2013 Chevrolet Spark

SAN FRANCISCO — Chevy sure hit the nail on the head when it named its first mini car for the U.S. and Canadian markets the Spark. That’s just what it is — a spark plug of energy and driving experience. It’s a sporty four-passenger, five-door hatch and it is the perfect vehicle for city dwellers and first-time buyers.

To look at it quickly would indicate it’s actually a three-door hatchback but the designers have disguised the rear doors by integrating the handles into the C-pillar areas.

It offers bold colors, affordability, a long list of safety features, fuel-efficiency and golly-Bob-howdy it’s a hoot to drive. It competes with such vehicles as the Fiat 500, Smartfortwo and Scion IQ, but don’t let the size fool you. Just like Campbell Soup put eight great tomatoes in that little, bitty can, so, too, did Chevy engineers make it possible to put more passenger and cargo room than the other three vehicles.

Unless you’re a small child or just plain like the feeling of “togetherness” I wouldn’t want to be in the backseat during an all-day drive, but even that’s survivable.   

Speaking of the interior the new Spark has a really slick motorcycle-inspired instrument gauge that sits atop the steering column as opposed to being imbedded in the instrument panel. The gauges themselves are a combination of analog and digital and are displayed in soft-aqua lighting, making it easy on the eyes. The air-conditioning vents are positioned perfectly for driver or passenger and I can attest to how powerful the output is.

It sits on 15-inch tires and wheels. Chevrolet MyLink is standard on 1LT and 2LT. MyLink-equipped Spark models come with two apps: Pandora internet radio and Stitcher Smart Radio. In the near future it will also have BringGo, an embedded app that delivers full-function navigation and live traffic updates and be priced at about $50 (vs. almost $2,000 for the regular factory-installed navigation system).

Among standard driving features are electric power MacPherson strut front suspension, anti-lock brakes, StabiliTrak electronic stability control and a terrific technology called Hill Start Assist that prevents drivers from rolling when restarting from a stopped position on a hill. It allows drivers to take their foot off the brake long enough to use the accelerator and move forward. Just off-hand I can see the entire city of San Francisco containing nothing but vehicles with Hill Start.

Spark comes in three models: LS, 1LT and 2LT. It’s powered by a 1.25L DOHC VVT Inline-four cylinder engine that puts out an “astounding” 84 horsepower and 83 pound-feet of torque. Before you do a spit take just think about the fact that two of us adults drove the vehicle over mountainous terrain and though I’m sure Spark would have preferred being driven on the Bonneville Salt Flats it performed admirably.

It’s available with either a standard 5-speed manual or an optional 4-speed automatic transmission.

You’re probably wondering what else you get out of Spark besides a fun car to drive. Try EPA mileage figures of 32 city, 38 highway, 34 combined for the manual and 28/37/32 for the automatic. The 2013 Spark has an MSRP below $13,000, making it a top consideration for the demographics it aimed for. A simple look at the color palette should give you a hint of who their buyers will be: one can choose Salsa Red, Jalapeno, Denim, Lemonade and Techno Pink.

However, if you wear your pants high enough you can still pick traditional colors like Black Granite, Silver Ice and Summit White.

— Al Vinikour