For most people the idea of secondhand cars is just fine. But for others, it has to be new: they’d no more be willing to drive a car that’s been owned by someone else than wear a pair of pants that have been owned by someone else. For them, Chevy made the Spark, says Paul Horrell.
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Driven: Chevrolet Spark
This is a real five-door hatchback that opens the scoring at under £7,000. I haven’t seen the Spark brochure, but something tells me that it won’t be the base model that gets featured in the photos. It commendably has six airbags, but it also has wind-up windows, sofa castors for wheels, a hole in the dash where the radio ought to be, and its locking is only central in the sense that if you sit centrally in the car (on the handbrake I suppose) you can reach all four locking buttons.
If you climb just above £8k you can get the one with those absences rectified, and even aircon too. Keep climbing and you’ll discover that Chevrolet has afforded the top-trim model, the LT, some stuff that makes it look quite attractive for this class of minicar, and that’s why these are the only versions Chevy allowed before its camera. It’s got bigger wheels, splashes of chrome and some silver and body-colour on the dash. These cosmetics must cost them pence to do, but because the LT has other extra equipment, to get them you have to shell out thousands more. It costs nigh-on £10k.
And for that money you really could get a better car, if you wouldn’t mind metaphorically donning some pre-owned underduds. A low-mileage proper supermini, with plenty of warranty left to run. It’s what I’d do.
And even if you do crave the whiff of new-car smell, remember that it gets pretty engaging at £9-£10,000, with Fiat 500s, Kas or Twingos. But they have only three doors. It boils down to this: if you absolutely must buy a cheap new car with five doors and five seat belts, look at the Spark.
Seen in that light, it’s a good car. An interesting-looking one for a start, with what is, for a baby car, a surprisingly aggressive character: the lamps are angular and spangly, the details consciously over-stated, the metal’s surfacing a series of switchblade slices. The rear door handles hide in the pillars and the cabin is narrower than the track. But it still can’t quite disguise its inevitably tall, short proportions. When you see it from slightly aft of the direct side-profile, it looks like it’s had its face kicked in. Still, a nice departure from custom and practice, which dictates that tiny cars are obliged to adopt a self-consciously cute face, like a parade of Hallmark birthday-card bunnies with pink bows around their necks.
Think of the dial pod on a scooter’s handlebars, and then plonk it onto a steering column, and you’ve got the most striking feature of the Spark’s cabin. The speedo is a real dial, and all other info is imparted by an LCD panel. Stupidly, although the LCD is the same size, base cars do without even a clock. Again, it surely actually costs them money to do two different versions, so it’s just another ruse to get you to buy from higher in the range.
Five of you could fit in provided the fat ones go in front - the back seat is OK for leg- and headroom, but as narrow as you’d expect if you saw the car from outside. It’s no Tardis, but on the other hand The Doctor wouldn’t have any better luck elsewhere in the class either.
It’s a comfy little thing too, especially for bumbling about town. The body feels strong so doesn’t shiver over bumps, which are in any case swallowed surprisingly effectively by the springs. The dampers work well too. It all feels fairly expensively engineered. Then you turn down the radio and it’s obvious where cash has been saved. There’s horrible road noise. I didn’t know you could get own-brand suspension bushes at Lidl.
The engine isn’t too subdued either. The first 1.2 that I tried sounded like a cement mixer, and came with a sticky gearchange too. The next one was a lot better on both counts. These were pre-prod cars, I expect the one you buy will be more like the second than the first.
Sweetest of the lot though was the base version, a mere litre. Rev its heart out and it’s willing enough and 68bhp is quite good for the money.
But you need the bigger 1.2 Spark if you want to get to 62mph faster than 15.5 seconds. Or if you ever need to get into the outside lane. Or you ever go up hills with more than yourself on board. The 1.2 has 81bhp and those extra 13 horses make all the difference down at this level. And the fuel economy figure is identical.
Good small cars are the ones where you can pelt them through bends within an inch of their lives, and they feel like they’re still on your side. This is one. It’s light on its feet. The front end obeys the steering wheel exactly, and conversely what’s going on at the tyres is fed back up to your fingers. The back tyres can be made to wriggle around a little according to the throttle. It’s not lairy, but it puts an impish smile on your face. And it all happens at such low speeds even in the suburbs, you can feel like a hooligan without being one.
The name Chevrolet still brings to mind clunky American barges. But it’s a less tainted badge than what this division of GM was once called, Daewoo. And though it’s no Corvette, it shows Chevy’s going in the right direction. Quite briskly.
We say: good for its class, but if you need five doors why not get a secondhand bigger better car?