Better than most of its rivals, the 2018 Chevrolet Spark – the brand's most affordable vehicle – sways us with room for four adults, available active safety features, and an impressive infotainment system. But it's also saddled with poor air conditioning, pokey performance, and marginal ride quality.

Best Value

Pricing for the 2018 Chevrolet Spark four-door hatchback begins at $13,925 for an LS manual and rises to $19,545 for a fully-equipped 2LT automatic. Those two trims, plus the two in between (1LT and Activ), share a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, as well as the choice of either a manual or CVT automatic transmission.

We'd like to take advantage of the Spark's $295 advanced safety package (forward collision warning and lane departure warning), but that means stepping up to the 2LT automatic that's priced dangerously close to a number of larger, better finished compacts.

Considering that, we'd choose the 1LT manual that includes everything on the LS – a rearview camera, seven-inch touchscreen with MyLink, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay compatibility, Bluetooth, and Siri Eyes Free – as well as 15-inch alloy wheels, power windows, mirrors, and locks, keyless entry, cruise control, fog lights, and steering wheel-mounted controls for phone, audio, and cruise. Here's how we'd build it:

  • Model: 2018 Chevrolet Spark 1LT manual
  • Engine: 1.4-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 98 hp / 94 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 30 City / 38 Hwy
  • Options: Premium carpeted floor mats ($135)
  • Base Price: $15,750 (including the $875 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $15,885

Performance

Chevy Spark

The five-speed manual transmission is cheaper, more fun to drive, and offers better fuel economy – an EPA-estimated 29 miles per gallon in the city, 39 on the highway, and 33 combined – than the CVT automatic. Moreover, the Spark's diminutive footprint and miniscule 16.2-foot turning radius (bested by only the smart fortwo) allows it to U-turn into urban parking spots others must cruise past.

The 98 horses under the hood strain to pull a vehicle laden with power features and a full complement of US-spec safety equipment and cause the engine to wail under full acceleration with little of it translating into forward motion. Making matters worse is a softly-spring suspension with a bouncy but tolerable ride on most roads that slams through potholes most vehicles with larger wheels easily handle.

Interior and Exterior

The Spark's boxy form and substantial snout harbor an interior with a surprisingly high roof and long cabin with enough space for four adults. The chairs up front are both comfortable and supportive, while adults in back will find plenty of head room. Together, the large touchscreen, seat fabrics, cushion foam, and grained plastics project a class-above – albeit it base trim – look and feel.

At the same time, interior trim consists of hard, black plastics, while getting sufficient leg room in back requires some negotiating with front seat occupants. In addition, the diminutive 11.1 cubic feet in the cargo bay is only suitable for soft luggage. Even with the back seats folded, cargo capacity is only 27.2 cubic feet. Lastly, the air conditioner on its coldest setting was barely able to cool the driver on a hot, humid day, leading us to believe it would fall short with three additional occupants.

The Best and Worst Things

The Spark tempts urban dwellers with room for four adults, a small footprint, and excellent fuel economy. We only wish it was quicker, had a better air conditioning system, and its advanced safety features were available across the lineup.

Right For? Wrong For?

Chevy Spark

An affordable base price, excellent fuel economy, and a grown-up infotainment system should entice value-oriented buyers.

Sluggish even when pushed, the Spark will have enthusiasts heading for the showroom exit doors.

The Bottom Line

Excellent fuel economy, an impressive infotainment system, and room for four adults should attract buyers to the entry-level model. At the same time, the 2018 Chevrolet Spark disappoints with a marginal air conditioner, poor performance, and a price point on upper trims that's dangerously close to larger and better competitors.