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Chevrolet Spark 1.2 LT 5-door

Click to view picture gallery“It isnt the performance or handling
  that is going to impress customers in
  this segment; it is visual appeal,
  brand value, interior space, low
  running costs and value for money.
  And Chevrolet
s bright Spark just
  about ticks all of those boxes
...”


THE CHEVROLET SPARK city car is a replacement for the old GM Daewoo/Chevrolet Matiz which sold purely on price. The new Spark is a truly global car; it will not just sell in Europe or in its home Korean market but will be sold and built around the world.


In the UK around 7,000 Sparks will be sold this year — 9,000 in a full year of sales. Prices range from 6,945 to 9,845 and already Chevrolet says they have over 1,200 forward sold orders.

There is the choice of two petrol engines, both DOHC four-cylinder units, and sales are expected to be split 50:50 between the 1.0 (67bhp) and 1.2-litre (80bhp) options. No automatic transmission option is available yet but watch this space. The smallest engine comes with a choice of Spark, Spark+ and LS levels of specification. The 1.2 unit also has three choices: LS, LS+ and LT. The all-important electronic handling stability control is standard on 1.2-litre models and an option with the 1.0-litre versions, hence the reason the range achieved a four rather than a five star EuroNCAP safety rating.

The Spark will sell against such competitors as the sector's best-selling Hyundai i10, the Fiat Panda and Toyota Aygo but because of the space it offers it will also cross swords with the Ford Fiesta, MINI, Vauxhall Corsa, VW Polo and even the Honda Jazz.

The Spark should appeal to young buyers by virtue of its distinctive styling while older singles or couples will appreciate the car's parking-friendly exterior size. All will appreciate the low running costs (insurance group ratings from 1 to 6 on the new 50 scale) and the zero-cost First Year road tax (30 a year for the second VED year onwards).

Tall, compact in length and edgy styling lines are the Spark's attention grabbers in the showroom. Open the passenger doors and an impressive interior space is revealed — it really is quite remarkable just how much front and rear legroom has been achieved in a car only 3,640mm in length. The rear seats have three seatbelts but in reality only two adult passengers can be fitted in the car but even so my rear seat adult guests were impressed by just how much legroom they had. Being a tall vehicle (1,522mm), the Spark has plenty of headroom even for six-footers.

“The 1.2-litre I tried,
whilst not in any way
fast, at least gave me
confidence that it will
cope with day-to-day
requirements
...
The downside is a small boot, just 170 litres — but fold the 60:40 split rear seats down and this expands to 568 litres so choose the size of your luggage (or dog) with care.

Which level of specification appeals will be down to budget and the mid-range LS is likely to be the most popular although older customers with perhaps more money to spend who want a commuter car for short journeys and shopping trips will go for the LT version.

The entry-level Spark is offered with a 1.0-litre engine developing 67bhp coupled to a five-speed manual gearbox. It comes with six airbags as standard but at just 6,945 you get what you pay for. All versions have a three-year mechanical breakdown cover warranty. Models in Spark+ trim (also available with the 1.0-litre engine) come with air conditioning, electric front windows and central locking along plus a USB-compatible four-speaker stereo.

The LS, which is expected to be the most popular trim level, adds remote central locking, silver trim detailing, a sunglasses holder, 14-inch wheels, body-coloured door handles and mirrors, a chrome-effect grille surround, front fog lamps and a body-coloured rear spoiler.

For 500 more than the 1.2 LS, customers can add a plus pack: the LS+ gets smart alloy wheels, electric windows front and rear, a trip computer, heated electric door mirrors, roof bars and steering wheel audio controls.

The range-topping LT, which comes only with the 1.2-litre engine, has 15-inch alloys, climate control, interior detailing to match the exterior (depending on colour), an exterior body kit and a six-speaker stereo. For me this is the best package but it costs a hefty 9,845. A similar top-spec Hyundai i10 with a five-year unlimited mileage warranty costs over 1,000 less. However it is a buyer's market and deals can, and will, be done.

I haven't driven the 1.0-litre version of the Spark but my motoring colleagues tell me it is slow and unresponsive with performance that is too marginal to be happy with. The 1.2-litre I tried, whilst not in any way fast, at least gave me confidence that it will cope with day-to-day requirements. Perhaps long motorway trips are journeys too far for these city cars but for everyday use and an occasional longer trip on A roads thrown in this unit is more than adequate.

“Ride comfort was
generally good — and
better than most in the
city car segment.
The steering was sharp
and precise; excellent
when parking and nimble
in town traffic
...”
It has a throaty exhaust note and sounded stressed under load but although the top speed is quoted as 102mph, 70 to 80mph seemed more likely to be its realistic operating ceiling and 60mph was more comfortable still. The acceleration from zero to 62mph takes a little over 12 seconds. Hills can dampen the cars responsiveness and the high-revving engine needs to be kept on song with frequent use of the five-speed gearbox.

However, in low speed urban crawl traffic the 1.2 unit, with 82lb ft of torque, was smooth and capable. Officially, this engine will return 55.4mpg and my test car came in at 48.7mpg which for a petrol unit is very good. I especially like not having to pay road tax for a year when the car is new and then only having to pay 30 for every year after that.

Ride comfort was generally good — and better than most in the city car segment. Being tall the vehicle rolled through corners but not to any great discomfort. The steering is sharp and precise; excellent when parking and nimble in town traffic.

It isn't the performance or handling that is going to impress customers in this segment; it is visual appeal, brand value, interior space, low running costs and value for money. Five points that really matter and the 'bright' Spark just about ticks all of those boxes. It's not perfect, but what is? Against? Some cheap interior finishes, very small boot and the top model looks expensive against discounted competition. Plus points include eye-catching styling, good passenger leg and head room front and rear, low running costs with cheap servicing (3-year/30,000-mile servicing package costs 199) and it's more practical than most in this class. — David Miles

Chevrolet Spark 1.2 LT 5-door
| 9,845
Maximum speed: 102mph | 0-62mph: 12.1 seconds | Overall test MPG: 48.7mpg
Power: 80bhp | Torque: 82lb ft | CO2 119g/km