I didn’t expect much from the 2017 Spark – which got a hefty redesign last year – and it’s not because I have anything against the little Chevy per se. No, scratch that; this one has a CVT and, sadly, it isn’t like one of the units that almost feel like a conventional automatic – such as Nissan and Audi are now making. Stick the lever in D and the bands get to work, channelling the power mustered up by the four-pot to the front wheels. But the 1.4-litre moans incessantly in the process and feels like it’s stuck in first (if it actually had a ‘first’...), but a strange thing started to happen the more I drove it. The Korean-made supermini grew on me... when I began to manhandle it.
Yes, the transmission really got on my wick during my test drive of the updated five-door, but when I think about it, that’s the only negative. And the fact that GM offers this model with a proper gearbox (a five-speed manual, woohoo!) means I can even look past this little idiosyncrasy. If I were ever to buy a Spark, I would obviously spec it with a row-your-own, but in spite of the CVT, I grew to enjoy many other facets of its being.
Starting with its diminutive dimensions, squeezing it into all sorts of nooks and crannies – which became progressively smaller – was a fun little challenge. At just 3,635mm long, it seemed to shrink even more when presented with the tiniest of spaces to park in. That’s not its only party trick – it takes the practicality stakes up a notch, what with a roomy cabin that affords lots of head and shoulder room for the front seat passengers. However, legroom in the back is at a premium – but the materials used aren’t. The dash and door cards are made from unsightly grey and black plastic (granted, this is common on cars in this price range) and although this may not look too appealing, it is most definitely hard wearing.
There are further highlights in there such as the boot – it measures 311 litres, but drop the back seats and this amount grows to 764, more than enough to carry a few suitcases or the week’s groceries. On the technical side of things it packs a 7in colour touch screen in the centre stack, a SiriusXM satellite radio and there are a host of other amenities such as keyless entry, cruise control, steering-wheel-mounted audio buttons, power windows, and a theft-deterrent system.
Some of the safety kit includes rear-park assist, four-wheel antilock brakes, front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front-seat knee airbags. That’s quite good – but with only 98 horsepower and 127Nm of torque from the four-pot, this isn’t what you’d call a quick car.
It gets up and goes like a puppy scampering after a ball; it’s not the most refined but once it’s gathered some pace, it affords a smooth drive. The soft suspension has been tuned to soak up road imperfections but it manages to prove quite nimble when you throw it around in the corners.
However, when you need to overtake slower-moving traffic (that’ll be all the other superminis on the road....), the CVT makes a real meal of it but does the job, eventually. It probably isn’t the ideal companion for long highway commutes, what with those modest performance figures and the fact it gets blown about by faster-moving traffic (it weighs a tad over 1,000kg) , but it really comes into its own around town. It’s able to keep up with the others on the road far better and wheeling it proves more fun too as it darts from left to right. And, aside from fitting into almost impossible gaps, it has a very impressive turning circle too; it’s as if it could spin around on its own footprint. With a yank of the handbrake and a sharp flick of the steering wheel, it can.
It may not be the quickest, but you don’t turn to a Spark if you want performance, or do you? As the saying goes, ‘It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than to drive a fast car slowly,’ and indeed with your teeth clenched and your foot floored, this is an entertaining car and I can just imagine how much more fun it’d be with a manual.
We deal with congested roads on a daily basis, it’s just a part of living in a big city and so it’s easy to understand the appeal of superminis. They’re easy to park, get good mileage and can carry you and three others from A to B without a fuss. They also won’t break the bank (the base Spark retails for Dh45,000) and even if for 2017 GM has only added some new colours and a revised dash, this is still a fab little car – but remember, that’s only when you start to drive it like it’s a hot hatch frothing at the mouth.