CITY cars for the past five years have been where it’s all been happening. Exploding fuel prices, a desire to be more eco friendly and the credit crunch have all played a huge part in focussing the spotlight on the babies in carmakers’ ranges.
Throw in the cash conscious buyers the scrappage scheme funnelled into dealers and city cars became the bread and butter of most showrooms’ daily business.
But Chevrolet has set the stakes even higher for its Spark – not only is it charged with notching up sales from price-fixated buyers, but the manufacturer also hopes it’ll attract younger buyers into Chevrolet’s 93 UK retailers.
At first glance it certainly looks like it has the right credentials. That all important price starts with a six – and under the last of the scrappage deals, the network will be knocking them out for under £5k. That puts it in direct competition with Hyundai’s extremely competent i10, right at the sharp end of the list prices.
But remember the Spark has an ace up it’s sleeve – it’s got big screen pedigree. You may recognise it as one of the annoying twins from Transformers 2, although it’s unlikely it was the Spark viewers were lusting after the most. That accolade went to the bright yellow Camaro – but nevertheless, some big screen product placement in a Hollywood blockbuster will do the city car no harm at all.
There’s little doubt it’s been styled to attract more youthful buyers. Chunky bumpers, a cheeky ‘grin’ and smart headlights really make it stand out on the road. The back end isn’t as dramatic, but it’s tidy enough not to offend and the colour schemes are loud enough to match their target buyers’ taste in music.
Under the bonnet customers have the option of a 1.0-litre unit offering 68bhp or a larger 81bhp 1.2-litre petrol. Performance differences between the two aren’t dramatic – the former will hit 60mph in 15.3 seconds, the larger unit in 12.1 seconds. But surprisingly it’s the baby of the duo that’s the better car to drive.
Both engines are a little unrefined with engine noise intruding at higher revs, but the 1.0-litre is peppy and good fun to keep on the boil. There’s little low down grunt, but keep it singing and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Those diminutive engine proportions do wonders for fuel economy and emissions. The 1.0-litre returns 55.4mpg emitting just 119g/km and the 1.2-litre the same 119g/km while managing identical 55.4mpg. With no plans for a diesel – ruled out because of costs – these are likely to be as good as it gets.
The Spark certainly handles well and has been set up satisfactorily for UK roads. Our test route incorporated some badly potholed surfaces in Northamptonshire and it coped admirably considering its size and dimensions. Steering is accurate and not badly weighted, but can lack a little feel at times.
Other complaints? Well, the gear stick is positioned a little too far back and it’s not the most precise shift. And you can tell where costs have been cut inside as the plastics are on the cheap side in the base model and a bit tacky in higher spec colour-coded models.
Plus, we really couldn’t get on with the dash that seems to have been modelled on a child’s flight simulator toy.
But with that being said, it’s comfortable for a budget car, has a reasonable amount of room inside and a number of handy extras included.
As standard on the Spark + model, buyers will get air conditioning, electric front windows and central locking, along with a USB compatible four-speaker stereo. And that’s for £6,945.
Another bonus is that it’s got five doors, but has been styled to look like a three-door. This will appeal to the younger audience while not putting off older family buyers.
Chevrolet plans to retail the Spark alongside Matiz, a car it’ll ultimately replace, until the second quarter of this year. Unfortunately, with scrappage coming to an end this month, it won’t be able to capitalise on many sales under the scheme. But with funky looks, a bargain price tag and an all-important Hollywood connection, maybe the 8,000 units the marque plans to sell in 2010 isn’t such an ambitious target after all.
by JAMES BAGGOTT
Engine: 1.0-litre petrol
Power: 68bhp, 92Nm