YOU KNOW HOW we never quite believe the ads we see on TV or in the papers? However, every now and then along comes an ad which actually makes sense. ‘Full of life’ claims General Motors, when describing the Chevrolet Spark. And I’m inclined to agree.
The Spark is a politically correct automobile, its small size and fuel-efficient motor making perfect sense in our congested, polluted cities. And believe you me, it has adequate space for four adults. Space utilisation is very good in this car, and the cabin room you get for its tiny road footprint is impressive. We’ve always appreciated the Spark’s ability to seat four comfortably but luggage space is at a premium and, other than a few soft bags, the boot
did not offer much by way of load space.
For what otherwise is a mundane commute that requires one to traverse the length of Mumbai, driving the Spark has never been a chore. Its dinky dimensions and good all-round visiblity have ensured that it rarely got mired in traffic. The light controls made for a fatigue-free drive, even during extended periods in traffic.
The Spark’s popularity has a lot to do with this easy-to-live-with nature. It’s a very easy car to steer, and the clutch is light as well, but we always felt the gearbox could do with a better shift action. The ’box is light to use, but the rubbery feel means that shifting quickly from second to third wasn’t as slick as say in the Santro or i10.
Spending nearly three hours a day in any car means you’ve got to like what you see, touch and feel, and while the Spark’s grey-and-black interiors are a bit dull, they’ve held up well, with no rattles and squeaks. The only rattle we noticed was the rear parcel shelf, but that’s endemic to most small cars. We like the assortment of cubbyholes, and given the car’s small size, it was always easy to reach for stuff. The tray under the dashboard along the width of the cabin also proved useful for storing books and CDs.
Of course, we’ve griped about the centre console fouling with the knee, and the flat seats which slope forward a bit, but we learned to live with these. A narrower centre console might have helped eliminate the knee-meets-dash syndrome, though.
The Spark has aged gracefully too, save for the floor mats that somehow seemed really worn out by the time we gave it back, while the upholstery, plastics and paint were all reasonably fresh even 12 months on. Of course, the Spark has its idiosyncrasies, notably the air-con cutting off under acceleration, but the trade-off is better fuel economy. The stereo also has only two speakers, but the sound’s not too bad, albeit a little tinny. With a USB slot, this stereo affords so much convenience that you’re only limited by the capacity on your flash drive. The buttons and knobs on the stereo were a little fiddly though.
The switchgear in the rest of the car has a quality feel, especially the power window switches and the control stalks, but the actuation of the high beam had gone awry by the time the Spark left our fleet. It would switch to high beam even with the gentlest nudge, and one would inadvertently end up blinding oncoming traffic.
For a small car, the Spark boasts very good ride quality, especially in its segment, although the soft set-up could bottom out on bad surfaces. You can’t treat it like an Indica. Still, even at the rear, there were no jolts transmitted into the cabin and even older passengers seated there found the car quite comfortable. And even with the cushy ride, the Spark was no slouch around corners, with acceptable handling manners.
To be honest, there’s not much to complain about the Spark. The only reliability issue we faced was a squeaky alternator belt, but that too was replaced under warranty and the car never gave us another problem in the nearly 17,000km that we drove it.
In many ways the Spark is the spiritual successor to the cute ‘n’ cuddly Herbie. City cars don’t always have verve or flair but the Spark does, and this is what elevates it from being a dreary runabout to a friendly ally in traffic. It’s a cheeky performer, provided you give the engine a little advance warning that you need some revs. You’ll be surprised how quick it can be on a congested highway too, although it’s not a bahn-stormer. The best bit is at the fuel pumps — our Spark rarely dipped below 12kpl, even when driven eagerly, and 13.5kpl was par for the course.
Full of life is just what our long-term Spark was all right. We miss her. And how.