Sometimes you just have to think small. The Chevrolet Spark and the FIAT 500 are two entries that strive to provide efficiency and fun in a package that’s sized right for zipping around crowded city streets.
FIAT has been building tiny cars since the famed Cinquecento in the 1960s; Chevy just launched the Spark in the US last year. Can the Spark beat out 50 years of expertise?
What the Chevrolet Spark Does Right
The Spark may be small, and it may carry a starting price of only $13,000, but check enough boxes on the options sheet, and you can have a car with equipment levels rivaling Chevy’s larger Sonic and Cruze offerings. A top-level Spark 2LT can be had with leatherette heated seats, Bluetooth, and Chevy’s touchscreen MyLink infotainment system. All of this comes wrapped up in a roomy interior that provides easy access to both the front and rear seats. Unlike the FIAT, this is a four-door car, and the extra utility of those doors is appreciated.
The high feature content continues under the skin. All Sparks come standard with four-wheel ABS, stability control, traction control and 10 airbags. The 82 horses that live under the hood do an acceptable job getting the Spark moving, and cruising on the freeway is relaxing, with minimal intrusion from wind noise. In the city, the electric power steering gives good feedback and makes it easy to nip into tight parking spaces.
What the FIAT 500 Does Right
Even with the crash tests and pedestrian safety standards that dictate much of the design of new cars today, the FIAT 500 manages to both pay homage to the original Cinquecento of the 1960s and look hip, trendy and modern. The driving experience is a similar story: today’s 500 easily captures the maneuverability and driving enjoyment of the original while providing up-to-date safety features like ABS and an available six-speed automatic.
The 500’s 1.4-liter engine produces 101 horsepower in base form, and 135 horses in the Turbo model. Either way, the distinctive exhaust note and precise steering are pleasant companions on any journey. Pushing the Sport button on the dash noticeable sharpens both the steering and throttle response, so even though the 500 isn’t the fastest thing on the road, it’s certainly fun to drive.
Has Chevy beaten FIAT at its own game?
The Spark certainly has several merits that work in its favor, starting with two extra doors. This simple detail means that unlike the FIAT, you won’t think twice about putting four people in the small Chevy. The Spark also has an advantage when it comes to infotainment. Touchscreens can’t be had for any price in the FIAT, and the 500’s Bluetooth integration is considerably less sophisticated.
Under the skin is where the Chevy starts to crumble. The Spark gives up 19 horsepower to the 500, and comes saddled with a CVT rather than the 500’s traditional automatic. Combine this with less sporty suspension tuning, and the FIAT is easily the more playful car out on the road.
Our Verdict: FIAT 500
Bells and whistles on the surface are nice, but in this case, it’s what’s underneath that really counts.