark would be a flip flop manufactured by Apple computers of recycled water bottles for people with no toes. They would base their decision on a need to find work for their computer company, a need to appear environmental, and a hope that no one would notice the lack of toe room. To offset the apparent poor quality of the Spark, someone would paint them Artic White believing it would appeal to an Eskimo market.

      If GM made shoes, we would be asking why everyone at GM went shoeless.

      The Spark is the fart produced by a group of geniuses who don’t like cars, or the people who drive them.

  • avatar
    Howler

    Ugliest car ever made… period! Someone a few days ago was making reference to the fact that one cant buy an inexpensive car that doesnt look the part, this defines that concept. Glad to see GM proudly upholding the namesake Sh;t Box!

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    Is there some kind of manufacturers’ conspiracy going on that all their inexpensive cars now must be made as ugly as possible? The first-gen Yaris comes to mind here.

    At least it has the speedometer in the correct location. A center-dash-mounted gauge cluter is a non-starter for me, which eliminates a number of smaller cars from consideration.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      No, it’s just really difficult to make a car in these proportions (length, roof height, cheapness) that isn’t hideous. The Fiat 500 gets away with it because it’s “retro”, which just means that it’s been hideous for so long that everyone is used to it.

      Chevy needs to sell this a couple grand cheaper than the Aveo/Sonic, and they need to put a little more engine in it, and then I could see it moving units in the North American market. If they pull a Scion iQ and sell it for the same price as a Cruze, well, no.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I would say that the Fiat 500 also compromises more utility for its styling, which is completely affected anyway, considering it is a FWD econobox dressed as an old RWD econobox. Italian New Beetle, basically.

        The proportions that make a tiny car roomy may be awkward, but it doesn’t help the Spark that it has every awful trend scarred into its sheetmetal: stupid arched roof, random rear door cutlines that don’t suit rear wheel opening, frenched in hatchback with tiny back window, ‘hidden’ rear door handle, blistered clear turn and tail lights with chrome bezzles. All the stupid ideas of the day squeezed onto the surface of a little bubble of a car.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      I think there must be some sort of auto design edict for the lowest-price market demographic that says they have to have the most radical styling clichés possible to offset having to drive a bottom-feeder vehicle. I guess the theory is to have a cheap car that doesn’t look cheap so as to sell better.

      Personally, I’d like to see a small car with a simple, practical, two-box design with a minimum of ‘flare’, but I suppose it wouldn’t sell very well.

  • avatar
    dave-the-rave

    Test drive this, then buy a Sonic and feel like the king of the world.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    It seems like there’s a ‘barrier’ at 40 mpg that’s very hard to break. Not sure I would consider this for a commuter when I could get the same mileage in an Elantra or some other similar sized, nicer car. Let’s be realistic, there’s only 2 reasons to buy this car: if it’s really inexpensive or gets fantastic gas mileage.

    Is it a case where they used a low-tech engine that’s ‘good enough’ in order to hold the price down?

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      “It seems like there’s a ‘barrier’ at 40 mpg that’s very hard to break.”

      It’s a consequence of providing enough height and width to allow two 6′, 240 pounders to sit upright side by side in a car. Going much beyond 40 mpg with those constraints requires lots of aero manipulation and something other than a conventional gasoline drivetrain.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    The obscured speedometer that moves as a unit with the obscuring steering wheel is exactly the sort of innovation I’ve come to expect from GM.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      It doesn’t move with the steering wheel, it’s just mounted on the column.

      Of course, the steering wheel is, y’know, round, so the top of the speedometer is always obscured anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        My writing wasn’t perfectly clear, but it should have been obvious that I meant the gauges move with the wheel when the steering column is adjusted. With the wheel and gauges mounted separately, you can usually tilt the wheel to a position where the gauges are unobstructed. Not so when they’re co-mounted to the steering column by someone who didn’t think to pick the position of the gauges on the basis of visibility.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        I did not assume that the steering column was adjustable!

        I’m guessing that they initially had the speedometer a bit smaller, so that it wouldn’t be obscured by the wheel, and then some jackass higher up demanded that it be larger and more prominent, or something. Or maybe the steering wheel was slightly larger and then that failed crash tests. Or something; in any event it smacks of a last-minute “get the design done already, we have no time!” change.

        The steering column mount is an interesting solution to the problem of “make a single dashboard mold that will work for RHD and LHD markets both”, though. I think that I prefer it to the “put all of the gauge clusters dead center” approach that they sometimes try.

