You’d be hard pressed these days to find a car that is all out terrible, even as your budget dips into the sub $15,000 mark. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll be graced with a well appointed interior paired with a infotainment system that is willing to look your smartphone smack in the face. Heck, even Range Rover’s Evoque, which starts at $44,000, has been outfitted with a less than complementary, if not down right contradictory nav that seems to hark back to the days of Palm Pilot and passive matrix screens. If I haven’t lost you, then let me rope you back in with the refreshing, inexpensive, and surprisingly well featured Chevy Spark.
Today, I woke up at the crack of 9am and dragged myself over to Venice, in Mitsubishi’s electric car no less, the MiEV. There I met with the Chevy folks and after giving us the run down, which included pastry, OJ, and all the bottomless coffee one could gulp down in 45 minutes, we headed out onto the open road. My copilot was a freelance writer for PopSci, so needless to say I was outgunned in terms of publication credibility, but nevertheless I did my best to stand tall and talk in a deep, authoritative voice.
The Spark is not an EV. But given its name, and that Chevy also builds the Volt, it’s an easy mistake to make. That said, we’re hearing that Chevy has plans to unveil an EV model of the Spark at CES this year, but we weren’t able to confirm that. Regardless, the Spark’s 1.2L 4-cylinder 83-HP engine gets 32/38 mpg city/highway under the guise of 5-speed manual gear box, or 28/37 respectively when the 4-speed automatic is tossed into the mix. Either way you cut it, it’s a respectable number, and not one that prevents the Spark from cutting lanes on the always busy, always frustrating 405 or 10 freeway here in Los Angeles. There is no disputing that the car is not a racer, but as the Chevy folks emphasized again and again into my tiny little head, the buyers of this vehicle aren’t looking for that. And at a starting price of $12,000 in change, I’d have to agree it’s a caveat that needs little to not evaluation. I’m not even sure it’s a caveat at that price.
Chevy has seen fit to make the buying process of this car ultra simple by offering just three trim levels, with the high end model topping out at just over $17k, which is what we drove for a few hours today. There doesn’t seem to be a massive, or very evident difference between the two top trim levels, or so it would appear to me, especially when both come equipped with Chevy’s awesome Smartlink system.
Unlike the Volt, the Spark’s 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system is refreshing spin on the ones found in cars today, so much so that it’s like taking a shower and brushing your teeth all at the same time – yeah, it’s like that. The Smartlink system is built by LG and is designed to work with a smartphone, – Anrdoid or iPhone connected via Bluetooth or USB cord – so the brains of the gang is left up to you to bring. Tapping the screen, which is usually an exercise in futility, is analogous to that of any smartphone – praise Jesus! So far it’s compatible with Pandora, Stitcher, and a proprietary app called Bringo. Bringo is Chevy’s turn-by-turn nav app, and while I didn’t get a chance to run it through its paces (shame on me), I was told that it costs $50, and includes lifetime turn-by-turn directions. The utility of the app is debatable, especially in light of iOS 6’s map updates arriving 9/19, and Android’s already existing Google Maps. It also begs the question as to why Chevy hasn’t enabled apps for those existing apps, but that’s a bit beyond my pay grade, and might have something to do with a licensing agreement. Conjectures aside, the Smartlink system works like a charm, integrates with your iPhone’s iPod (and Spotify), offers an ultra simple menu system, and only received negative marks due to the underpowered speaker system installed in the Spark. But hey, it’s a $13,000 car, can you ask for much more?
So let’s review: the Spark is not a race car. The Spark is very affordable (we’re estimating a 3 year less on these would be just over a $100/month). The Spark gets great gas mileage. The Spark has an excellent, if not an award winning infotainment system (you can watch movie on it if you’re in park). The Spark is the Smart Car’s newest enemy. The Spark is probably one of the most well appointed, city suitable cars I’ve driven.
So, does it Spark your fancy?
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