Pedro Arrais review: Big new-car value in a small package

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I can’t believe Chevrolet still sells their 2019 Spark — a brand-new car — for under $10,000.

You can’t buy much for $10,000 in a used car these days, so finding a new one for that price usually has people shaking their heads in disbelief.

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When the second-generation Spark was introduced in 2015, there was something of a price war taking place in the subcompact market.

The Nissan Micra, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Mitsubishi Mirage were all in and around the $10,000 mark.

Chevrolet came in and priced the 2016 Spark at $9,995, beating out the nearest competitor by $3, to grab the crown of the least expensive new car in Canada.

Fast-forward three years and the Chevrolet Spark is at that same price, while competitors all raised their prices, in some cases, by thousands of dollars.

Why haven’t you heard more about the Spark? Probably because there is little profit in small cars. The money is to be made in the ever-popular SUV and truck market.

With no national advertising support, the little Spark has to survive by simple word of mouth.

Except in Victoria, where one dealer, Jenner Chevrolet, has been pushing the low-pricing angle — to some success. They stock and sell about 50 a year, giving them the best selection and best-selling crowns for the Spark on Vancouver Island.

As I drove the base Spark when it was introduced, I thought that it was fitting that I would drive the top-of-the-line version this time.

The Spark is available in five trim levels, with the LS Manual the $9,995 model. My tester was the 2LT CVT, with a list price of $19,095.

Regardless of the model you choose, the Spark comes in only one body style — a four-door hatchback.

When you initially look at a Spark, you would swear that it is a two-door because you can only see one door handle when approaching the car.

The second handle is there, it’s just hidden just behind the window frame of the back door. It’s a neat optical illusion, as people perceive two-door cars as more attractive (but buy four-doors for their practicality).

The 2019 features what the industry calls a mid-cycle refresh, when designers can give a vehicle a go-over so as to revise styling cues. The grille is slightly different with the opening larger, following current trends.

A bigger change has centred around the introduction of the third-generation MyLink infotainment system. It is also a telematics system, integrating OnStar services such as vehicle diagnostics, automatic collision notification and turn-by-turn navigation.

The seven-inch colour screen is clear, bright and easy to navigate.

The system is capable of making the vehicle into a 4G wi-fi hotspot (your children will love this) and is both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. Bluetooth audio streaming is a given. Also included is SiriusXM (subscription required after a three-month trial).

The Spark is a subcompact, so space is tight. The front seats are adequate for most adults. The back seat only accommodates two passengers (the space between the seats features a cupholder in lieu of an extra occupant). The back seat bottom folds up, and the seat backs fold 60/40 to increase cargo capacity. The Spark can carry up to 770 litres of cargo.

Part of the reason for the price jump over the base car is the addition of leatherette seating surfaces, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated front seats. A power sunroof tops off the list of desirable options.

Still, there is ample evidence the Spark is an economy car at heart, with a fair bit of hard plastic in the interior.

But if you are safety conscious, you will probably be impressed with the inclusion of forward collision warning, low-speed forward automatic braking and lane-departure warning systems. These are desirable options not commonly found in this segment, let alone price point.

There is a back-up camera and, more importantly, a rear park assist function, with an audible warning (if you can’t turn your head comfortably, this last feature is a godsend).

There is only one powerplant, a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine producing 98 horsepower and 94 pound-feet of torque, mated to a continuously variable transmission and operating the front wheels.

The engine produces ample power for acceleration to merge onto highway onramps and is generally unobtrusive.

The highlight of the Spark is its fuel economy, with a 6.2 litre/100 km rating on the highway and 7.9 in the city on regular fuel.

Best of all, you have a new car warranty, with three years/60,000 km new car and five years/100,000 km on the powertrain and roadside assistance.

The Spark is not glamorous, sexy or fast. It’s just inexpensive, reliable transportation. It certainly won’t bust the bank and, in this day and age, is a heck of a deal.

THE SPEC SHEET

Type: Subcompact five-door hatchback, front engine, front-wheel-drive

Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder, 98 hp at 6,200 r.p.m., 94 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 r.p.m.

Transmission: CVT

Dimensions (mm): Length, 3,635; width, 1,595; height, 1,483; wheelbase, 2,385

Curb weight (kg): 1,049

Price (base/as tested): 19,095/$21,090 (includes $1,600 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Options: Premium paint $295

Tires: 185/55 R15 on alloy wheels

Fuel type: Regular

Fuel economy (L/100km): 7.9 city/ 6.2 highway

Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain and roadside assistance

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