    • 0 avatar
      tikki50

      who cares its pretty obvious the general driving public doesnt look at gauges anyways, if you really want drivers look at the gauges you’d better find a way to have those facebook posts show directly next to the speedo. Other than that, they drive the car to just about empty and thats about it.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Could this thing be any uglier?

  • avatar
    tikki50

    so tell us how you really feel about the car, geez. If there’s no other car in it’s class it should be a winner right, what about the yaris, fit, dont they compete in this segment?

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    To me every thing Daewoo makes is crap, from appliances to electronics and of course cars. Aveo languished in last place on every single comparison against its competition, while H/K got better, Daewoo just did not and I don’t think this Spark will be able to keep up with its competitors from Japan or Korea

  • avatar
    NN

    Please don’t bring this to America. Any sort of improvements in the Chevy brand that GM has worked for will be squandered. Small cars can be done right, but this is not done right, only cheap. I hope the ship bringing them over from Korea sinks.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Agreed, Chevy desperately needs to avoid falling into the crappy small car trap yet again. It seems like this thing does have potential, give it a drive-train transplant and some new sheet metal and it might be worth thinking about. I kinda like the interior, even the tacky body-colored trim.

    • 0 avatar
      Bryce

      Since Daewoo build ships thats always a possibility

  • avatar
    GarbageMotorsCo.

    Still chuckling over the size of the headlights.

    Government Motors should use those on the next (2025?) Impala.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    GM confirms Chevrolet Spark minicar is headed to the U.S.

    It’s coming, so get ready. I’m interested to see if they’ll be able to keep the price down – it costs less than $12,000 in the UK (£6995) – because as the author notes, it’s built to a price. The Smart and Scion iQ are two examples of very (very) little car for a lot of money.

    Also, the vast majority of people who left Transformers 2 with any solid brain matter left probably neither knew nor cared what real-world, not-yet-on-sale-in-the-U.S. cars those racist robots were based on.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Just what Avis needs for its LAX rental fleet!

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Yeah, that’s going to be hilarious. “Um, when you said your base price was for a ‘compact’, I pictured a Cruze, or maybe a Sonic. This is, um, a bit more compact than I wanted.”

      “We can upgrade you to our ‘small midsize’ Chevrolet Sonic sedan for an additional $75 per day!”

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        In a month and a half from now, I’m gonna find out, too!

      • 0 avatar
        Rental Man

        No Filet Mignon on the dollar menu?

        If you booked an Economy car in the US the rental companies should find a tiny Eco Box to stuff you into. This would be great edition as the small nameplates keep on growing with every generation. If you want to guarantee a decent sized car like a Corolla, Sentra, Cruze or Civic BOOK that class. Stop hoping the penalty box is gone and then complaining about getting exactly what you selected and looking stupid in front of your traveling friends / Family.
        BTW this is exactly what basic transportation looks overseas and there still may be classes lower then this car out there.

      • 0 avatar
        Patrickj

        @Rentalman
        Rental car size categories are almost infinitely changeable if a s**tbox is what the person behind the counter wants to (or has to) give you. As far as I can tell, booking a full size is required to assure one of getting a Corolla/Sentra sized car.

        I’ve been told with a straight face twice in the past year (both times by Hertz) that a Nissan Versa was a compact or midsize car.

        The second time, the counterwoman took mercy on me once she saw me in person and found me a Mazda 5.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        At the moment, I think the Aveo is about the bottom of the rental barrel. There may be the odd Rio, Fiesta or Elantra around, but generally the Aveo is the penalty box of choice. This car represents an opportunity to make a year old Aveo look like a Fusion.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    It is just as ugly and cheap as anything else made this size.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      What else is this size? The Fiesta, Aveo/Sonic, Mazda 2, Fit, Rio, Elantra, Versa, Yaris, and Mini are all a size up. It certainly doesn’t look as well made as an iQ or as stylish as a 500. I suppose it is as attractive and high quality as a Smart car. Yippee.

  • avatar
    amac

    If Chevrolet had any interest in making a micro car they wouldn’t just rebadge another crappy Daewoo and call it a day. I’ll take the 500′s retro styling over this thing anytime.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Congrats to Daewoo for being the first (that I’ve seen) to stretch the headlights back for the entire length of the hood. Yeah, they cheated with some black plastic, but can we just give them the prize, call it good, and go back to normal headlights now?

