Written by Anne Proffit
Please don’t laugh: the 2016 Chevrolet Spark 1LT is a viable car and only costs $15,560 as tested – with no options at all. But it does include two years or 24,000 miles of free maintenance – how about that?
Yes, it is tiny, yes it is not very powerful, and yes it has teeny, tiny tires beneath a short (well-sorted) chassis, but it also shows that purchasing an entry-level car doesn’t mean you have to bow your head in disgrace for not being able to afford – or even wanting – something bigger. The 2016 Chevy Spark 1LT will do just fine. Built, as it has been since initial introduction, in Korea, the Spark mini-car has been redesigned by General Motors (GM), is truly more refined and even has a tad more power than the 2015 edition that preceded it.
The electric blue color of the Spark driven here induces smiles. It’s just so bright and cheerful, and certainly stands out in the crowd of white, black and silver clones that seem to clog the road. Inside is black cloth distinguished by cheerful, textured white accents about the cabin. The seats are manual, of course, and quite supportive, even without the use of electric adjustments; there is height adjustment for the driver.
This is a five-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback and there’s sufficient space at the rear for a couple of good friends or two large dogs; a central console allows plenty of elbow room. The longer wheelbase of the 2016 Spark makes it ride smoother than the previous model; it’s also 1.6 inches lower than the 2015 Spark. That lowered roofline definitely aids aesthetics as well as aerodynamics.
Power, such as it is, comes from a new inline 1.4L DOHC Ecotec engine – up from an anemic 1.2L – that makes 98 horsepower (up from 84) and extracts 94 lb-ft of torque; redline is a heady 6500 rpm. The standard transmission is a nice 5-speed manual with a 2-step CVT optional. The stick is slick, albeit with longish throws; gearing works well enough that we were able to go over 30mpg on the first tank. This car arrived with just over 400 miles on it; no doubt the mileage should edge closer to 40mpg from the 9-gallon tank once broken in; during this week I averaged about 36mpg.
McPherson struts and compound crank suspensions front and rear keep this little, 143-inch (93.4-in wheelbase) machine stable and the electric rack-and-pinion power steering is fairly precise. There are front disc and rear drum brakes with power assist – they ably do the job of stopping his 2246-pound hatch. Handsome twinned five-spoke alloy rims carry the tiny 185/55R 15-inch tires.
Inside the cabin are amenities some much more expensive cars lack. While the sole covered storage lies in the good-size glovebox and under the large, 11.1-cubic-foot covered hatch, which is nicely appointed. And OMG, there’s a real spare tire under the floor. Rear seats fold for added storage.
The 2016 Chevy Spark 1LT uses a switchblade key for ignition yet has keyless entry. There’s a pull-down armrest for the driver’s comfort and, of course, cup holders abound throughout the cabin, even separating the rear seat passengers to discourage any cuddling in the back. Outside rear door handles continue to lie flush with the doors and are accessed at the top.
I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the tech inside this car. There’s a nicely hooded central screen for the XM/Sirius radio and there’s a CD player as well. At the base of the central stack lie single 12-volt, aux and USB plugs. The steering wheel (no leather) has cruise control on the left side and audio/phone on the right. With Chevrolet MyLink, pairing my iPhone in this car took only 30 seconds – so easy peasy it felt like second nature.
The dot-matrix LCD display never washed out like many do. The central stack’s controls are exceptionally easy to work and the car felt like home within a day. While this is an entry level car, there is an exceptionally crisp rearview camera that aids parking – like placing this car would be difficult at any time??? There are even courtesy lights in and outside the car and, without extra fees, Chevy includes fog lights on this Spark 1LT. How about five intermittent windshield wiper modes?
Niceties such as a light dip for signaling lane changes and single pass for the wipers, the ability to listen to music even with the car’s engine off are definitely pluses for the 2016 Chevy Spark. Safety nerds will appreciate the 10 airbags and anyone that’s accustomed to amenities will like the driver’s express up/down window, floor mats and a lamp under the hatch.
I really liked the info system that was on the left stalk (lights are on the dash and are good and bright). One can ratchet the data up and down and the customary information is included on this car, such as mpg, mph, a stopwatch – all making it intuitive to use.
Connectivity features are excellent on the Spark. OnStar has a 5-year basic plan with automatic crash response and navigation. Like it and pay after the first, complimentary six months are complete. There’s a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot with a data trial period. The Chevrolet MyLink with its 7-in diagonal screen has select bluetooth streaming, CarPlay and Android Auto capability (provided by Apple and Google, respectively).
Of course with only 98 horsepower, one must row this car to make it go and there are advisories on the dash to let the driver know when it’s economically optimal to shift. Because it likes to rev, freeway entries aren’t heart-attack time at all. Just about the only quibble I’ve got with the 2016 Chevy Spark 1LT is the lack of a temperature gauge – or even a blue light to remind the driver this car is still cold. No biggie; you’ll remember, right?
The first generation of Chevrolet Spark was slab sided and always appeared ready to topple over. By removing some roof height and putting a side body character line into the aesthetics, Chevy has smoothed the Spark to the point where it’s a cute little car – that electric blue color doesn’t hurt either. This little car’s driving manners, its capabilities and its liveliness make the 2016 Chevrolet Spark a mini-car that even an enthusiast can enjoy. I know I did.