By Sue Mead, Motor Matters

Joining the growing list of micro-compact cars is the 2013 Chevrolet Spark. It's a little wedge of a vehicle with a sporty look, seating for four, five doors, plus a bit more cargo room than you might expect from a mini machine.

With a price tag that starts below $13,000, Chevy expects the all-new Spark will ignite the market. Spark is powered by a 1.25-liter, four-cylinder motor that makes 84 horsepower and has 83 lb.-ft. of torque. It will beat few cars off the line, but that's not the point.

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This little guy is peppy enough for city driving and powerful enough for a short jaunt on the highway (maybe just not in the fast lane). The motor is matched either to a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission; EPA estimates for the manual transmission are 34 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving; 32 mpg combined for the automatic.

The 2013 Spark is available in three trim levels: LS ($12,995), 1LT ($14,495) and 2LT ($15,795). We drove the uplevel 2LT Spark in motoring loops that included city driving and country two-lanes.

Clearly, it seems best as an urban runabout and handled well in this fashion. Once on the open road, we felt the micro-power of the micro-car as it took time to get up to cruising speed. We noted the automatic transmission sounds like a CVT (it isn't) and even acted like one, bypassing some of the up-shifted gear feeling.

We particularly like the suspension, which has front MacPherson struts and rear compound crank components, and is tuned for a tight road feel. It's not a go-kart, but engineers have made it to feel taut through curves and corners; the turning circle is 32.5 feet. Front vented disc and rear drum brakes are standard, as is ABS. Also standard is Hill Start Assist. Despite its diminutive size, Spark packs in 10 airbags.

On the outside, Spark's look seems to fight above its weight. A low-slung front end, scooped out sides and a roofline that slants downward sharply from its A-pillar to the rear gives the vehicle a pocket-rocket profile.

Although it looks like a three-door, the handles for rear doors are integrated into the C-pillar to give a seamless look while not subjecting to the graceless entry and exit that can plague little cars.

The headlamps, shaped like diamonds that have been laid on their sides, are stretched and wrapped around the edges of the car, and look massive on the Spark's small face; it's a look that surprisingly works well. Fifteen-inch aluminum wheels are standard, and they are the only size available; fog lamps are available with a higher end trim, and are integrated into the lower part of the grille.

One school of thought in interior design is that placing just a few large objects in a small space can actually make it look and feel larger than placing many smaller items in the same space. Perhaps, that's what Chevy designers had in mind when they put together the concept for the Spark's cabin. It's not big, but it feels pretty spacious, thanks in part to clever placement of a few key elements and good illumination from windows and front glass.

The three-spoke steering wheel is prominent, with clean lines and a brushed-aluminum look; driver and passenger vents are simple, large circles, and the bold body-color accent trim wraps from the insides of the doors nearly to the middle of the dash, providing continuity from front to rear. On all versions except base LS models, Spark comes with a 7-inch touchscreen that supports Chevy's MyLink infotainment system.

What's really impressive is the cargo space behind the rear seat. Spark has 11.4 cubic feet in the way-back, which is enough for a Trader Joe's haul or a bunch of little flea market finds. With the rear seat folded, the space expands to an impressive 31.2 cu.-ft.; the seat splits 60/40 to make room for longer items while still keeping space for a rear passenger.



VEHICLE TYPE_________________ 4-passenger FWD micro hatch

BASE PRICE___________________ $15,795 (as tested: $16,720)

MOTOR TYPE___________________ 16-valve Ecotec 4-cylinder w/MPFI


HORSEPOWER (net)_____________ 84 at 6400 rpm

TORQUE (lb.-ft.)________________ 83 at 4200 rpm

TRANSMISSION_________________ 4-speed automatic

OVERALL LENGTH_______________ 144.7 in.

TURNING CIRCLE (curb-to-curb)___ 32.5 ft.

CURB WEIGHT__________________ 2,269 lbs.

FUEL CAPACITY_________________ 9.2 gal.

EPA MILEAGE RATING___________ 28 mpg city, 37 mpg highway

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