2010 / 2012 Chevrolet Spark

2010 / 2012 Chevrolet Spark 2010 / 2012 Chevrolet Spark
First Drive Review

Until recently, you probably hadn’t heard of the Chevrolet Spark unless you were a corporate lawyer for General Motors. The first-generation Spark—the Daewoo Matiz, as it was originally called—was blatantly copied by Chinese carmaker Chery. The resultant Chery QQ was so close to the Matiz/Spark that several body panels were interchangeable. GM and the Chinese fought it out in court before reaching a settlement.

Runt of the Litter

Although it would be hard to picture the previous Spark on U.S. roads, the new car, now on sale in Europe, is an entirely different thing. It has grown in all dimensions, but it still is a small vehicle. Most important, the new Spark looks like a real car, at least sort of. Angular lines, big headlights, and a prominent bow-tie grille make the Spark look far more substantial than its predecessor. With the top-of-the-line LT model's body kit, there’s actually a hint of sporty flair, although calling the lesser trims attractive is a huge stretch.

Despite the stylistic and dimensional changes, the main concept is the same. The Spark is still a tallish five-door hatch, perfectly suited to city traffic and the tight confines of urban living, thanks to its short length. The interior makes an attempt at being cool and mostly succeeds. Funky seating upholstery, body-colored trim, and a digital monitor inspired by computer games give the Spark a contemporary look. The front seating position is perfectly satisfactory, and with medium-size adults up there, rear-seat passengers still have enough legroom. There was enough headroom in the back for even this six-foot-four author.

Patience Not Included

Of course, having enough interior room is one thing; having fun behind the wheel is quite another. We drove the less tiny of the two gasoline-fired four-bangers offered, a 1.2-liter unit making 80 hp and 82 lb-ft of torque. There is also a 1.0-liter version with 67 hp and 69 lb-ft, but no diesel engine. (The previous model's 0.8-liter three-cylinder gas engine has thankfully been discontinued.)

We thought we'd have a little fun with the 1.2-liter engine but were rather disappointed with its real-life performance. The claimed 0-to-62-mph time of 12.1 seconds seems optimistic, and reaching the 102-mph—ungoverned!—top speed would take at least an eon and a half. Trust us—unless you own a runway as long as Peru is tall, you won't ever see triple-digit speeds. In an attempt at “speed,” you end up shifting all the time without much result. The abusively low levels of power are a bummer, because the chassis actually is rather competent, but you won’t find its limits with this engine.

At least the Spark is fun and useful in the city, and we think the Spark will find a market on this side of the ocean when it arrives late next year as a 2012 model. We just wish it had a bigger engine or a turbo for a little more straight-line oomph. Hop to it, GM.