Chevrolet Philippines has been churning out some interesting cars in the past few years, and improving its efforts to provide legitimate value-conscious options across multiple segments. At this year’s Manila International Auto Show, we were shown the new Spark. This is the third iteration of the model for our shores, and it has come a long, long way since we first saw its bug-eyed, Daewoo Matiz-derived ancestor.
I’m a big fan of small cars. I drive a small vintage model, and I’ve always been comfortable with its size. But I’m not really a fan of the old Sparks. I didn’t like the M200 Matiz/Spark, or the front-heavy, insectoid Autobot Spark of 2010. This new one, though? This one I like.
Its modern lines are neither too loud nor too gimmicky. The subdued dual-port grille works better this time around, and the front end generally feels like it should’ve been the approved design from 2010 onwards. The headlamps look handsome and wrap nicely into the wings, while the foglights and the mildly sculpted front bumper give the fascia a nice scowl. The rear proportions are great, and I specially like the side creases that meld nicely into the new taillights. This LTZ variant also sports 15in wheels that properly fill up the wells.
Step inside and you’re welcomed by a familiar yet distinct Chevrolet interior. The steering wheel closely resembles the Cruze’s, with wheel switches that feel ergonomically positioned. The center of the dash is occupied by the 7in Chevrolet MyLink touchscreen infotainment system, with the A/C vents and environmental controls nestled just beneath it. MyLink takes care of Bluetooth duties for both audio and calls. And while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, I don’t get to test them (mainly due to faults of my phone, and not the car’s). Aux-in and USB ports come standard, as do six speakers across all three variants.
I’ve always liked the knobs on the Cruze, and the ones here carry the same aesthetic, including the headlamp control knob positioned to the left of steering column. My only gripe is that it’s a bit farther on my left than the rest of the controls on my right, and it’s very noticeable because I always have to lean forward just to turn the lights on.
The nicely contoured front seats are on the firm side, but I’ve been told they’re comfortable on long drives. The LTZ gets four-way adjustment for the driver, while the rest of the lineup gets two. There is good visibility all around, even with the up-slope on the rear side windows. Headroom and seat width are ample enough for five adult passengers. Trunk space is, as expected, small. Golf bag or a cooler? I doubt it’ll fit—unless you fold down the 60/40 split-back seats.
Under the hood is the LV7 1.4-liter engine from Chevrolet’s Small Gasoline Engine family. Pumping out 98hp at 6,200rpm and 128Nm at 4,400rpm, it’s got good power from low revs and sounds great.
Coupled with the CVT, power delivery to the wheels is smooth. There’s a slight delay when power is put down, but that’s to be expected. And though I’m not a big fan of automatic transmissions, for a city car, it makes sense. I’m quite impressed with the 10km/L average I get over the couple of days I have the unit, driven mostly in the city in medium to horrible traffic, with the occasional fast cruising when EDSA opens up.
But just because this is a mini compact doesn’t necessarily mean power is irrelevant. The engine provides for a pleasurable drive, and the usable power is much appreciated. The weather is mostly dry during my test period, so there’s no way for me to test the standard traction control.
Suspension is nice and firm, but it suffers from low-speed harshness when exposed to small bumps. It kind of feels like the tires are overinflated even when they aren’t. The brakes, though, are impressive. The pedals have good feel and the braking is progressive. I guess it helps that the Spark weighs 1,049kg and the suspension has a good amount of squat, not forward lean, under sudden braking.
Overall, I’m happy with my Spark experience, despite having a couple of test-unit niggles (a creaking driver-side door and a broken horn). With all the good I’ve experienced, I have only two further wishes for this car: durability and longevity. I hope it ages well and steadily improves upon the latest offering. It’s a design that has grown up and is perfect for budget- and value-conscious buyers who can appreciate the design and engineering choices made by Chevrolet for the mini compact arena.
SPECS: Chevrolet Spark 1.4 LTZ
Engine: 1.4-liter petrol I4
Power: 98hp @ 6,200rpm
Torque: 128Nm @ 4,400rpm