NEW YORK — It was a tough day in the city. The George Washington Bridge was a congestive horror show thanks to a noontime construction project and a motorcycle accident.
The city’s streets were equally bollixed in response to a presidential motorcade winding through town.
I was grateful for the car I was driving, the 2013 Chevrolet Spark 2LT mini-hatchback, finally brought to the United States by General Motors.
The front-wheel-drive Spark has been a mainstay of urban motorists worldwide for five years now. Previously sold as the Matiz, it is a product of GM-Daewoo in South Korea.
At this writing, some 600,000 Spark/Matiz models have been sold globally — the Philippines, Europe, South America.
The car is being brought to the United States in the wake of the demise of another GM-Daewoo automobile, the largely unheralded Chevrolet Aveo.
But here’s betting that the Spark will be a success. Here’s why:
“Downsizing” is no longer a dirty word in America. For many of us, it is a matter of necessity, especially among young people still struggling to find a safe place in a wobbly national economy.
The Spark is affordable, starting at $12,245 for the base model and rising to $13,745 for the Spark 1LT with Bluetooth connectivity or $15,045 for the top-of-the-line Spark 2LT.
Affordable, in this case, does not mean cheaply assembled, poorly designed or unsafe.
The Spark — 14 inches shorter than the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic and nearly four inches shorter than the Fiat 500 — is a well-constructed piece, tiny on the outside but big enough to accommodate four adults who can enter the car through its four side doors.
There are 10 air bags, including front-passenger knee bolsters, to enhance the chances of escaping a crash with minor injuries. In the event that a crash occurs, the Spark comes with a standard six-month subscription to GM’s OnStar emergency communications system to help get rescue officials to you quickly.
You’ll have to buy, or have access to, an iPhone with this car. At least, after driving it for a while, you’ll probably want an iPhone. The Spark’s infotainment and operational systems, including door locks, music and navigation, are all designed to be integrated with and operated through your iPhone.
Here’s hoping that GM will see the common sense of that design, especially for navigation, and start putting it in all the company’s cars and trucks. There is nothing more disconcerting than climbing behind the wheel of an expensive automobile that has a fixed onboard navigation system that is already obsolete. That won’t happen with iPhone navigation systems, which are constantly being updated.
I have left driving impressions for last this week for the simple reason that you don’t buy a Spark to drive fast. You get it to maneuver through crowded city streets — and stay away from gasoline pumps.
Let’s be real. The Spark, as presented here in 2LT format, has a 1.2-liter in-line four-cylinder engine that produces 85 horsepower and 82 foot-pounds of torque. It is not the least bit speedy. It is agile.
The Spark is a narrow, lightweight car (2,269 pounds). It can scoot through the most congested traffic, quickly occupying spaces ignored by or unusable for larger vehicles. It is fast enough to get out of its own way and avoid other calamities in an urban setting.
On a highway, such as the Palisades Parkway heading north toward my oldest daughter’s home in Cornwall, N.Y., the Spark is a right-lane car. Keep it out of the left lane, which is meant for faster and passing vehicles. Before revving it up to highway speeds, select some nice music played at reasonably high volume. You’ll need it. The little car is a virtual noise box at 70 mph.
Bottom line: The Spark is a genuine entry in the small but growing market for mini-cars. It is one of the best of the genre in terms of overall quality, safety, seating accommodation and infotainment advances. It gets an enthusiastic “buy” here for small-car shoppers.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Steering is easy. Steering response is instant and accurate. The ride is choppy on poorly maintained streets, as is the case with most small cars. Acceleration is good enough to get you out of tough spots, and to help you avoid them in the first place.
Head-turning quotient: Totally cute on the outside. The interior is plain, simple and ergonomically sensible. I love this car in what GM calls “techno pink.”
Body style/layout: The 2013 Chevrolet Spark is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive mini-car with four side doors and a rear hatch.
Engine transmission: The car comes standard with a 16-valve, 1.2-liter in-line four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing (85 horsepower, 82 foot-pounds of torque). The engine is linked to a standard five-speed manual transmission. A five-speed automatic is optional. Get the manual transmission for best performance.
Capacities: Seats four adults. Cargo capacity with rear seats up is 11.4 cubic feet. With rear seats down, cargo capacity expands to 31.2 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 9.2 gallons of gasoline. Regular grade is recommended.
Real-world mileage: I averaged 22 miles per gallon in the city, wasting gallons of gasoline going nowhere fast. I averaged 38 miles per gallon on the highway.
Safety: The 2013 Chevrolet Spark gets excellent safety ratings from federal and private insurance safety agencies. Standard equipment includes ventilated front disc and rear drum brakes; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; 10 air bags, including side and head bags and knee bolsters; and electronic stability and traction control.
Price: The trim lines range from $12,245 to $15,045. Compare with Fiat 500, Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit.