Test Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Spark car test drives reviews chevrolet
2013 Chevrolet Spark. Click image to enlarge
First Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Spark

Manufacturer’s web site
Chevrolet Canada

Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

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2013 Chevrolet Spark

It’s always fun to root for ‘the little guy’. Whether it’s Frodo Baggins (or Sam or Bilbo), Muggsy Bogues, Oompa Loompas, Ewoks, or Rudy (brings a tear to my just mentioning him), there’s just something about diminutive characters that draws our sympathy and makes you want to cheer them on despite the odds.

I feel about the same way for microcars in North America. At every turn, there are people just lining up to kick them to the curb, make jokes at their expense, or decry the safety of such small vehicles. That is one reason why I really want to like the 2013 Chevrolet Spark. I also think it’s a cute and surprisingly practical car, especially in the city environs it is designed for.

Test Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Spark car test drives reviews chevrolet
2013 Chevrolet Spark. Click image to enlarge

Unfortunately, despite driving an automatic on the launch event and keeping a manual for a week, I just never came around. In fact, the more I drove it, the less I liked it, and it came down to two main issues: the seats and the manual transmission—a shame too, because GM expects about 40 percent of Sparks to leave the dealer lots with manual transmissions.

The seats, which seemed fine at first and adjusted to a relatively comfortable position, soon became awkward and unsupportive. The cloth fabric was fine, but in the manual transmission Spark I drove for a few days, the seats were covered in this awful, hideous vinyl in light grey, trimmed in dark grey—we drove one with red and black vinyl (I refuse to call it “leatherette”), and the dark colours better mask the terrible texture. After only a couple days, they showed stain transfer from my jeans, and they were awkward in that they were so low that my thighs were unsupported, but I still felt like I was sitting too high in the car.

Test Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Spark car test drives reviews chevrolet
Test Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Spark car test drives reviews chevrolet
Test Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Spark car test drives reviews chevrolet
2013 Chevrolet Spark. Click image to enlarge

This being a small car, there is very little room to control ergonomics, so the unfortunate result is a shifter placed rather far to the rear in between the front seats. It is low, and the throws are some of the longest I’ve experienced in years, so first to second you’re feeling up your own leg pulling the shifter from your knee to your hip. At least, I was. The gates are loose, sloppy, and mushy, which I don’t mind in my meatloaf, but prefer some kind of resistance and definition for every gate in a manual transmission. Also, because of the leftward placement of the shifter, I kept thinking that fifth was third and rechecking the gears.

It didn’t help that the clutch engaged at the very end of its travel, something I never quite adjusted to. I far prefer a manual transmission to bite early, using my heel as a pivot and allowing greater leverage and force on the clutch—though this clutch is feather light, so effort shouldn’t be an issue. The dead pedal is like a torture discomfort device—it’s not actually painful, but it could only accommodate about a third of my foot and the bottom, side, and top each competing to push my foot out of the space… really, why bother?

And then there was the supposed hill-holder function. It sounds great that manual transmission cars have “Hill Start Assist”, but it only works in the case of extreme angles, and I was often rolling back on more moderate slopes in traffic. I had to manage most hill starts the old-fashioned way (revving the engine, burning the clutch—sorry GM), as I could only activate that feature by hunting down a sufficiently steep slope intentionally.

Truly, this is not a car that suddenly becomes a driver’s car because of a manual transmission. While the four-speed auto won’t win any prizes, it is a solid, steady transmission, and just as competent at managing the meagre power—the optional I and L modes are too noisy to use for very long, but they do provide an added measure of low-speed scoot. Nonetheless, it gives up little in performance and takes away a variety of nuisance factors, so if you can pony up the $1,250 for the auto, it’s worth it.




About Jonathan Yarkony

Jonathan Yarkony is the Senior Editor for Autos.ca, a Brampton-based automotive writer with eight years of experience evaluating cars and an AJAC member.