Until very recently South Africans shopping at the entry-level side of the car market faced buying one of a number of “revitalised” oldies. Their trusted mechanicals, well-known badges and large service networks made them look like “safe” choices. Consequently, it has taken a long time for the modern supermini to gain a foothold in the South African market. One little car that did remarkably well considering its relatively unknown badge was the Daewoo Matiz. It offered bags of character, great packaging, decent build quality and a cheap price. The Matiz, more so than anything else perhaps, proved that there is a market for such vehicles in South Africa. And now things are about to get even more interesting. Chevrolet, of course, bought Daewoo a couple of years back, and quickly reworked the Matiz into the Spark to great effect. Now the latest model has arrived, and judging by this test Chevrolet Spark, looks set to drive a few more nails into the coffins of the golden oldies.
Cutie-pie looks for Chevrolet SparkAlthough the latest Chevrolet Spark looks markedly less “dinky” than its predecessor, it remains a car that will most likely be described as “cute”. There are almost no straight lines to be found on the rounded body, but there are, however, some interesting design details. For example, it gets front lights that resemble fried eggs. There’s also a curious dip in the window line. Overall, you certainly can’t say it looks boring. And neither does it look cheap. This LS specification model features comprehensive colour coding and little 13-inch alloy wheels. Build quality appears to be very good, too.
It gets even better inside, because it certainly appears (and feels) bigger in the cabin than the exterior dimensions suggest. Surprisingly, there’s even sufficient rear legroom for adults to be transported in relative comfort. Headroom, too, is good all-round. Where Chevrolet has been forced to compromise is in the luggage compartment. The tiny boot can only accommodate 170 L-worth of goods, but at least the rear seats can fold forward when needed to transport bulkier items.
In the front of the cabin Chevrolet’s Korean design team has done a sterling job. The Chevrolet Spark features a centrally mounted instrument binnacle, which usually isn’t very popular but it works particularly well in the Spark, because the car is relatively narrow. A full-width shelf runs underneath the facia and there are plenty other little spaces to store loose items. You’ll also notice that, although the plastics are most certainly of the hard and shiny variety, they feel very durable and resist scratching well. It is a car that feels more substantial than its size (3 495 mm in length) and weight (830 kg) suggest.
Surprising comfortAt this price you’re not quite going to get spoilt in terms of comfort features, but the Chevrolet Spark boasts a carefully considered specification. Included are; air-conditioning, electric windows in front, a rear demister, central locking and adjustable side mirrors. You also get an airbag for the driver. What the Chevrolet Spark lacks is an audio system (which can be fitted aftermarket) and, more importantly, ABS. That said, the standard disc/drum set-up worked well, even under hard braking. Also absent is power steering, but the car is so light and the wheels so thin that this is unlikely to be an issue.
The driving position is well judged – there is no adjustment for the steering wheel, but the seat can move up and down – and visibility out of the vehicle is excellent. The seats do not offer much in the way of lateral support, but they are certainly soft and comfy (less so in the rear).
But what really boosts comfort levels in this car is the very good suspension. Small cars such as this often exhibit a choppy ride quality, due to their short wheelbases, but the set-up work was certainly done very well for the Chevrolet Spark. The ride remains supple, no matter what the speed, and while this does mean that there’s considerable roll in the corners, that is unlikely to concern the target market. It is a real pleasure to drive around town and fits in the tiniest of parking spots.
Nippy performanceWith such a low kerb weight, the Chevrolet Spark doesn’t need a big powerful engine to feel perky. The little 1,0-litre engine is more than up to the task, and delivers 49 kW and 87 Nm of torque. The five-speed transmission is a good match for it too, providing slick, easy shifts and also exhibiting a feeling of robustness. In fact, the car feels “strong” overall, promising mechanical longevity. The target audience is more likely to be concerned about fuel consumption than performance, and the economy figure of 7,3 L/100 km should please most.
Chevrolet Spark - VerdictAppearances can be deceptive. The Chevrolet Spark looks like a lightweight cheapie, but doesn’t feel like one when you’re inside. In fact, the cabin alone will go a long way in convincing those buyers still swearing by their aged runabouts. The engine – in fact, the entire drivetrain – feels very robust yet also refined, and the general ride quality and nippy performance make the Chevrolet Spark a pleasure to drive. Finally, the quality is good, too. This should do very well in South Africa, especially given the fact that this brand (unlike Daewoo) has a very large national footprint.
- Quality feel
- Willing engine
- Fuel economy
- No ABS
Engine: 1,0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 49 kW @ 5 400 rpm
Torque: 87 Nm @ 4 200 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheels: 13-inch alloy
Top speed: 154 km/h
0-100 km/h: 15,4 seconds
Fuel economy: 7,3 litres/100 km
- Kia Picanto LX: This little Korean has quickly built itself a sizeable following. The design is appealing inside and out, and there’s an air of quality about it, too. Spec levels are very competitive.
- Opel Corsa Lite: Older, larger and three-door only, but the Opel remains a charmer. It’s probably the nippiest car in this class but the downside is relatively poor fuel economy. The cabin has dated remarkably well.
- Hyundai Atos Prime: The “other” Korean rival is a good R10 000 or so cheaper but there’s a reason for that – it lacks the others’ refinement and specification. Still, they are solid little cars.