Budget Chevrolet stands out with Spark of styling madness

CHEVROLET is hoping that big things can follow their little Spark—the latest addition to the American-badged, Koreanbuilt range.

A radical approach to styling the small hatchback has certainly given it a head start in the attention-grabbing stakes and Chevrolet, which took up where Daewoo Automotive left off when General Motors bought the Far Eastern operation back in 2001, have already forged a reputation for producing affordable vehicles.

This is a car that Chevrolet is keen to market on its looks.

Can the Spark compete on style terms?

But do the claims of Chevrolet engineer Jack Keaton that the Spark offers customers “more mini for their money” form a justifiable side-swipe at the premium priced, fashion led opposition or merely ill-advised fighting talk?

A key observation to make at this point is that the five-door Spark comes in at an entry-level price of just £6,945, making it one of the cheapest cars on the market today by undercutting both Hyundai’s i10 and Kia’s Picanto.

At that price, the Spark’s styling certainly stands out.

The deep and aggressively angled front grille, rising shoulder line, roof rails and minimum overhangs are nothing if not bold.

Two engines—68bhp one-litre and 81bhp 1.2-litre petrol units—and a choice of standard, LS and LT specifications make up the range which tops out with the £9,850 1.2 LT tested here.

I suspect that this specification will remain far from the minds of budget-minded Spark customers, however.

Airfix interior betrays style-conscious ambition

The standard of trim and interior materials are not befitting of a near £10,000 car. At this price some of the trim and features of the Spark’s interior simply lack quality.

The motorcycle-style instrument binnacle, which combines a conventional speedometer with analogue rev readings and a trip computer in one unit mounted on the steering column is a neat idea, but looks cheap and unnecessarily fussy in reality.

Constructed from cheap silver plastic, it’s like something you might expect to find on a steering wheel that might be used by a child in conjunction with a Playstation or Xbox games console.

It’s not the only ill-conceived element of the Spark’s styling.

The decision to integrate the rear door handles into the rear door pillars, a la Alfa Romeo, is less stylish when done on the budget that Chevrolet were working to with the Spark.

On the outside, the black plastic handle and surround are a quirky feature but inside the results are more disappointing; a huge swathe of grey plastic blanking off part of the rear windows to accommodate the door mechanism.

All-in-all there’s a sense that the Chevrolet designers threw their full box of design ideas at at the Spark and the results are somewhat mixed as a result.

The fact that the overall styling of the car still boasts a remarkable degree of cohesion is fairly remarkable.

Space and fuel consumption bring practicality

The LT-spec car I tested came without optional perks such as touch screen sat-nav, which could have taken the price further northwards, but it did come equipped with air conditioning and a CD player with an auxiliary input for an MP3 player as standard.

Moving away from some of the Spark appearance alone, there’s little doubt that it makes more sense as a budget hatchback than a style icon.

Four-doors, reasonable rear leg room and a 170-litre boot all add a practical slant and that 1.2-litre engine, though feeling breathy with more than two passengers to tow around, will return around 55mpg at a sedate pace and CO2 emissions of 119g/km.

Stir the little engine’s revs and Chevrolet claim a 12.1-second sprint to 62mph and a 102mph top speed are possible.

Limited suspension travel is a back roads no-no

A supple ride dictates the Spark driving experience and makes life comfortable and reasonably refined with a driver and passenger on board.

Taking to Rotherham’s bumpy Broads with a rear seat passenger onboard, however, I was struck by the damping limitations of the suspension, requiring me to back off the pace due to a pronounced bobbing effect.

Through corners the chassis leans somewhat on its rear suspension.

I doubt, however, that most Spark buyers will be investing their cash in the hope of exploring into the budget hatchback’s handling quirks.

As an affordable family hatchback it still makes a pretty good case for itself.

It’s a car that tries extremely hard to break into new territory and in many ways it has been successful.

Spark of styling madness coul work in favour

That might be due to the fact that its unusual fusion of styles is something that few other design teams would dream of throwing into the same mixing pot.

Either way, it’s a hatchback that will give its owners the chance to stand out from the crowd without breaking the bank.

Pitted against some relatively staid rivals, it might just have what it takes to capture the imagination of budget car buyers.

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