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Chevy Spark EU Test Drive

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[source: Motor Trend]

First Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Spark European Spec

Big Enough to be Surprisingly Engaging

2012-chevrolet-spark-front-view-2.jpg

December 06, 2009

By Paul Horrell

Chevrolet likes to pretend that the Spark is the car you chose. The first hint of its design came as a two-door concept version called Beat, at the 2007 New York auto show. The Beat appeared as part of a trio of concepts, alongside a micro-crossover called Trax and a retro minivan, Groove.

The public was invited to vote online as to which of those three concepts should turn be turned into a production car by Chevrolet's Korean offshoot GM DAT. GM claims 1.9 million votes were cast, the majority in favor of the Beat.

MT asked GM DAT design chief Taewan Kim whether there ever really was a question of 'the customers choosing' which car would make it. He snorted an 'of course not' grin. "I had to log on and vote many times a day to make sure the result came out right." It would have been commercial suicide to have let the Trax or Groove win, because the sub-subcompact segment globally is utterly dominated by the hatchback body style.

So in technology and basic architecture, the Spark is your vanilla hatchback. But its execution and design are pretty interesting, and it's certainly a competent player against price-matched opposition from anywhere around the world.

It arrives in the U.S. in 2011 and will be the smallest Chevy ever sold here. Don't imagine it's an entrant in the mushrooming supermini class, and specifically don't confuse it for a Ford Fiesta rival. Oh no, it's a lot smaller, lighter, and cheaper than that. Chevy's first serious rival to the Fiesta -- and the Fit and Yaris -- will be the next-generation Aveo5, due late in 2012.

t just 143.3 inches long in global trim (add an inch and a half for U.S.-spec bumpers) and comfortably under 1950 pounds, this all-new platform had to be carefully engineered to provide the right European NCAP safety result. And yet it isn't impractically small: Four six-foot Americans can fit painlessly between its 97.6-inch wheelbase.

Designer Taewan Kim wanted the Spark to avoid the cuddly character of most Asian microcars, and put a note of aggression into the design. To make it look bigger than it is, he gave the Spark a strong, upright nose with tall headlamps and creased bone lines on the outer edges of the hood leading the eye back to the A-pillars. This design works well when viewed from any frontal angle, but if you see it from a slightly rear-profile point of view, the Spark looks like it's driven into a wall.

In other design news, the side view is dominated by big wheelhousings and an additional shoulder at the rear. The cockpit narrows over the rear wheels, enabled by the placement of the door locks high in the door frames behind the side glass. Painted black in all models, the handles are effectively hidden, leaving the Spark's flanks looking clean.

Inside, a simple motorcycle-type instrument pod sits atop the steering column. This idea was shown on the concept Beat. It uses a conventional speedometer, but everything else including a graphical tach and fuel gauge is taken care of by a simple mono LED screen. On the base model, where everything in the cabin is monotone gray, it has a depressing show-car-gone-wrong look. But in top-spec LT trim, where there are metallic accents and body-color trim garnishes, it takes on a cheery, individual, and modern aspect.

The 1.2-liter four-cylinder revs sweetly enough, and rev it you must if you need to pass a truck or get up to speed on an on-ramp. But there's a difference between sweet and quiet: This is a noisy little car. Engine hum and tire roar battle to upstage each other depending on how coarse the road surface is or how hard you are on the throttle. Ah, well, the engineers promise a better NVH pack before the U.S. launch.

We drove Euro-spec cars with a five-speed manual transmission. The ones now coming onto the Korean home market feature a four-speed auto, but it's hard to imagine they'll offer satisfactory highway performance.

In the first few yards of our drive, the assault of tire noise led us to expect a poorly honed chassis. In fact, it's pretty able, the variant on 15-inch wheels proving agile but adequately supple, and the one with 155/70 14 tires (when did you last read of a car so shod?) smoothing away things even better, albeit with comically little grip. If you enjoy sliding a car around at low speeds, this is your machine.

But dynamics aren't the point. Politically, the promise of the Spark must be doing Chevy a lot of favors in Washington right now. It's going to be a poster child in the corporation's attempts to convince legislators that GM is a new greened entity. Okay, we don't have an exact EPA economy number yet, but a gallon of gas is going to carry the Spark a looonnnnnnng way.

What GM's P.R. materials aren't saying is that it won't do the CAFE numbers much good, because the Spark won't sell many units in the States. It's simply too small to make it onto most buyers' radar. Yet it's big enough to be surprisingly engaging.

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2012-chevrolet-spark-trunk-space.jpg

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From the front, it looks like an angry fish from the future.

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Wow... yup, I have zero interest in owning this vehicle. I'm also rather insulted that GM rigged the voting.

Even after the gerrymandering the style was changed to something less palatable compared to the original concept, which not as great was at least less busy and clean.

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I stand by my rather lukewarm acceptance of the exterior of this car, and the gauge pod. Perhaps GM can prove something to the US government about how useless CAFE is. Nice that there might be a better engine package for the North American market.

I can see this do well in Canada though, the smart car does pretty well up here too.

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It would be killer if they could release this with a turbo diesel of about the same displacement.

From what I understand the Indian version is supposed to have a diesel so putting it in USDM should not be a biggie apart from emissions.

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It would be killer if they could release this with a turbo diesel of about the same displacement.

True...

