When you think of Chevrolet cars in the Philippines, you’ll probably picture huge, body-on-frame diesel-fed cars: the Trailblazer and Colorado pickup platform vehicles. It’s not a surprising fact, considering that these behemoths have been the American brand’s best-sellers this decade.
However, there’s another car in the Golden Bowtie lineup that demands your attention. Enter the 2019 Chevrolet Spark – a pint-sized hatchback hailing from General Motors Korea. Here’s my in-depth review of the smallest Chevy in its range-topping Premier variant.
As a small hatchback, the 2019 Spark conforms to the norm with its egg shape and bulbous contour. What makes it stand out, however, is its sparkling blue paint color, which Chevrolet aptly calls the Caribbean Blue Metallic. Whether this reminds you of a super-relaxing Caribbean vacation or a sparkling gel toothpaste is beyond me.
Kidding aside, I find the aggressive front fascia of the Spark a bit too busy. The facial features are huge for its size, particularly the sweptback projector halogens, chrome-lined split grille, and halogen taillights. The LED daytime running lights almost fill half of the bumper, too. Now, whether you dig the look or not is, again, beyond me. Saving grace? The rear door handles hidden by the C-pillar is a pretty cool touch.
The rather large elements in the Spark’s exterior design can also be observed inside. The vents, 7-inch infotainment, steering wheel, and air-conditioning controls are huge, leaving minimal blanks on the center console. The materials used are generally okay, with textured polyurethane dominating the dashboard and the robust steering wheel. There are hard plastics found on the door panels and by the cupholders, but that’s expected in this class. If there’s any gripe, however, that would be the extensive use ofhard-to-maintain piano black plastics inside the car.
The Spark’s seats, on the other hand, are clad in soft fabric, which makes for comfortable seating. The driver gets an open feeling, too, with my knees barely touching the door panels. There are plenty of cubbyholes to put your items on, but rear passengers will be limited to just one cupholder. Yes, no bottle holders by the doors.
The height adjustable driver’s seat and tilting steering wheel make for a good driving position, albeit, I find the toggle sticks positioned too far back from the steering wheel. Nevertheless, it wasn’t an elbow-to-elbow affair at the front, while rear occupancy is okay for two people standing 5’8” and below. The seats are a bit flat so you would end up slouching to reach a comfortable position, which isn’t really a problem with the ample legroom. Three people would be a squeeze, but possible. The 195-liter cargo volume space is limited to just a standard-sized child stroller. Nothing else. Okay, maybe a slim knapsack. It can be expanded by folding the rear backrests, but they don’t fold all the way down so that’s a bummer.
The Spark’s ride quality leans towards comfort rather than sporty, with the McPherson strut/compound crank suspension setup and seat cushions able to absorb road imperfections compliantly. NVH’s great as well, but air conditioning can be improved as it takes time before it cools down the cabin after leaving it on a sunny parking lot.
In-cabin technology in the Spark is pretty much on par, if not better, with the cars in its class. The trip meter displays instantaneous and average fuel consumption, while speed-sensing door locks, auto up/down driver’s window, and heated/power-folding side mirrors add convenience to the driver. Headlights aren’t automatic and door unlocking is at the mercy of the key fob, but the car will audibly warn you if you switch off the engine with the lights on.
The Spark’s best feature is its 7-inch infotainment system that’s situated high above the dashboard. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so smartphone integration is as easy as plugging your phone for charging. There’s also a USB-C port available if needed. Handsfree calls, on the other hand, is okay for the most part. Sound from the six speakers is just on the average.
For its class and price point, the Spark’s loaded with safety features. Five three-point seatbelts are available, plus the driver and front passenger get an audible and visual seatbelt reminder. Other standard safety features found on the range-topper Premier and mid-level LT CVT are dual front airbags, ISOFIX child anchors, ABS, traction control system (TCS), electronic stability control (ESC), hill-start assist (HSA), and immobilizer. The entry-level LT MT drops the TCS, ESC, and HSA. That’s a sweet deal safety-wise if you ask me.
Driving & Handling
Having a four-pot 1.4-liter aluminum engine block inside the bonnet is a huge advantage for the 2019 Spark. This power plant produces 97 horsepower and 128 Newton-meters of torque – numbers that are lightyears higher than the segment leaders like the Toyota Wigo and Mitsubishi Mirage, sent to the front wheels via a CVT. On the road, that advantage was a joy to abuse.
With that said, the engine was responsive to every accelerator input, even from a standstill. Its CVT is one of those that doesn’t feel like one, except when you’re trying to overtake wherein you’d have to really floor it. But once it went, it went rapidly. It wasn’t a sports car-like performance, mind you, but for its size, the Spark was a fast machine.
Handling, however, wasn’t as great as the engine’s performance. The steering feel was light – too light actually, making it a tad less composed on the highway. It’s like a stubborn toddler who won’t stay in one place. It’s a different story within the city, though, as the light steering and unimpeded driving visibility make for easy maneuvers in tight spaces. The front disc/rear disc brakes setup needs improvement, too, for safer halting.
Even with the biggest engine displacement in its class, the Spark still returned exceptional fuel efficiency during my test runs. City crawls registered 10.,1 km/L while fast Sunday drives an average speed of 60 km/h read back 14.7 km/L. Flat highway stints at 90 km/h clocked in 24.3 km/L.
Keep in mind that fuel efficiency testing was done with only one person and his knapsack on board.
While it seems that the 2019 Spark is an underdog based on its mere population on the streets, it showed characteristics that could make it a best-seller. But why is it not the case? Well, mainly because of its price tag. At P859,888 (UPDATE: Chevrolet brings down the price of this variant to P734,888), the Spark stands firmly as the priciest small hatchback you could buy today – a hefty amount of cash for a car that won’t let you enjoy weekend shopping with your one-year-old.
But the Spark isn’t pegged to be a best-seller, nor is it a car to buy when you have a third baby on the way. It’s perfect for urban-dwelling bachelors or bachelorettes who need a city-slicker that doesn’t look like the other small hatchback on the adjacent lane.
At this price point, considering all the standard goodies, outstanding fuel economy, and 5-year warranty, the Spark isn’t a bad choice after all.