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      I thought it ran into a can opener and it needs to go to the hospital to have those gashes stitched up!

      Question: What’s the price of steel compared to plastic?

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    Drives with verve, chassis balance is great, responds well to throttle-lift, ride is supple and absorbent, feels as stable as a compact car, a relatively pleasant driving experience. But it’s a Chevy, so from TTAC’s perspective, the car is for morons (“a lobotomy might be required”?) As schizophrenic a review as one could possibly write, except that it’s TTAC writing about a GM product. Things haven’t really changed much at this site in the last few years.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Alex, I was kind of thinking the same way. The review made it pretty clear that it was NOT a Lexus, but came away reasonably impressed by it for being what it is. I’m no Chevy fanboi…far from it, but dang…

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I’m thinking the only cure for this sucker would be the 2.4ltr ecotec. Then at least you could blow the doors off the guy’s who are laughing at you for driving that silly little thing.

  • avatar
    Advo

    Suddenly, the rebellious side in me is interested in this just to stick it to all the car snobs out there.

    I wonder if GM can use that angle to flood the roads with them.

  • avatar
    niky

    Not in the article because there wasn’t space:

    1. The test unit I had had a non-adjustable steering column. Thus to get the hand and foot position right, you had to sit in a position that perfectly obscured the speedometer. A tilting column would help, but I’ve got to call them like I see them.

    2. Built-to-a-price is right. These things compete in a class that’s big in India. So big, in fact, that two of its strongest competitors (from Suzuki and Hyundai) are built there.

    3. Add to transmission woes some really soft engine mounts, which will introduce a lot of non-dragsters to the term “wheel hop”. A funny thing to have on tiny 175mm wide tires. You really have to gun the engine to get a good launch, but on small cars like this, doing ridiculously long burnouts is fun.

    4. To add: Whoever designed the speaker mounts and sound system should be congratulated. I’ve never heard crisper, fuller sound from a car with four “tweeters” before this. They’ve cleverly integrated the rear speakers into the tonneau cover, which allows them to use the hatch space as a resonator, and the front speakers bounce off the windshield. Why other manufacturers muck about with door-mounted speakers is beyond me.

    —–

    Fuel economy on that driving cycle was much better than a Yaris or Fit, but I’ve heard tell of some competitors that can get well over 50 mpg (Suzukis, mainly).

    —–

    Is it a good car? Compared to a Yaris, definitely not. Compared to what else you can get at the price and size point, it’s about as good compared to them as the Cruze is compared to its competitors. Meaning to say it’s got great amenities and a great chassis for the class but the drivetrain is pretty so-so.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      What do you think they’ll try and sell it for in the US?

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      Given what we have to pay, it’d be about the same price as the outgoing Accent (with similar legroom, though the Accent hatch definitely has more space), probably $1-2k less than the current one.

      But if they produce it domestically there, they could probably knock another $1k off sticker.

  • avatar
    Nick

    I am convinced that sometime in the next year or two someone will build a car that is completely illuminated, with only a little metal flourish on each corner.

  • avatar
    devilsadvocate

    So we’ve got a botched facelifted Fit in the front and a squished Versa in the back with a lawnmower engine under the hood…what’s not to like? As bad as the Aveo is, it looks positively beautiful compared to this. Suzuki, please bring us the Swift and show everyone how this class of car is supposed to be done!

    • 0 avatar
      Bryce

      Dont get to excited about a Suzuki Swift I had one as a loaner Horrible car noisy slow and not comfortable and lousy roadholding in the wet it was almost the same size as the Citroen I was having repaired but only a tenth of the car to drive

  • avatar
    Joss

    Da da British police car. Weak just like them english ‘mall cops,’ that can’t handle the rioters. Nice and tall for bobbie helmets and nice and narrow for lack of guns and no respect.

  • avatar
    niky

    The Swift is one class higher (and pricier). It competes against the Yaris, Fit and the Fiesta.

    Nice as the new Swift is (great chassis, still, better transmissions, more space), it’s not the Godlike supercar Swift-deprived markets think it is. The Mazda2 is more than a match for the Swift, and the Honda Fit still blows everything in the class away in terms of space… though I wish Honda would lay off the happy pipe every time they give it a facelift.