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Interesting the custom plates on the car... CH 333 VY and SP 888 RK. I wonder if they shopped that or if GM really has those plates and is willing to break the law having two different plates on the front and back of the car.

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I stand by my rather lukewarm acceptance of the exterior of this car, and the gauge pod. Perhaps GM can prove something to the US government about how useless CAFE is. Nice that there might be a better engine package for the North American market.

I can see this do well in Canada though, the smart car does pretty well up here too.

With the attribute-based CAFE system going forward, there's no point for them to sell the Spark over here. A Cruze is 15% bigger but maybe only 10% less efficient.

If GM sells the Spark in the US, it's because of consumer demand for something really, really inexpensive, not CAFE.

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Interesting the custom plates on the car... CH 333 VY and SP 888 RK. I wonder if they shopped that or if GM really has those plates and is willing to break the law having two different plates on the front and back of the car.

If you notice the first photo, it also has the SP 888 RK license plate on the front. Maybe they really did have these license plates...

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It's going to be the smallest US market Chevy since the Chevy Sprint (Geo Metro predecessor) in the '80s.

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It would be killer if they could release this with a turbo diesel of about the same displacement.

yes. you know. this car is actually starting to grow on me, i think i am changing my mind on this one.

the gas version should top 45 mpg highway and over 50 in turbo diesel guise i would guess.

the car i see this competing with the most...SMART car.

Edited by regfootball
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Ridiculously useless speck of a penalty box. Ugly from all angles (and there are MANY angles to that "design"). No way in hell will this thing sell in any respectable numbers here.

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I see two negative points for my above post on this car. I expect you to show yourselves like men, first off, then I expect both of you to buy one of these and post it in Member's Rides.:AH-HA:

I mean, really, look at that profile shot. How is that in the remotest way considered attractive? And it is no good as a traveling car. It has 4 seats, but then barely enough luggage space for one person, or even a week's groceries with the back seat up. I cannot imagine folding down the seat just to bring groceries home. Where's everyone's suitcases going to go? Lashed down on the roof rack? Can anyone imagine that? It would be loaded down like a ferry in Bangladesh, ready to capsize. No thanks.:lol:

Edited by ocnblu
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I actually like it. It looks ALOT better than the "smart" car. not to mention it will cost a whole lot less. So what kinda MPG are we talking on this car? gotta be in the 40's. Now I see why the Aveo production is being shifted to Michigan so they can build this in Korea??

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I see two negative points for my above post on this car. I expect you to show yourselves like men, first off, then I expect both of you to buy one of these and post it in Member's Rides.:AH-HA:

I mean, really, look at that profile shot. How is that in the remotest way considered attractive? And it is no good as a traveling car. It has 4 seats, but then barely enough luggage space for one person, or even a week's groceries with the back seat up. I cannot imagine folding down the seat just to bring groceries home. Where's everyone's suitcases going to go? Lashed down on the roof rack? Can anyone imagine that? It would be loaded down like a ferry in Bangladesh, ready to capsize. No thanks.:lol:

the people who would buy this are probably in thier teens and early 20's, single with no kids. or someone will buy this as a second vehicle to drive to work if they have a long commute.

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Say what you want, but I think this car has the potential to be a hit for General Motors. The current set of small ugly cars like the Scion's, and Soul seem to sell pretty decently. Fuel economy and price are what help to sell these, and people my age tend to be enamored with these sorts of vehicles. I bet the word 'cute' will be thrown around a lot at the dealership by ladies between the ages of 16 and 25. Hell, it seems almost every girl I've met loves the Smart, because it's small and cheerful; the Spark will be in the same boat.

As for luggage and groceries, once againm this car is targeted at us twenty-somethings who are just commuting from home to school to work and won't be embarking on many excursions. There's also plenty of space to stash a good deal of groceries and goods; I've stashed my share of groceries into Mini's and Yaris' when I was a grocery clerk, and I don't recall ever having problems with finding space to put bags and boxes.

GM needs this car out. While people may ridicule it today, when gas prices kick it up a few notches, people will be singing its praises.

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I see two negative points for my above post on this car. I expect you to show yourselves like men, first off, then I expect both of you to buy one of these and post it in Member's Rides.:AH-HA:

I mean, really, look at that profile shot. How is that in the remotest way considered attractive? And it is no good as a traveling car. It has 4 seats, but then barely enough luggage space for one person, or even a week's groceries with the back seat up. I cannot imagine folding down the seat just to bring groceries home. Where's everyone's suitcases going to go? Lashed down on the roof rack? Can anyone imagine that? It would be loaded down like a ferry in Bangladesh, ready to capsize. No thanks.:lol:

It's meant to be Chevy's "SMART" car. It's not meant to be a roadtrip car. It's a city car.

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When gas hits $6 a gallon it will sell like hotcakes. Esp. with the devaluation of the $...imports will become more expensive on a relative basis...

Chris

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IMO, cars this size should be made to make sense to people who will only have 1-2 people in the car 99% of the time. Front seating should be spacious, and rear seats not horrible to ride in, but should fold down to provide a great cargo space for those 1-2 people. Trying to make a car this size make sense for hauling around 3, 4, or 5 people results in an awful compromise that really does provide a penalty box for those 1-2 people all the time. People who want to haul 3-5 people around all the time should at least be buying something at the larger end of the compact range, or really a midsize.

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