|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
If you wince at the mere mention of ‘Spark’, fear not. This is no longer the wheezing bucket of bolts made by Daewoo and badge-slapped by Chevrolet that spawned such infamous imitators as the Chery QQ. The Spark is now an all-new hatchback completely revamped to be more comfy while carrying some semblance of style. Outside, there’s no longer any attempt to out-cute Hello Kitty. Instead, it’s going for a more aggressive, sportier stance which Chevrolet calls “small with an attitude”. And you get the point by just looking at the overly large headlamps, strong character crease on the doors, and the bulging wheel wells. If opting for the 1.2, you’ll even get a standard roof spoiler, and oddly enough, roof rails to carry the popular mountain bike and the like. The rear door handles are disguised as well giving the Spark a three-door hatch look. Overall, the design’s is successful, serving to distinguish it from its competitors.
The overt styling is also carried inside, which has inserts painted to match the exterior body color. It’s a neat and unique way to uplift the otherwise straightforward black-on-black cabin. Then there’s the instrument cluster, which sits on top of the steering column much like a motorbike. Despite the small size, it’s fully featured and includes a large analog speedometer in the circle, while the tachometer, fuel, and odometers are all bluish-green LED digital displays. It’s a very noble idea, but doesn’t really do much to improve the readability versus a straight-forward analog display.
The front passengers will find the space more than adequate, however it must be noted that knees may get banged up against the rounded contours of the lower dash, especially near the shifter area. Sadly, the space isn’t as forgiving for those traveling in the backseat. Two adults squeezed in should be survivable for driving within the city, but they’ll surely protest at the thought of traveling more than two hours in the Spark’s backseat. Matters aren’t helped by the lack of any sort of headrest for the rear passengers.
There are two engines available for the Spark and it depends if you can drive a stick. Opting for a manual gets you a choice between a 1.0- and 1.2-liter motor while going for the slush box leaves you no choice but to settle for the smaller engine. As you probably have noticed by now, this is an automatic, so firing up the 1.0-liter will net you a total of 68, yes 68 horsepower and 93 Nm of torque. And despite the thoughts of the automatic transmission robbing much of the needed horsepower, the Spark actually accelerates with sufficient pep. It won’t win any sort of race, but it’s got enough grunt to haul three, perhaps four people and their luggage in town.
It must be noted that the Spark is really designed as a city car as the speedometer’s progress halts quite quickly as the speeds pick up. At triple digit speeds, you’ll swear that the drivetrain’s aleady getting taxed thanks to the excessive engine noise getting into the cabin. Suffice to say, the Spark is best left for that daily commute from the house to the workplace. The small displacement should also equate to excellent fuel economy, but not so with the Spark. In fact, the fuel consumption is severely handicapped by that engine and gearbox combination: 9.13 km/L in pure city driving. Perhaps opting for the manual motor, especially in 1.2-liter guise will enable the Spark to at least achieve double digits.
The sub-par fuel economy figures aside, the Spark actually feels remarkably safe and balanced on the road thanks to its MacPherson Strut/Torsion Beam suspension set-up. There’s a degree of firmness to the overall ride, but nothing to cause any discomfort to any of the passengers. The modestly-sized tires: 155/70 R 14s actually do their job quite well, though these will undoubtedly be the first to go in any sort of modification. There’s little steering feel, but the Spark still manages to response well to the driver’s every command. The brakes are typical of its class: front disc and rear drums, and they do stop the Spark without any fuss.
At P 598,888, the Spark doesn’t exactly come cheap. But in its favor, it carries a lot in way of standard equipment. Convenience features including power door locks and front windows, power steering, keyless entry with immobilizer are standard. Crucially important to flexibility is the option to expand the luggage space. And the Spark obliges with a 60/40 split-folding rear seat with a luggage cover thrown in for extra security.
The Philippines is only recently discovering the joy of small cars. Thanks to increased competition and rocketing fuel prices, the market is opening up to the notion of subcompact hatchback ownership. With that in mind, the Chevrolet Spark will do nicely as a primary car for first-time owners, or thrifty secondary cars for puttering around the city.