I recently held my breath, took the plunge and sunk into my sofa to watch Top Gear USA. While the rapport between the American trio seems more contrived, the content of their show is more relevant to those wanting actual car advice.
The episode I caught featured a city-car shootout. It revealed America’s seeming distaste for micro-motors. But in these times, staying afloat means pandering to all markets. The small Spark from the big bowtie, Chevrolet is probably unloved by most in its home country. Not so in South Africa, with our sizable entry-level segment and growing first-time buyer market.
For a funky bunch
Our lime green test unit couldn’t have arrived at a better time. The beginning of a new year sees fresh-faced matriculants starting their path on the journey of life. Naturally, this is accompanied by that first set of wheels. Chevrolet clearly wants to remind audiences that their little Spark is still cool for school.
Much can change in a year – let alone three. But even though the Spark came around in 2010, the styling is still contemporary. It’s a charismatic little thing, full of attitude and fizz. In 2013 it underwent a minor refresh. And with sporty accoutrements like the black alloy wheels and body stripes, it certainly does look like a relation to Bumblebee from Transformers.
Flex in the city
Like a feisty puppy in a townhouse garden eager to protect its territory, the Spark happily flexes its little muscles in the city. To extract the most from its 1.2-litre, four-cylinder mill one has to engage in constant stirring of the gearbox and use a heavy right foot.
But it remains cheerful, as you wring its neck out and plant it swiftly and sneakily through smaller gaps in traffic. Its job is to deliver an easy driving experience and care-free negotiation through tight cityscapes. And in that role, it works rather well. Take it onto the freeway and things are slightly less cheerful. This is when the compact Spark begins to feel its size. Honey, I shrunk the Sonic.
The steering wheel relays a fidgety air and stiff crosswinds begin to dictate your direction. Best stay in the middle or left lane, as the Spark settles at its cruising speed of 100km/h. If you wanted to achieve more, you’d need to keep shifting down – but that renders a loud, sewing machine-like drone. With the next iteration, they’d do well do endow it with a more grown-up feeling on the highway.
At R136 500 for the range-topping LT derivative on test here; the Spark has a true value element. All the essential safety features and contemporary niceties are there. Even if you opt for the basic Campus, you’ll still get airbags, anti-lock brakes, air-conditioning and central locking.
The top-tier version boasts side seat airbags, front and rear electric windows, rear park distance control, a six-speaker audio system, satellite steering wheel controls as well as USB connectivity. For an extra R800 you can have 15-inch black alloys and an extra R3201 will get you stripes and “Sport” badges on the side doors. GM South Africa throws in a five-year/120 000-kilometre warranty as well.
Still cool for school
The Chevrolet Spark is still a good city-slicker that satisfies the criteria of a competent runabout. It’s fun to thrash around town, it’s compact enough to slot into awkward parking spots and it looks like a lovable puppy. It’ll do quite nicely if your daily driving entails zipping around the confines of an urban setting.
The Technical Stuff:
Model: 2014 Chevrolet Spark LT
Price: R136 500
Engine: 1.2-litre, four-cylinder
Power and Torque: 60kW and 108Nm
Fuel Consumption: 5.4l/100km (Claimed)
Test Mileage: 671 kilometres
Praises: Cheap, cheerful, well-equipped, fun to drive in the city, frugal.
Gripes: Only happy in the city; not keen for open-road touring.