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Chevy Spark: Mini-car is a city hustler

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Chevy Spark: Mini-car is a city hustler

‘The Spark has five doors with the look of a three-door. Its “hidden” rear door handles are in the upper part of the back door.

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POSTED May 16, 2013 5:02 p.m.

The Chevy Spark is rough but ready.

Its little 1.2-liter four-cylinder yells like a scolded brat. The suspension is clunky and stubborn, and there’s enough cabin commotion that I thought a back window was open.

But somehow those traits diminished as its can-do attitude came through. This four-seat, five-door hatchback has the heart of a lion and the thrift of a miser.

The Spark is Chevy’s first mini-car for the United States and Canada. It joins a growing selection of teacup city cars, including the Smart fortwo, the Fiat 500 and the Scion iQ.

Chevy seeks a base of urban dwellers who rather would drive than ride the bus or borrow a car. But the Spark is also a valid option for students, adventure seekers and pizza delivery. The iQ is almost too small.

There is one front-wheel-drive powertrain with a manual or automatic transmission.

With an eager 84-horsepower engine, fuel economy is up to 38 mpg with the five-speed manual transmission or 37 mpg with the four-speed automatic. The combined city/highway ratings — 34/32 mpg — are more impressive and closer to what most drivers will achieve running around town and to work.

And though the “mega commuter” may consider a Spark for a 150-mile round trip, there are better 40-mpg choices out there.

Sold in three trim levels, the Spark’s starting prices range from almost $13,000, for the base model with manual transmission, to $17,000, which includes the four-speed automatic ($925). Spark also is the only mini-car with a five-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty coverage. The basic warranty is a bumper-to-bumper warranty for three years or 36,000 miles.

Safety features include 10 air bags (including front knee bags), anti-lock brakes with brake assist, stability control and hill-start assist.

The base Spark will be the “wrap” car for delivery business. The midrange 1LT model with automatic transmission, $15,520, will be a popular choice, with such added extras as Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, six-speaker audio with smartphone access to Pandora and Stitcher, carpeted floor mats, and cruise control.

Seven no-cost paint colors include such fun hues as salsa, lemonade, denim and techno pink.

As with most mini-cars, the front seat area seems spacious. It’s not until you look over your shoulder that the smallness is apparent. Still, the Spark has a little better than the 3+1 seating touted by the Fiat and Scion.

There is good use of space with the 60/40 flip-and-fold back seat and handy shopping bag hooks on the front seatbacks.

The cabin has contemporary design and a notable recognition: WardsAuto put the Spark on its list of 10 best interiors of 2013. There also are an array of soundproofing features, including thicker glass, hood seals, nylon baffles, an acoustic headliner and expanding foam in hollow body sections.

There are such niceties as cruise control, three-blink turn signal for lane changes and even heated front seats.

The Spark has the styling finesse of a shoehorn — it is 12 feet long, 5.2 feet tall and 5 feet wide — but that compact packaging and nimble 32.5-foot turning help it slip through traffic and into micro parking spaces.

In this price range, a used car becomes viable competition for these teacups. But for $17,000, a younger person gets a functional car that has more power in its digitally savvy audio system than it does from four cylinders under the hood.

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