Hey you! Yes, you, average American car buyer! All done with the Black Friday/Cyber Monday rush, but still in the market for a new ride? Well, you’re probably looking at one of two things: a compact hatch or a crossover. No, we’re not psychic, it’s just that there are still a lot of you out there right now (despite a cooling market), and that’s what you’re buying in droves. So stop doing the mannequin challenge, grab those stick figure family decals and Starbucks Venti peppermint flavored … things, and come with us, because we’ve got some new cars you might be interested in!
If you and your family of 2.54 people can still fit comfortably in a subcompact, then the Chevy Spark is a good way to go. All-new for 2016, the fourth-generation Spark is a good-looking subcompact that, alongside the slightly larger Sonic, fills the void left by the Chevy Aveo, and the less we can say about that thing, the better. But while the new Spark is doing just fine — it’s almost matched year-end 2015 sales through October — Chevy thinks it can crank those numbers up a little higher by turning it into a rugged-looking little crossover. For 2017, say hello to the Spark Activ.
There must be something going around in Detroit, because Chevy introduced the Activ at this year’s L.A. Auto Show at roughly the same time as Ford’s introduction of the EcoSport, a tall, Fiesta-based little people mover. But while the Ford has its own unique sheetmetal, the Activ looks a lot like the Spark. It also feels, moves, and likely drives like the Spark too. So which one is better, the impressively redesigned little hatch, or its slightly taller stablemate? That’s what we’ll tackle in this latest installment of Buy This, Not That.
Tale of the tape:
Thankfully, the severe, sharp edges of the previous generation Spark have been replaced by conservatively handsome lines that bring it right into line with the rest of the Chevy lineup. Next to rivals like the Nissan Versa Note, Fiat 500, and Mitsubishi Mirage, it’s easily the best looking of the bunch. The 1.4 liter four, good for 98 horsepower and 94 pound-feet of torque, is new, which gives the Spark an added 14 horses and 11 pound-feet over the old model. That may not sound like much, but the Spark has lost 1.6 inches of length and a full 45 pounds, meaning it’s got more power and less mass to move. Power is routed to the front wheels via a standard five-speed manual or a refreshingly unobtrusive CVT. And while it’s by no means quick, it’s par for the course for a city car.
Inside, front seat legroom is down over the previous car, but accommodations have been nicely upgraded. Standard equipment includes a 7-inch touchscreen with Chevy MyLink infotainment system, USB port, and Bluetooth connectivity — not bad for around $15K. The mid-range LS model has all that along with an upgraded stereo, larger wheels, power locks, keyless entry, and upgraded trim. The range-topping 2LT starts at over $18K, and also features heated leatherette seats, push-button start, and a suite of safety sensors. Thanks to the revised suspension, the result is a subcompact that’s actually pretty comfortable and doesn’t feel like it’s made out of tin.
That’s all important, because it’s exactly the same in the Activ, although it’s a little pricier. The base model will start at $16,145 with the five-speed, and $18,045 with the CVT. For the extra money, you get a full 0.4 inch lift, roof rack, some textured plastic cladding around the wheel arches and rockers, a revised front fascia with available fog lights, and an unpainted bumper out back that looks like you went for the cheap option after being rear-ended in traffic. Heated front seats trimmed in leatherette and cruise come standard. If you’re itching to get your hands on one before Christmas, think again; deliveries aren’t slated to start until the first quarter of 2017.
This isn’t a completely fair fight, since we haven’t been able to get driving impressions of the Activ yet, but from here, the regular old Spark looks like the winner. Sure, the Activ nearly looks the part with all that black plastic, but it’s doubtful that Chevy will offer an all-wheel drive option, and unfortunately that added 0.4 inches of ride height probably won’t help you much off road. What’s more, with just 11 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats up (though it’s a more respectable 27 with them down), there isn’t much room for more than an overnight bag.
Overall, the Spark seems to excel at being a city car where the Activ just looks too laden with compromises. But there’s still clearly a market for these vehicles — the EcoSport is the best-selling crossover outside the U.S., and Ford has just released a lifted Fiesta of its own for 2018 — so the little Chevy could be a huge hit yet. And so American auto buyer, the choice, as always, is yours. But you’ll probably go with the Activ. Because crossover.