  • avatar
    Zombo

    Where is Silvy ? Surely this thing is much uglier than anything sold under the Ford brand . Looks like a Yaris with a botched facelift !

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Exactly. Surely this thing looks waaaaay more ridiculous than the Ford Ka.

      (The thing looks so much like the Ford Ka that I would have trouble distinguishing the two were it not for the badges.)

  • avatar

    This car is realy ugly. Before it was Daewoo Tico. After daewoo was bought by chevrolet.

  • avatar
    obruni

    if you want a good size comparison, this is about the same length as the last Mini Cooper (the current Mini is 3 inches longer than the Spark).

    remember back in 2007, when GM polled American consumers on which small car design they should use…the Beat, Groove, and Trax?

    well this is the Beat, which took over 50% of the votes.

    this is also a huge leap over the Matiz, which Top Gear said “it has the street cred of a limping donkey”, with its 18 second 0-60 time.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I’ll reserve any comment on the car’s styling until I see one in the flesh, so to speak. Considering I live about 90 mins. from the US production site, I should be seeing them fairly soon.

    One thing that does stick out in my mind, is that we are so used to seeing 20″ wheels on compact cars from the factory these days, a car like this with 14″ wheels, the wheels look positively tiny. But it is a concession to actually retaining interior space, as opposed to devoting that space for wheels & tires that may never be fitted to the car.

    Having said that, I would like to see one, before I condemn it for being ‘different’ to my North American eyes. This is what the emerging world drives, my car would be a limo in those countries.

  • avatar
    PintoFan

    The headlights are clearly too large, as are the taillights. Beyond that, I don’t really see any reason to complain about the exterior. or the interior. I have a feeling that the author’s issue with being able to see the speedometer is more a function of their particular height than any real design “flaw.”

    The real challenge here is whether or not GM will be able to sell consumers on the idea of a car truly smaller than a subcompact. If it has a whiz-bang marketing scheme behind it, as well as a sub- $11k pricetag, then it just might work.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @PintoFan: I think you’re correct in your assessment of the marketing and pricing; in the US at least, we buy our cars by the pound. Bigger is better and possibly cheaper. This thing has to scream ‘value’ from the rooftops.

      I could see my college-age kids buying something like this as a first new car (with warranty), as opposed to older used car. But I think the starting price would have to be reaaaalllly inexpensive for the younger folks to buy.

      The bad thing is that young folks coming out of school now are usually saddled with a lot of debt, and obviously makes it hard for them to afford anything new. Added to that is the fact that most of them aren’t interested in driving (they don’t care about cars as much as their cell phones) GM may end up with a bunch of deal seeking graybeards buying this car, ala Scion xB.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Wow, a lot of comments on such an unpopular car! Here is the thing: With the way Chevy prices have been going on thier other cars, I predict you will see these selling for the magic $9995, which is going to put it on a lot of people’s radar. It has 4 doors and a proper back seat, modern (yet strangly proportioned) styling, and a decent looking dashboard. At $10k, I would consider this before the Scion iQ that we were all commenting on a few days ago.

  • avatar
    niky

    I’m still miffed that the Beat won that contest. I voted for the Trax myself, as something so weird would be awesome to see on the street (just as weird as the Juke, but 100% less Quasimodo.

    Speedometer issue is not about height, it’s about length. Unless you recline back 45 degrees, there’s always some part of the speedo that will be obscured. This Euro/Asian market car’s steering rake seems designed for 5’2″ drivers… or for regular drivers with apelike appendages…

  • avatar

    At least it’s a small turd

  • avatar
    360joules

    At least a turd is tapered at both ends…

  • avatar
    Marko

    Those rear door handles look like something from a first-generation Nissan Pathfinder. Not really “hidden” and not something that looks very modern in 2011, if you ask me.

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  • avatar
    Ewald

    So I just bought a 2011 model 1.2L with 40 000km on the clock. Not so impressed, and I can no longer return the vehicle. The ride is a lot harder than expected, the fuel consumption is not as advertised and the overall build quality of the vehicle is horrendous.

    I drove a 1995 Hyundai Accent 1.5 with almost 300 000km on the clock before this Chevrolet Spark, and that was a quieter and smoother ride! Overall, I’m very unhappy that I bought this car and I won’t be buying a Chevrolet again. The MP3 player SKIPS over songs (where in the world have you heard that?), the road noise is excessive and the overall feeling I get from the car is that it’s got more rattles than my old car.


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