In a recent feature that focused on Ford’s success with younger drivers, I highlighted how tech-savvy Millennials and Generation Z buyers are obsessed with inexpensive compact cars that are loaded to the headliner with connectivity, drivability, and simplicity. Not to sound like an old codger or anything, but kids these days sure love staying connected to all things electronic, and driving a modern compact car doesn’t seem to present any divergence from this fact.
So when Chevrolet rolled out its Spark a couple years back, and opted to throw a ton of standard tech goodies at it, younger buyers took notice. Here was a car that looked like it was right out of Sci-Fi flick and came standard with oodles of options that were tailor-made for today’s youth. And for being a little “beginner car” the Spark sure is an interesting deviation from the traditional economy car stereotype, being both compact and clever. For potential buyers it is hard to ignore the current Spark’s eye-catching styling, gratuitous tech gadgets and space-age cockpit, EPA-estimated 39 miles per gallon on the highway, and the inexpensive asking price of $12,170.
There is one other utterly unavoidable angle to the Spark that sets it apart form the pack in our eyes: It has WiFi. For the past few years General Motors has been busy equipping virtually every vehicle in its fleet with built-in WiFi capabilities at no extra cost to the consumer; and in a recent report we did on WiFi-equipped cars the Spark received high marks for its 7-inch touch-screen command center and the 10 airbags that come standard on every version available. But back to that WiFi, because that is one definite advantage this little guy has over other cars in its class. A modest $50 a month gets us 5GB of data, connectivity for seven devices, and we have the ability to activate it on the fly if we think our phones aren’t going to cut the mustard.
So when Chevrolet announced that they would be debuting a new incarnation of the sharp little Spark we were a little perplexed. Sure, the car does have a tiny 1.2 liter engine that is easily humiliated by the power found in the segment’s top awarded 1.5 liter Honda Fit. But with an overall rating of 9.3/10 on Kelley Blue Book, and Spark sales up 14.7% over the previous year according to a report by Autoblog, the new Spark might actually be just what the American people want. After all, international Spark sales have been solid, with Chevrolet recently selling its 1 millionth unit since the car went on sale in 2010.
So let’s look the car over for a moment and see what Chevy has in store for us. To start, that 1.2 liter sewing machine of an engine that “underpowers” the current Spark has been ditched for a much beefier 1.4 liter unit that churns out a solid 98 horsepower. And while this may not sound like much of an upgrade, GM claims this is going to be a noticeable 16% increase over the previous generation’s output. The new Spark will also remain lightweight and still be offered in a manual for those of us who like to punch it on occasion, and it will still have GM’s smooth-sailing CVT transmission for all those drivers out there who don’t want to worry about a clutch.
So what about that body? The new Spark does look a lot more “mainstream” than its predecessor, but sadly it now might just blend into obscurity with all the other compact cars on the road. So hopefully with colors like “Toasted Marshmallow and Kalamata” making their way onto GM’s paintbrush, there is still a chance that the Spark can be a colorful little compact for the masses. And while we may prefer the previous model’s quirky styling cues, there is no denying the fact that this new model has a roof-line that is 1.6 inches lower, a much stiffer chassis, and an elongated wheelbase for stronger driving characteristics.
But let’s be honest, no one buys a Spark for its outstanding performance prowess. People buy it for what it was designed to do: be a tech-laden around-town inexpensive grocery-getter. And while the new Spark may not be on par with a Tesla Model S or a Rinspeed Budii in the futuristic tech department, the new model does offer some sharp upgrades that certainly warrant consideration. The infotainment system now sports a next generation 7-inch MyLink diagonal color touchscreen, a vibrant “dot-matrix” LCD gauge cluster comes standard, and according to Chevy the new “capacitive-touch display” can be controlled by swiping and pinching the screen for “quick, easy operation” just like a smartphone. GM also installed physical buttons and knobs in this model for added operational ease.
So the Spark gets a few electronic upgrades, some sportier handling characteristics, and a little more of a “serious” lease on life via some new styling cues. But all these updates take a backseat to the standard safety features we found on the new Spark. With camera-based technology monitoring everything around the car constantly, drivers can now receive forward collision alerts, lane departure warnings, and blind spot alerts as they bump around town. A rear-vision camera system comes standard on the new Spark as well, and rear parking assist is an available add-on. These are all very impressive features to find on an economy car, and according to GM’s international vice president of design, Michael Simcoe, “the Spark has grown up.”
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