As Chevrolet Readies a Brighter 2019 Spark, How's the Scorching Minicar Segment Doing?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The sub-subcompact “city car” segment is one of those rare occurrences where Canadians have it better than Americans in terms of choice and price. While the U.S. fields just two of these tiny runabouts (the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive does not count, and we’re not counting the Fiat 500, either), Canucks can warm their frozen cockles knowing there’s three four-door, ultra-cheap models waiting for them at local dealers.

Not only that, but all three models carry an MSRP in the four-figure range. Just barely, but in a country where an A&W Uncle Burger cost your author $9.03 last week ($9.03! No combo, either), this is tantamount to bank robbery.

So, as we take a look at the changes Chevrolet has in store for its 2019 Spark, let’s gauge the overall health of this tiny segment — north and south of the border.

First, the new Spark. For the coming model year, the most diminutive of Chevys joins its larger siblings in adopting a larger stacked grille, now with added chrome trim that seems out of place on a vehicle in this segment. To this author’s eyes, perhaps the previous model got it right. Feel free to disagree.

The rest of the front fascia evolves slightly to incorporate revised headlights and foglights, and the rear lamps move closer to the corporate look. LED running lamps appear on 1LT and 2LT trims, while all models see revised wheel designs. Inside, an updated infotainment system joins the model for 2019, along with available low-speed forward emergency braking.

Like before, a 98-horsepower 1.4-liter four-cylinder provides the pulling power, matched to a five-speed manual or continuously variable dance partner. And if you’re a fan of 15-inch wheels, has Chevy got good news for you: there’s no other choice.

Clearly designed to get this vehicle noticed (and tempt buyers with a more appetizing color palette than offered by Mitsubishi), four fruity colors are on the way. They are: Orange Burst Metallic, Passion Fruit, Caribbean Blue Metallic, and Rasberry. Tasty stuff!

As well, the soft-roader Activ model continues to stand apart from the Spark lineup, offering buyers an altered fascia, body cladding, and a 0.4-inch boost in ride height to help tackle those challenging off-road obstacles. I’ve never seen one in the flesh.

Introduced in mid-2012, the Spark’s best U.S. sales year came in 2014, when Chevy sold 39,159 copies. In 2017, Americans, now accustomed to stable gas prices, picked up up 22,589 of the little guys. March Spark sales rose 2.5 percent in the U.S., bringing 2018’s volume to a point 2.7 percent lower than the same time last year.

It’s a different story in Canada, however, as Spark sales — while modest — have grown each year since its introduction. Volume last year was 3,982 units, and volume over the first quarter of 2019 is up 35.9 percent.

The Spark’s only other U.S. challenger, the three-cylinder Mitsubishi Mirage, nipped at its heels last year, posting sales of 22,386 vehicles. That’s just 203 shy of the Spark’s total. Mirage sales have grown each year since its 2013 debut, but 2018 data shows it falling behind its domestic competitor. March saw a sales decline of 6.6 percent, year over year, with volume over the first three months of 2018 down 25.9 percent.

In Canada, Mirage sales peaked in 2014, declining each year since. Last year’s data showed the Spark outselling the Mirage by 27 percent. In 2018, sales rose 1.7 percent by the end of March.

Chevrolet seems to hold the advantage in this slow race. Despite falling U.S. Spark sales, we’re not aware of any radical Mirage redesign that could sent strapped buyers stampeding for the Mitsubishi dealer.

Of course, our third entry in this category is something Americans just can’t have, to Chris Tonn’s everlasting regret. The Nissan Micra is the hot rod of the bunch, with a 109-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder under its wee hood. Sold since 2014, thrifty (and heavily taxed) Canuck buyers picked up 11,909 of these in its second year on the market — no doubt to flaunt near U.S. border crossings.

In 2017, the Micra’s annual sales tally stood at 8,812 of the cute little five-doors — more than the Spark and Mirage combined. As the model ages, however, Canada’s affection seems to be waning. March sales sank 33.9 percent, year over year, with volume down 18 percent over the first quarter of 2018. Not only that, a next-gen model is scheduled to arrive in overseas markets in 2019, but not in Canada.

At that point, expect a two-way race again, north and south of the border — and Chevrolet holds the better product.

[Images: General Motors, Mitsubishi Motors]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Oberkanone Oberkanone on Apr 06, 2018

    Too much chrome plastic fantastic on that grill. Black chrome would work.

  • Robbie Robbie on Apr 08, 2018

    I always thought that to entice customers, these cars should be sold with something like a 60,000 mile - 6 year warranty. The proposition of a risk-free six years of driving might appeal to people, while the 60,000 mile limit makes the risk for the manufacturer limited.

  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.