Just a few years ago, a slew of pumped-up sedans began appearing in the market. Bigger bodies and bigger engines were in vogue as manufacturers started ditching their 1.6-liter best-sellers for 1.8- and 2.0-liter variants. Big power with minimal fuel consumption was the in thing as nameplates competed for higher horses while maintaining the equivalent of 1.6-liter cars' fuel efficiency. Yes, there have been big advances in fuel efficiency over the years. But if you're stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the heart of the city for most of your time in a car, then a small-displacement engine might just be the more sensible choice.
So, here comes Chevrolet with Spark. When the company first introduced this Spark early last year, it came out with an 80hp, 1.2-liter motor. That was fine and dandy, even fun to drive. But Chevy had other plans in mind. It wanted to offer a cheaper version of the Spark, presumably to capture a bigger share of the growing mini-compact market.
Enter the base model, a manual-transmission 1.0-liter Spark LS. At first glance, it still retains most of the 1,200cc Spark LT's best attributes--even the driver-side airbag. But it misses some value-laden features that its more expensive version has.
On the outside, gone are the chrome bits on the grille, the fog lamps, the roof rack and the rear wing. Side mirrors and door handles are now finished in black, and the wheels--though still 14 inches in diameter--are now steel rims topped with hubcaps.
It's the inside, though, where the specification cuts can clearly be seen. The instrument cluster loses its blue LED-backlighting as well as its housing's silver trim. Even the sidings are now finished in plain drab gray as the body-colored trimmings have been taken out. A single-DIN radio replaces the integrated head unit on the LT, while power amenities are restricted to the front windows, so you'll have to sweat it out cranking the backseat glass. And speaking of deletions, there are no vanity mirrors, something lady drivers might find iffy. Rear headrests are not standard as well, so the tall passenger at the back will probably make good use of the Spark's ample rear legroom as he hunkers down to support his neck on the top of the rear seatbacks.
In the performance department, the Spark LS again suffers from the bean counter's wrath as the 67hp, 995cc S-TECII engine lacks the zip of the 1.2-liter LT. Fortunately, the five-speed manual gearbox is up to task, now coupled with light clutch pedal action. Changing gears often to induce acceleration becomes a manageable affair. Like the Spark LT, braking also requires some concentration as the Spark LS takes us back to a time when ABS was not standard.
The manual transmission-equipped Spark LS attempts to capture the budget-conscious with its competitive pricing. At P548,888, it should fit in the checkbooks of those who are not so finicky with styling accents, power, extra space and creature comforts.
Surely, this Spark variant isn't for speeding around town as fuel economy suffers a bit if you have a heavy foot, but that's not what this variant is about. The Spark LS is for those who are more concerned with the destination than the getting-there part, practical thinkers who just need a car for mobility's sake. If you belong to this demographic, then the Spark LS might just tick the right boxes for you.
Photos by Mikko David