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Posted May 22, 2014 | comments Leave a comment

Tom Crosby: Spark ignites with design, mileage

By Tom Crosby

Small cars with great mileage are in vogue right now with those who seek savings
at the pump, don't mind some space limitations in the rear seats and want to have enough profile panache to ignite second glances from passersby.

The 2014 Chevrolet Spark, the first mini-car made by General Motors, is perfect for navigating crowded urban streets, squeezing into tight parking spaces and has been successful with more than a quarter of million global sales since 2012.

Aside from its wallet-loving price, it is also surprisingly roomy - four adults can fit although rear seating isn't for long trips - and shows nice pluck on the highway, handling well at 70 mph on the Interstates. However, it isn't quick with only 84-horsepower and double-digit seconds needed to reach highway speeds.

The quest for power comes with corresponding engine whine, road and wind noise that can overcome radio volume settings. The front wheel drive Spark held its own on slippery roads at slow speeds. The ride befits a smaller car with attention needed for road imperfections.

There are four models LS, 1LT, 2LT (manual or continuous variable automatic transmission) and EV (electric vehicle currently sold only in California and Oregon). We test-drove the 2LT with eye-catching lime-green skin (funky colors also include Grape Ice and Salsa).

Interior touches included lime-green trim and motorcycle-inspired gauges. Tech-friendly features included hands-free MyLink Smartphone integration that can be hooked up with Siri Eyes Free voice recognition for texting and communicating with contacts, available BringGo in-dash navigation app on the seven-inch dashboard screen, videos and Tunein global radio.

With its low price and high-tech, the hatchback Spark is a natural first car option for twenty-somethings. Heated front seats helped stave initial interior chill and climate controls were nicely robust. Rear seat access is easy with hidden door handles next to the C pillar; rear seats fold flat, and a small cargo for groceries, etc. is behind the rear seats. Knick-knack spaces are average.

In addition to standard safety features like anti-lock brakes and stability control, there is a Hill Start Assist to allow time to take your foot off the brake and onto the accelerator. Federal cash safety ratings rank the Spark with four out of five stars overall. In addition to 6-months free of OnStar, Spark has a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. The Spark is made in South Korea.

LIKES: Looks, mileage, tech features, price, handling
DISLIKES: Noisy, power
BOTTOM LINE: Great on mileage, design and behind-the-wheel, rear seats limiting

Base price w/destination charge: $17,210
Vehicle curb weight: 2,368 lbs.
Wheelbase: 93.5 inches
Length: 144.7 inches
Width: 62.9 inches
Engine specs: 1.2-liter, Inline 4 cylinder, DOHC, VVT
Horsepower: 84-hp at 5,750 rpm
Torque: 83-ft-lbs at 4,20000 rpm
Transmission: Continuous variable transmission
EPA Rating: 30 mpg city and 39 mpg highway
Range: 9.2-gallon tank, regular unleaded
Performance: 0 to 60 seconds in just over 10 seconds

Tom Crosby is a former journalist and communications director for AAA Carolinas. He has been reviewing cars since 1996, and has been active in traffic safety issues for more than 30 years.

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