The price of the Chevrolet Spark has dropped. Ryan Bubear drives it...
Use the scroll arrows to view the images
The average South African tends to haul out the "Proudly SA" phrase with the gay abandon of Khulubuse Zuma at all-you-can-eat Thursdays at the local Spur. So, quite often then.
Yet, when push comes to shove, the vast majority of us lean towards the cheaper, imported options. We so want to support local businesses — and experience that warm glow of patriotism to boot — but we've got our own budgets to consider too. I mean, how many people are seriously prepared to pay a good deal more for something simply because it's produced within our borders?
Now, thanks to GMSA's decision to screw together the Chevrolet Spark in Port Elizabeth rather than import it, those looking to buy new in the A-segment can support local industry (and job creation) as well as — and let's be honest here, this is the clincher — pay less than before. Good. We like price cuts. Particularly one as significant as this.
Seeing that the locally built models are now between 7 and 9.7 percent cheaper than before, transforming the Spark into a far more competitive offering, we thought we'd sample a brand new one and report back. So do read on.
The all-important price...
There are two trim levels: the entry-level L now costs R107 500 and the high-spec LS comes in at R116 500. We had an LS with tasty optional 15-inch alloys on test. In terms of looks, the Spark certainly is still fresh. And in the right colour — the Ferrari-inspired Maranello Red paint on our test car made a marked difference — actually looks quite funky. The front end has big car features (think oversized headlights, trademark Chevy bowtie grille, etc.) on a rather small body. Incongruous, and rather striking.
The Spark (the Spark Lite is a completely different, previous generation model) features a 1.2-litre 16 valve petrol engine, making 60kW and 108Nm. Not massive numbers, but just about enough to propel this tiny, light-weight five-door hatch to suitable city speeds. The fuel consumption is the more important figure here anyway, with GM claiming the Spark sips just 5.4 litres per 100km. And despite not having an official final figure, our rough estimate saw us ending up pretty darn close.
The five-speed manual gearbox does its job well, although freeway driving at 100km/h sees the little 1206cc powerplant spinning at over 3000rpm, and it could thus do with a sixth forward gear. At 120km/h, this rises to almost 4000 revs, and engine noise starts to intrude into the cabin. Yes, where the willing little engine enjoys being thrashed through the gears is most certainly around town.
It may come across as clichéd, but the Spark is built to spend most of its time in the city, nipping through gaps in traffic and squeezing into almost impossible parking spaces. And decent visibility from a surprisingly high driving position helps it tame the inner-city jungle. Its short wheelbase means it's amusing to chuck around corners, and despite being relatively tall for its 3.6m-length, it copes with the bends rather well. Sure, there's plenty of body-roll, but the Spark is actually pretty fun to fling about.
Space aplenty... surprisingly
The amount of space inside was a pleasant surprise. From the exterior, the Spark comes across as, well, absolutely tiny. A dinky car, even. But there's plenty of room up front for the driver, and headroom is nothing short of outstanding. And even with the driver's seat positioned to comfortably house my six-foot frame, I was able to squeeze onto the backseat without first having to amputate any pesky appendages.
The boot, however, is absolutely minute. It can hold just 170 litres, or a few bags of shopping. Move house with the Spark you most certainly will not. The folks at GM seem to have made the choice to sacrifice luggage space for interior roominess, boosting its practicality in one area, but vastly diminishing it in another. That said, the back seats do fold forward — but not completely flat — to provide more stowage space.
The cabin is pleasant, with a splash of gloss black trim here and there helping to raise the standard. In fact, the majority of plastics used are pretty decent, and all instruments — bar perhaps the indicator and wiper stalks — work with a smoothness not always found in this budget-beating segment. The small instrument cluster is certainly unique, and is mounted directly behind the steering wheel. It features a digital rev counter and analogue speedometer.
The base L model comes standard with power steering, air con, window tints all round, an audio system (CD/radio/MP3/USB/aux), alarm and immobiliser, remote central locking, as well as roof rails. What does the LS get for an extra nine grand? Well, exterior colour-coding, front electric windows, 14-inch alloys, foglights, remote electric side mirrors, height adjustable steering wheel, remote boot release, auto-locking doors, spoiler, and a multifunctional steering wheel are all standard equipment.
Safety is taken care of by ABS and EBD, with airbags for the driver and front passenger standard on both models. The Spark comes with a five-year or 120 000km warranty, but if you want the three-year or 60 000km service plan, you'd better budget for forking over an additional R6600.
We'd recommend going for the LS, which offers better value and a decent variety of kit in this small a car, in one of the brighter colours. An optional sports kit is also available, should you want to sex up the exterior.
Small on the outside, big on the inside, economical, five doors, built in South Africa, and quite a bit cheaper than it was a month ago. The indigenous version of the Chevrolet Spark makes a good case for itself against the likes of the Kia Picanto, Hyundai i10 and Nissan Micra.
Local most certainly is lekker.
Follow @Ryan_Bubear on Twitter to see what he's currently driving.
See page 2 for specs and pricing.