A few weeks ago, I got to drive around Chicago and Oak Park with two things that got me very excited. The first was a baby girl that had just aced her first physical, and the second was a 2014 Chevy Spark. Said Spark, I’ll have you know, was especially exciting because it was on the short list of “second cars” that the wife and I were, you know, actually considering buying with our own money. Now, I know that’s past tense – but that doesn’t mean we didn’t utterly fall for Chevy’s little bulldog microcar, and I’m going to spoil the ending for you now: if you live in a major city and you’re looking for cheap, fun, reliable transportation for a small family, you should absolutely buy a Chevy Spark.
Of course, the one-sentence review (made popular by Chris DeMorro) isn’t my thing. I like to
hear myself talk watch myself type, so the whys and hows of my “definitely you should buy” conclusion in re: the Chevy Spark will be laid out in greater detail, below. Enjoy!
Chevy Spark | Smaller on the Outside
See that up there? That’s a standard sized parking space here in Oak Park, IL … and you can probably fit two Chevy Sparks in it. Maybe 3, if you angle ’em right, and – when about 2/3 of your fellow citizens have almost zero conception of how to effectively parallel park – that’s a huge plus in terms of practicality. Time and time again in the week that I drove the Spark, I found myself gleefully wheeling it into parking spaces that I wouldn’t even try to get into in a Jeep Cherokee.
Did I say, “gleefully”?
Gleefully is an understatement. I was giggling and laughing literally every time I cranked the wheel into a turn or alley or changed lanes into the space left by two other cars. The 2014/5 Chevy Spark is very much a road-legal golf cart in the best possible way, and it makes otherwise nimble-feeling cars feel massive and sluggish. Like steamships. Simply put, if you can drive a Chevy Spark without cracking a smile, you’re probably boring.
Chevy Spark | Bigger on the Inside
The most surprising thing about the Spark, however, isn’t the car’s tiny size (that’s it’s gimmick, along with its 39 MPG highway rating) and it’s not the car’s IIHS Top Safety Pick status (which is huge). Instead, the biggest surprise was how much the Chevy Spark feels like an actual car.
I know that sounds like an obvious thing. I mean, it’s a car, right? Well, yes – but so, too is the Smart ForTwo and so, too is the Mitsubishi Mirage CVT. Both of those, however, require a little bit of suspension of disbelief on the part of the driver. They’re not real cars, they’re little urban runabouts that are also, technically cars. Unlike those two examples, the Spark’s chassis and 84 HP, 1.2 liter 4-cylinder engine feel rock solid at highway speeds. The chassis absorbs Chicago’s bumpy roads and potholes with an isolating competence that somehow eluded the larger, heavier Scion tC I tested the week before, too, and the engine doesn’t have the same raucous buzz as some of the 3 cyl. cars I’ve tested.
Also surprising was how roomy the Chevy Spark actually is. The (heated!) seats are high, so you sit in the thing like you’re in a dining room chair, with knees more bent than normal. It’s surprisingly comfortable, with more than enough rear seat leg room for the kiddos and even your adult friends, for short trips (say, 20-30 minutes).
Chevy Spark | Will it Baby?
All that talk about legroom brings me to this – which, as I said, was a mission-critical question for us as prospective Chevy Spark buyers. As you can see in the pictures, Chicco’s rear-facing travel system fits well enough behind the driver’s seat, and the folding stroller deal fits snugly in the rear, along with a decent diaper bag. Not much else fits back there, however – but that’s not what took the Spark off our shopping list.
Frustratingly, the same thing that makes the Chevy Spark impractical for us as a “second car”, is the same thing that makes the Chevy Volt totally impossible to justify as a “primary car” for our family: it only has four seats.
As it is, we have 2 kids and retired (or semi-retired) parents. A third child would render both cars immediately useless, as would one of the kids wanting to bring a friend home from school or wanting to head to dinner with even one of the available parental units, you know? The four seats thing is disappointing in the Spark, but it’s understandable. In the Volt, it’s an unforgivably stupid product-planning choice that makes Chevy’s own Cruze Eco and Diesel look like no-brainers, even at $29,000.
Chevy Spark | Final Thoughts
So, all that said, the Spark wasn’t for us. We’re breeders, and two kids is just a start. Despite that, with a price tag under $15,000 (in real-world pricing) and Chevy’s excellent MyLink infotainment system featuring the safety and convenience of OnStar, the fun, economical Chevy Spark is a great choice for young urbanites and their families. If you’re a one-child family that’s going to remain a one-child family, the Spark may even ascend to “primary car” status. It’s that good – and the marine-grade vinyl seating in our tester was a fun change of pace in the entry car market that you won’t really see in cars like the Nissan Versa or the aforementioned Mitsubishi. You won’t convince anyone it’s leather, probably, but it’s going to be easier to clean than cloth, and that’s something.
What do you think, dear readers? Is the 2014 Chevy Spark exactly the kind of forward-looking city car that will make up America’s driving future, or is it just another throwaway subcompact that no one will remember fondly in a couple of years? You know what I think – let us know what you think in the comments, below.