OK. I officially saw the coolest thing ever in the all-new 2013 Chevrolet Spark. Yes, ever. For now, at least.
Chevrolet brought the Spark to Chicago for a whirlwind media tour, and the first thing they demo'd for me was the new technology inside this pint-sized car. Hello, BringGo.
Rather than giving this mini car a nav system or aftermarket glued-on bit for the dash, they did something unique. They got an app for that. BringGo is a $50 app you download to your smart phone, then when you hook the phone to the car via Bluetooth or USB, the navigation system filters into the 7-inch, color touch screen on the center stack. And, it's so seamless that you'd never realize the system wasn't physically installed into the car. Brilliant.
Even more brilliant: No monthly fees or costly updates. You pay $50 once, and that's it. And, like all apps, it gets upgraded without extra cost.
The bad news: This won't be an available feature until Q4.
In my first look, I have to tell you, Spark had me at BringGo. But, when you look at the car as a whole, it's a tight little package that is more than worth a second, third and fourth look. Oh, and a test drive. Definitely worth a test drive. Which, I guess, is why Chicago is currently the No. 1 market for this little bit.
Some of the big selling points: A base price of $13K that includes air conditioning, a fully loaded model (with heated leatherette seats) that costs less than $17K, a nicely styled interior, 10 standard airbags and compact size -- among other things. My fave: You can get a manual transmission along with those heated leatherette seats. For less than $16K.
During my brief time in the driver's seat, I had the chance to get in some solid urban driving. Even though 84 horsepower doesn't seem like a lot, the Spark has some decent get-up-and-go. Combined with 83 pound-feet of torque, this power equation was perfect for the stops and starts you make in city driving. But, if you're looking for a good passing gear on the highway ... Well. Um. Keep looking. You aren't going to get completely trounced by traffic in a merge, but you won't win any races either. My point: Great urban vehicle, decent highway troller, but if you're a spirited driver looking for fun over function, add $6K to your price tag and have a look-see at the Fiat Abarth.
In terms of styling, I think Spark does a great job of being unique. The upright structure is different from the current egg shape that's so popular in cars concerned with mpgs. So, while fuel economy suffers a little (you won't see 40 mpg on this car), the tradeoff is plenty of head room in the rear. In fact, this car was designed as a global car, and someone in India who's wearing a turban can fit comfortably in the back seat. I saw a few 6-foot-tall men sit in the back seat with some knee room to spare, and while they admitted they wouldn't want to take a road trip back there, they said is was fine for a quick trip.
The interior cashes in on the trend of bringing the "outside in" with body colored panels on the dash and doors. Plus, everything from the behind-the-wheel gauges to the dials on the centerstack are intuitively placed and illuminated with the GM signature ice blue lighting.
Granted 2 hours does not a full review make, but I really think Chevrolet has something here. From the interesting styling to the cool tech features (did I mention standard OnStar?), the Spark is a small car that thinks big.
What I like most about the Spark: That Chevrolet proves small and inexpensive doesn't have to be cheap.
Engine: Ecotech 1.2-liter, I-4
Fuel economy: 32/38 (manual), 28/37 (automatic)
Torque: 83 pound-feet
Length: 144.7 inches
Width: 62.9 inches
Height: 61 inches
Cargo volume: 11.4 cubic-feet (aka 4 Ciminillos)
Competitors: Fiat 500, Smart ForTwo, Scion iQ
Pricing: $12,995 (LS with a MT) - $16,720 (2LT with an AT)