By on April 6, 2018

Image: General Motors

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.

2017 Mirage Mitsubishi, Image: Mitsubishi Motors

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]

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15 Comments on “As Chevrolet Readies a Brighter 2019 Spark, How’s the Scorching Minicar Segment Doing?...”

  • avatar

    The Fiat might be long in the tooth and not class leading, but it certainly counts as “city car”. That’s its only real selling point is it’s tiny. I certainly wouldn’t count it out if I was shopping this class of car.

    And I still love the Abarth version.

    • 0 avatar

      Its also 50% more expensive than the “competitors.

      They MSRP in the 17k-18k loonie range. As do Smart Cars.

      So no they are not the same “market segment” when you consider that shoppers in this segment are looking at price as a defining factor.

  • avatar

    Since GM Korea is going down in flames, where will the future US market Sparks come from?

  • avatar

    Why do these city cars exist? From all the media report I didn’t think anyone in cities still bought cars – isn’t everyone just Ubering in a Camry or Prius these days?

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Offhand from what I can see north of the border, 1) as the spare 2nd (or 3rd) vehicle when you don’t want to drive the SUV, thus taking the role of the Ford Pinto station wagon in the 1970’s, 2) as the going to university/college car, as dependable used cars can cost more than a new ‘city’ car and aren’t as ‘cute’, 3) Quebec (look up ‘Quebec spec’ models), 4) for retirees who are buying their ‘last’ vehicle and want something small enough that they can handle it, inexpensive and under warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      Peter Gazis


      I think most rideshare drivers are shopping on the Used car lots.

  • avatar

    What flavor is Caribbean Blue Metallic?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s like asking the shop guys which can of Gatorade to get this week!

      Always blue. Sometimes orange. Red stains too readily. There’s a can of yellow from last summer. It looks like wheel bearing grease.

  • avatar

    Canada’s last generation Micra lacks infotainment. It’s only screen being a tacked on backup camera offered on the highest trim. A good 9K above base price.

    The Spark is more bespoke – if you could say that…

  • avatar

    So the Spark is staying, but the Sonic is going away? Seems like it should be the other way around.

    • 0 avatar

      At least part of the US market Sonics are built in the US in Orion Assembly, whereas the Spark is built everywhere except the US. Small car assembly has no future in the US unless people start paying midsize money for them, but that wouldn’t make sense.

      Plus recently Barra said they want to boost Bolt volume which would make sense to ax the Sonic line there to make room, and GM has plans for autonomous cars there as well. In terms of the lineup, the Sonic is too close to the Cruze size. It makes more sense to have differentiation between the Cruze and Spark rather than having another model in between them.

  • avatar

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

  • avatar

    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.

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