2013 Chevrolet Spark first drive
GM's new mini car targets young, but are they interested?
Vancouver, B.C. — Chevrolet's new mini car is rolling into Canadian dealerships but the question is how many will roll out. The Korean-built Spark five-door hatchback isn't a game-changing model for General Motors but it is important. GM and its competitors desperately want to snag younger buyers, especially so-called millennials (aka Generation Y), who reportedly aren't as interested in car ownership as their boomer parents.
Maybe more important, automakers' new-vehicle fleets have to meet the U.S. government's tough new corporate average fuel economy standard of 35.5 mpg (about 6.6 L/100 km) by 2016. They can't do that selling a lot of pickups and crossovers.
At opposing ends of the spectrum
The challenge of meeting that first goal is going to make achieving second goal that much harder. As Canadian auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers points out, Americans haven't embraced the larger subcompact or B-class models, never mind smaller A-class minis like the Spark.
"It shows you how perverse the fuel-efficiency regulations are," says DesRosiers. "It may not make any sense from a market-acceptance point of view, to introduce that kind of vehicle into the North American market. But when you're staring 35-and-a-half mpg standards by 2016 you have to try these things. That's why they're pushing plug-in electrics so much."
Harry Ng, GM Canada's product manager for Spark, believes it brings enough to the table to make a dent. While the Spark is also pitched at older buyers as a second or third family vehicle, its features, pricing and running costs all seemed aimed squarely at millennials.
An international car
Built at GM Korea (formerly Daewoo), the Spark has been available outside North America for three model years. It's the first mini car Chevy has offered in North America. GM gave it a makeover to increase its attractiveness in a market where many of us still buy our cars by the pound. Ng says focus groups didn't want a tin box on wheels but something reasonably well equipped with a low monthly payment. "These are practical people," who place needs above wants, Ng says.
Bigger than its only direct competition, the Smart fortwo or Scion iQ, it straddles the gap between the A-class segment and subcompacts such as the Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit and Nissan Versa.
Four doors makes Spark unique
The Spark's 2,375-millimetre wheelbase is 375mm longer than the iQ, almost 500 mm more than the Smart and 75 mm longer than the Fiat 500. GM also claims bragging rights on interior volume, including head and leg room and cargo space, whether or not the split rear seats are folded. The styling is "edgy" and "aggressive," says Ng, helped by 15-inch alloy wheels standard on North American Sparks.
Unlike its immediate competitors, the Spark has four passenger doors, with the rear handles concealed in the window trim to give the tall, wedgy car more of a two-door silhouette. The bigger wheels, pushed well out to the corners, help give the Spark a planted look.
The Spark's interior is nothing like the small-car penalty boxes of old. Although the grade of plastics is clearly lower than in GM's more upmarket models, they look pretty good.
The dashboard features blue-lit displays Koreans favour these days, with a large centrally mounted speedo and smaller information screen that includes a tachometer. The driver's view is optimized as the gauge set moves with the steering wheel when tilt is adjusted.