THE VOLKSWAGEN POLO Vivo might have had a head-start in filling the gap left by the mercy-killing of the VW Citi, but the launch of two bargain hatches by major manufacturers in one week signalled that the real war was about to begin. First Ford launched their highly competitive Figo, and a few days later General Motors responded with a brand new Chevrolet Spark.
Having driven the Vivo, the Figo, the Hyundai i10, the Renault Sandero and the Suzuki Alto, I was keen to see if the Chevy had enough weaponry in its armoury to battle it out with some impressive competitors.
First impressions are the Spark will stand its ground. The design is young and fresh, the pricing is keen and there’s a lot of extras like an air conditioner, power steering, a radio/CD player and dual airbags thrown in at no additional cost to the buyer.
Both the base level L model at R115495 and the R125495 LS model are powered by the same 1.2 litre 16-valve engine mated to a 5-speed manual transmission.
The extra R10000 for the LS buys you powered windows in the front, remotely operated electric side mirrors, automatic locking doors, 14 inch alloys instead of steel wheels, some colour coded cosmetic tweaks and, most importantly, ABS and electronic brake force distribution.
I drove the L model at launch, and while this urban runabout is no hot hatch, the little engine does the job admirably. Maximum power is 60kW@6400 rpm with peak torque at 4800rpm. The transmission is slick and well matched to the revvy engine and light clutch, while the light and hydraulically assisted steering makes this a really easy car to drive. Perfect for first time car owners.
The new Spark is a lot bigger than its predecessor, which now lives on as the Spark Lite in the sub-R100000 price bracket. This translates into a spacious cabin, with impressive leg- and headroom in the back. The trade-off is a tiny 170 litre boot, but the rear seats can fold down in a 60/40 split if you need extra space.
The seats themselves are comfortable, even though you sit on top rather than in them. The plastics on the facia are hard, but seem well fitted. The most contentious design element on the interior is the motorcycle derived instrumentation pod perched on top of the steering column. A big round speedometer takes pride of place, with a digital display featuring the rev-counter, fuel gauge, clock and tripmeter perched to the right of it. It takes some getting used to since it takes more than one glance to find the information you’re looking for. I found it distracting.
On the plus side there are enough cup holders to satisfy anyone with a sugar addiction and plenty of clever storage spaces for ipods, iphones, ipads and all the other i-detritus that have become indispensable in a young adult’s life.
The Spark comes standard with a five year/120 000km warranty, which includes roadside assistance. Service intervals are one year or every 15000km, but you’ll have to pay R6 600 rand extra at the time of purchase if you want a three year/60 000km service plan thrown in.
With its edgy design and loud colours (Green Coctail, Super Red, Moroccan Blue ) the bigger Spark shouts loudly and confidently for a slice of the pie dominated by the Volkswagen Vivo in recent months. We suspect the cheaper, more powerful, better driving and better specced Figo, which has ABS standard at R110000, might have Uitenhage even more worried. There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to do a shoot-out with all the rivals. Watch out for that in a topCar coming to you soon.