Chevrolet Spark Road Test

First Drive
2016 Chevrolet Spark Grows Up, Gains Manners
Urban, suburban, youth, or youthful
Overview
If there is one thing that we have learned about Chevrolet in the last few years, it is apparent that the company likes marketing to the M-word. You know, "Millennials." But for the 2016 Chevrolet Spark, that should be reconsidered because this mini-car's tricks aren't for just the kids anymore.

When the Chevrolet Spark was introduced in 2012, it was evident in the motorcycle-inspired, touch-screen focused, Wi-Fi-enabled, candy-store-colored mini car that a younger urban buyer was the goal. Also obvious was the lack of focus on driving fun or fuel efficiency. After all, this Korean-built subcompact wasn't really meant to be sold in the U.S. and when it arrived here, it was already dated. It never scored high enough to be recommended by Consumer Reports.

First impressions of our newly purchased--and redesigned for this year--2016 Spark, suggest that the urban can also be suburban, and the young can include the young at heart. The Spark's appeal now extends beyond its low price and surface cheerfulness.

The notable technologies in the new Spark aren't the superficial things that Chevrolet touts: Wi-Fi and the Chevrolet MyLink enabled 7-inch touch screen that is compatible with cell phones via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Those are just the price of entry for any new car these days.

Instead, it is the more-mature engineering found beneath the newly creased exterior in the suspension, engine, and transmission that is the real story which makes the new Spark feel almost grown-up.

This mini-car has really had a redesign. The combination of a slightly longer wheelbase and aerodynamically-driven lower and wider stance, are just part of the secret sauce that makes this new Spark so much more sophisticated.

Gone are the pastel colors of the prior iteration of the Spark. For 2016, Denim is replaced by the richer Splash and Ice Blue. Lemonade went by the wayside. The Consumer Reports Spark is Kalamata, a deep jewel-tone purple that replaces the sickly pale Grape Ice.

Impressions
More importantly, the Spark is efficient and has been tuned to have a more sophisticated driving dynamics. The Spark has unlocked a new set of achievements: possibly out-refining the fan favorite Honda Fit--a Consumer Reports Top Pick. Pulling that off with a minicar meant for city commuting would be a huge accomplishment; we will see how it really stacks up as formal testing of our 2016 Spark 1LT with an automatic transmission commences in the coming months.

Our 2013 Spark returned a disappointing 32 mpg overall. The 2016 is estimated to get a more remarkable 41 mpg highway and 30 mpg city. After pushing the Spark around Connecticut country roads and four-lane routes, keeping an eye on the trip computer's average fuel economy, we saw a range of 36 to 40 mpg. We'll have to wait until our official measurements for a final verdict here.

Getting in the 2016 Spark, there's no doubt it is a narrow car. The very nature of the narrow beam means that the seats tend to be on the shrunken side of comfortable, so don't expect a full-size seat bottom. Even the footwell is on the tighter side with a foot rest that is so far back that learning to be cozy is a skill.

The tapered seating is topped by a relatively impressive head room. Even the backseat has a surprising amount of space, although two adults would need to be really good friends to share it because there is only one cupholder. Back seats folded down, the cargo space turns into a space worthy of the finest weekend antique store finds headed home to an empty nest.

The interior environment is also a more cultivated whole than the curated collection of motorsports-inspired and aspirational techie-inspired elements in the previous Spark. The instrument cluster is simple and the climate controls are straightforward. Easy-to-use buttons are back for both climate and the volume control for 2016. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are just as easy as setting up a Bluetooth connection has always been in Chevrolets; that is to say, unchallenging. Wi-Fi hotspot access, SiriusXM Radio, and OnStar services are all offered for a post-trial period subscription.

The Spark may be a little car, but it is big on being able to dart around. There is a little hesitation off the line, but the four-cylinder mill gathers power quickly and keeps it. The improved continuously variable transmission mostly mimics a regular transmission by making simulated shifts, cutting down on the droning sound that afflicts many cars equipped with CVTs.

The ride is a little stiff-legged, as would be expected with such a tiny wheelbase and small tires. When zipping along, it has the kind of handling where you don't have to slow down too much or too often to tackle curving roads. Quick to turn in and with low body roll, a little more feedback through the steering would level-up the sporty factor even more. That said, it doesn't rival the Ford Fiesta, our benchmark for subcompact handling.

Who'd have thought that adding just 14 horsepower would make such a difference, but the new 1.4-liter small-displacement Ecotec engine boosts the 2016 Spark by 16 percent more horses to a still-modest 98. It's changes like those that make the Spark more appreciated as the dame of the country road than also-ran of the urban runabouts.

CR's Take
A standard backup camera displayed on the 7-inch screen is a forward-thinking inclusion, making the diminutive car even easier to fit in tight spots. Also standard are 10 airbags. Lane departure warning and blind-spot alert are options, as is forward-collision warning (FCW), but Chevrolet misses the real safety mark by making FCW an option instead of standard. We hope that this automaker--and the others--soon sees the light and makes FCW as standard as the backup cameras in the Spark.

Clearly, efforts were made to raise the bar for the 2016 Spark. Overall, the 2016 is possibly more fit than the Fit and makes the Smart and Mitsubishi Mirage seem like klutzes.

What the 2016 Spark needs now that it is grown up are actual grown ups to enjoy it-something we intend to do as break-in miles continue, leading to a full road test in the weeks ahead.

No Data, New Model

Warranty

All cars come with basic warranty coverage, also known as a bumper-to-bumper warranty. This protects consumers against unexpected problems with non-wear items. Powertrain warranty protects against engine and transmission troubles. Rust through, or corrosion warranty, covers rust to non-damaged components. Roadside aid provides on-location assistance in case of a breakdown and may include limited towing services.

Extended warranties provide peace of mind. Owners of models known to have worse-than-average predicted reliability can mitigate risks with an extended warranty. Generally, we recommend buying a model with better-than-average reliability and skipping this expensive add on. If you do buy an extended warranty, it is key to read the small print to understand what is covered and where you can bring the car for repairs.

Basic (years/miles)
3/36

Powertrain (years/miles)
5/60

Rust through (years/miles)
6/100

Roadside aid (years/miles)
5/60