By Justin Pritchard, The Globe and Mail
- Base price: $9,995 ... as tested $9,995
- Engine: 1.4-litre EcoTec four cylinder
- Transmission/Drive: Five-speed manual or CVT with manual mode shifting
- Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 7.6 city; 5.7 highway; 6.7 combined, regular fuel
- Alternatives: Nissan Micra, Mitsubishi Mirage
In the push to purvey Canada's least-expensive car, Chevrolet and Nissan engaged in a charming pricing scrum. When Chevrolet parked the MSRP of the 2016 Spark just three dollars below the Nissan Micra's then-cheapest Canadian price of $9,998, Nissan countered with a $10 price drop to $9,988. Now, with the dust settled, Micra maintains the title of Canada's most affordable car, beating the $9,995 Spark at the base-price game by just $7.
A brand-new car below the magical $10,000 mark represents a compelling alternative to a used car, creates buzz and puts brands strongly on the radar of first-time buyers. With the new Spark, Chevrolet has dropped another sub-$10,000 model into this rapidly growing segment, and it has more going for it than just that new car smell.
Millennials: They share, they co-operate, they're connected and creative, and they're a conundrum to product planners and marketers, who discovered that, in general, millennials care little about cars, more about tech, and don't like compromise. That's why for $7 dollar premium over the Micra, Chevrolet's latest might just offer about the most relevant feature set going for this demographic.
Integrated Bluetooth is standard kit on all Spark models - an instant advantage over Micra and others, who bundle it with an added-cost package.
OnStar is also standard, for push-button access to real-life help summoned via an integrated GPS and cellular connection.
OnStar advisers can send help automatically after a crash, summon a tow truck, beam navigation directions into the dashboard, and more. OnStar can be a confidence-booster for students (and parents of said students), who may, for instance, be making a lengthy highway trek home for the weekend.
OnStar's cellular and data connections also let Spark owners check fuel and tire pressure levels, operate door locks, and even remote-start the engine (with proper equipment) via their smartphone. Further, a built-in hotspot turns the Spark into a four-wheeled WiFi router, with fee-based high-speed mobile data.
And here's the big one: All Spark models ship with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which upscale the user's smartphone into the 7-inch colour touchscreen display, also standard.
Contact lists, maps, voice assistants, notification screens and the like are mirrored from the handset, complete with the same menu structures, gestures, look and feel. Distracting functions are locked out, as is the handset itself, and Siri or OK Google functionality is accessible with a tap.
Apple CarPlay and Android are heavy hitters in the mobile infotainment game, and offering them standard at this price point is a big deal.
Further, since the Spark's touch-screen happens to be a great place for a backup camera display, all models get one of those, too.
Spark's eggs aren't all in the connectivity and tech baskets, either - as most dynamic attributes and driving characteristics are right on the mark, too. The 1.4 litre four-cylinder musters 98 horsepower and nearly as much torque. With the Spark's small size, light weight and lack of power-sucking air conditioning on the tested entry-level model, that output goes a long way in scooting things along nicely in city traffic, and translates into pleasing responsiveness on the highway. The Micra is slightly punchier, though Spark's engine operates with more refinement and less noise, even when worked. Gears are browsed via a precise shifter that feels great in the hand, and a clutch that's forgiving in stop-and-go traffic, with just enough bite.
Around town, good outward sight lines and properly sized mirrors help drivers stay aware of their surroundings, a small turning circle enhances manoeuvrability, and even over the roughest roads available during an afternoon spent exploring downtown Toronto, the ride maintained a more solid, dense and robust feel than typically expected from a car this small.
Spark's highway manners are similarly refreshing. Where Micra, Mirage and comparable compacts are largely at the mercy of the wind and weather, often shifting and squirming beneath the driver, Spark stays on course, remains absolutely planted and stable, and sticks to the driver's requested line like a bigger, heavier car.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.