As we move toward the fuel-efficient, city-centric future, tiny cars always seem like they’re on the edge of a comeback. Promising frugality, park-anywhere size, and a petite price to match, city cars occupy a small but valuable niche. The 2019 Chevrolet Spark delivers on the basic premise, but fails to execute on powertrain and features. It has its bright spots, but, overall, it’s not a car we’d look forward to owning.

Best Value

The Spark starts at just $14,095, but while the base LS trim includes nice technologies like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it also means living with roll-up windows, manual locks, and hubcaps. We’d much rather spring for the 1LT trim, which adds power windows, power locks, 15-inch alloy rims, and cruise control.

The fancier 2LT and Activ trims add luxuries like heated seats and keyless start, but they also push prices north of $18,000, which is pricey territory for a minicar. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is available, but it drones incessantly and costs more than the manual. The only other major choice on the Spark is whether to add a power sunroof, but with such limited roof space, we’d rather skip the view of the city smog.

Our Spark would look like this:

  • Model: 2019 Chevrolet Spark 1LT Manual
  • Engine: 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder
  • Output: 98 hp / 94 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Five-speed manual
  • Drivetrain:Front-wheel drive
  • MPG: 29 City / 38 Hwy
  • Options: None
  • Base Price: $15,995 (including an $875 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $15,995

Performance

Chevy Spark

Although performance was never a priority for the Spark, it manages to remain mostly cheery around town. Quick steering keeps things entertaining, while the small dimensions mean maneuverability is excellent. At low speeds, the engine is refined enough to get by.

But no one will ever call the Spark fun to drive. The lack of power is noticeable, as is the noise from the CVT. Keeping up with traffic requires pushing the engine hard, which means that fuel-economy takes a hit. Pint-sized proportions mean that bigger bumps overcome the suspension, making for a busy and displeasing ride.

Style

The Spark doesn’t light many aesthetic fires in our hearts, but the ruggedized Activ trim at least manages to look intriguing. The Spark’s wheelbase is relatively long for a subcompact car, which helps balance its proportions and justify the sharp character lines. Integrated tech like an LTE antenna and seven-inch infotainment touchscreen make the Spark feel like a modern car, and the lineup covers a surprising range of options. The 2LT trim even offers advanced safety features like automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring, which is commendable on a city car. The interior isn’t particularly inspiring, but it’s well built and comfortable enough.

But in a body nearly seven feet shorter than Chevy’s own Suburban, there’s only so much the designers can do. Seating only accommodates four, and the rear seats have just 33 inches of leg room. Behind that row is a meager 11 cubic feet of cargo space. And while the safety tech is impressive, it’s only available on the highest trim, while base models have to make do without basic necessities like power windows.

The Best and Worst Things

The Spark stays affordable while including modern features, useful technology, and an interior that doesn’t grate on the senses. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t make up for a powertrain and suspension that leave us wanting.

Right For? Wrong For?

Chevy Spark

The Spark is right for the city driver willing to sacrifice refinement for affordability. As long as you don’t have to carry many friends, the Spark is a reasonably comfortable city runabout with competitive tech. More diminutive even than cars like the Toyota Yaris, the Spark can park anywhere.

For drivers who need more than the minimum room for passengers, cargo, or fun, the Spark disappoints. Other subcompacts offer better driving experiences, and Chevy’s own Cruze isn’t too far above the Spark’s price range.

The Bottom Line

The 2019 Chevrolet Spark isn’t without virtues, notably the infotainment system, safety tech, and price. But it demands steep compromises in features and driving experience, which makes it a hard car to love. Being frugal, practical, small, and enjoyable is a tall order, but we’re confident that it can be done. The Spark comes close, but we’ll be holding out for the city cars of the future.