Small hatchbacks seem to have lost their place among crossover SUVs. But while they are no longer the most popular type of vehicle, there still is a market for small, inexpensive cars. The 2021 Chevrolet Spark is among the last of these types of cars and is one of the least expensive new cars that you can buy.
Engine – Under the very short hood of the Chevy Spark is a 1.4L naturally aspirated engine. It doesn’t produce 100 hp, not even 99 hp. 98 hp (73 kW) is all you get to play with along with 94 lb-ft (127 Nm) of torque. But with a car that only tips the scales at 1,049 kg as this demo vehicle is equipped, the power & torque make it feel quite peppy. Obviously you’re not going to win any drag races between street lights – needless to say, don’t street race – but because there’s no turbocharger to wait on, engine response is immediate. Peak power and torque are higher up in the rpm range however on highways, I didn’t need to rev the engine past 3,000 rpms to overtake another vehicle.
Another great benefit to being so light & having a naturally aspirated engine is fuel economy. With the equipped CVT automatic, the 2021 Chevrolet Spark can achieve 7.7 L/100km (30.5 MPG) in a city and 6.2 L/100km (37.9 MPG) on a highway. During my time with the little Spark, I averaged 6.8 L/100km (34.6 MPG) on my drive cycle.
Transmission – The Chevy Spark can be equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission or a CVT automatic. This demo had the latter. The CVT automatic does a decent enough job of getting the car moving without much fuss. It quickly tries to drop the rpms as low as possible once you’re up to speed to improve fuel economy. When overtaking on a highway, it quickly reacts to a stab of the throttle to bring the engine’s rpms up for a surge in power. But if you know how to drive a car with a manual transmission, go for that. I briefly drove a Chevy Spark with the 5-speed manual and it is a joy even on mundane city streets.
Braking – The 2021 Chevrolet Spark is one of the few remaining vehicles on the market to come equipped with drum rear brakes. It’s not that they don’t work – because they do – it’s just that disc brakes perform better under repeated use thanks to better heat dissipation. The front brakes are disc in case you’re wondering. Due to the light weight of the Spark, it doesn’t take much effort on the brake pedal to bring the car to a stop. Brake pedal feel is good with a firm and confidence inspiring brake pedal. Automatic emergency braking is not standard but it is available on the 2LT trim of the Spark.
Handling – Because the Chevy Spark weighs as much as a Lotus Elise… ok, not really but pretty close, the Spark feels super agile around corners. So long as the skinny tires grip, the little Spark is a lot of fun to drive on tight, technical back roads. It’s lightweight and quick steering also make it super easy to dart through busy city traffic. On highways, the Spark feels stable even when making a lane change or passing by a large tractor trailer.
Ride Comfort – Normally cars with short wheelbases tend to have a more bouncy ride. The Mini Cooper S is a good example of this. The 2021 Chevrolet Spark is no different. The suspension is not tightly tuned for sporty driving like the Mini Cooper but bouncy rides and short wheelbases go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s just a characteristic of these types of cars.
Interior Space – Depending where you sit in the 2021 Spark, you’ll either have plenty of space or no space at all. The front seats are fairly upright like in a crossover but tall occupants, like myself at 6’4”, will still have plenty of leg and headroom.
For rear occupants, it’s a different story. The Chevy Spark 2021 only has 2 seats in the back. The middle portion is reserved for cup holders. But leg and headroom is virtually non-existent for rear occupants; especially if someone like myself is sitting in the front. Shorter to average sized people should fit in the rear seats provided the same type of people sit in the front. You could fold the rear seats for more cargo but that in itself is a challenge. The bottom cushion needs to be lifted first before the seat backs can be lowered. But if the front seats are too far back, you need to move those forward first. As well, once the rear seats are folded, it is not a flat cargo area.
Speaking of which, the 2021 Chevy Spark has 314 L (11.1 cu-ft) of cargo capacity behind the back seats and 770 L (27.2 cu-ft) with the rear seats folded.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – Noise is plentiful inside the Spark but thankfully, it is better than some of its competitors. Engine noise is moderate when accelerating so long as the rpms remain below 3,000-ish. Once the car is on a steady cruise, the engine’s rpms are negligible but that’s when road noise takes over. Again, it’s not as bad as some of its competitors but you may want to turn up the radio by one notch or two.
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – The least expensive LS trim of the Chevrolet Spark does not have convenience features like power windows, power locks, power mirrors, air conditioning or cruise control. It’s as basic as a car can get which is why it is one of the least expensive new cars in North America at just $10,200 CAD ($13,400 USD). But even the base trim gets 10 airbags, a 7-inch touchscreen, a backup camera, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto connectivity, & 4G LTE with WiFi.
At the other end of the spectrum, a fully loaded 2LT trim comes equipped with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, rear park assist, leatherette upholstery, push button start, sunroof, heated seats, & remote start. Obviously this does drive up the price to $19,200 CAD ($17,900 USD).
Interior Design – Of course the interior is going to have hard plastics because after all, this is one of the least expensive new cars that you can buy. Thankfully, the hard plastics are mainly relegated to the lower portions of the cabin with the upper portions having soft touch plastics. Best off all, the gaps between the trim pieces are small and consistent throughout so while it is a $10k car, it looks a bit more like a $20k car.
Exterior Design – Overall the Spark looks pretty good especially with the optional Sport Package that this demo vehicle has. It adds the black roof, black front bumper accents around the grille, black bow ties, and black 15-inch wheels. My only complaint about the exterior – although it’s not about the design – is the poor quality headlights. They couldn’t light up the darkest road even if it was the only car on it. HID or LED headlights on the higher trims should be made at least optional.
In all, the 2021 Chevrolet Spark is one of the best sub-compact cars on the market right now. It’s so good that Chevrolet hasn’t really changed it in the last few years because “why change something if it isn’t broken?” But if your budget allows for a bit more than the base LS trim, the one that I would recommend is the 1LT with the manual transmission. You get the convenience features of power windows, power locks, power mirrors, and so on as well as a fun and inexpensive to operate car.
Thank you to Chevrolet Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Chevrolet.ca