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2014 CHEVY SPARK: Parking pleasure

Spark can fit pretty much anywhere

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The less-touted advantage of the Chevrolet Spark is that the car fits into a 'sonar spot.'

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This week, Driving's Jodi Lai and Nick Tragianis set out on a challenge to find out if the 2014 Chevrolet Spark is worthy of its city-car credentials.

Nick Tragianis: How does the saying go? Little fish in a big sea? That's basically what you are with the Chevrolet Spark, GM's entry into the increasingly popular city-car market. If you live in a city and can soak up the ownership costs, city cars are a wonderful alternative to taking a crowded subway, streetcar or bus everywhere you need to go. Affordability and fuel economy are key selling points, but there's a less-touted yet equally important advantage with these cars: they can fit anywhere. That's why we embarked on a mission to do what any self-respecting minicar driver would do when bored -- squeeze into the tightest spaces we could find.

Jodi Lai: Last year, we also drove the Smart Fortwo Cityflame, another little yellow city car. Although it was fun to squeeze it into the parking lot's tiniest spaces, that car left a bad taste in my mouth when it came to city cars. Surely the car that basically started the city-car segment would be the best example of one, right? Wrong.

The Spark drives circles around the Smart. Not only is it a better car (it drives better, has two more seats and costs less than the Smart), but the Spark proved to be just as adept at squeezing into tiny places. Need to sneakily hide out in a narrow back lane? No problem. Need to parallel park in a tiny walkway? The Spark can do that, too!

NT: Our first challenge was to squeeze into the tiniest parking space we could find. Living in an area of the city where driveways and garages are a luxury, parallel parking quickly becomes a challenge best undertaken by gladiators. Often, it's far too easy to encounter what I call an "urban mirage" -- a spot that leaves a wide berth between the two cars, until you drive up to it and -- BOOM! -- there's a fire hydrant. Very well then, on to the next one. I call it a "sonar spot" since you need sonar as your sixth sense because otherwise, it's impossible to tell how much space there is between your bumpers and the other cars. It's that tight.

And yes, it's doable in a Chevy Spark. Measuring 3,675 millimetres long, or 144.7 inches, the Spark is dimensionally larger than the Scion iQ and Smart Fortwo, but it's just as versatile. Adding to that, the Spark is fairly tall, doing wonders for headroom front and rear, and all-around visibility. Put simply, there's a lot of glass, and blind spots are virtually non-existent. Our Spark was also equipped with a backup camera, a feature almost unnecessary given the car's dimensions and stellar visibility, but it's certainly an asset over fellow parallel parking gladiators. Once we easily got the Spark into the tightest parallel spot we could find, it was time to move onto the next challenge: parallel parking in a back lane.

JL: Not that anyone would ever need to parallel park in a back lane, but it was a good challenge for the Spark. This challenge was significantly more difficult than the previous one, but our Spark was up for it. Although our back lane parking job felt like it could have turned into the Austin Powers 50-point turn, we managed not to scrape anything or ding any bumpers. I must admit, though, I was beginning to get nervous when our little stunt began to attract an audience. Their gasps and clenched jaws only made our parking job more dramatic, but it was ultimately a huge (tiny?) success.

NT: Not going to lie, I almost got stage fright when we attracted that audience. Thankfully, there was no one to watch -- and likely make fun of -- our final challenge of aimlessly driving through tight, graffiti-lined alleyways. Naturally, the Spark proved itself to be a champ at scurrying through alleyways, and it shines in city driving.

As for highway driving, don't expect much in the way of grunt; its 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine is rated at 84 horsepower and 83 pound-feet of torque, paired to either a five-speed manual transmission or a new-for-2014 CVT. Our tester was equipped with the latter, which seemed to dampen the driving experience. If it were up to me, I'd go for the manual, because automatic transmissions tend to suck the life out of cars like the Spark.

Inside, I had mixed feelings about the Spark. Subcompact cars aren't known for their posh interior materials, but the colourful dashboard trim and seats brightened up the cabin's feel considerably. It's far from dreary, especially considering the incredibly intuitive MyLink entertainment system, but the one mark against the Spark has to be its awkward fold-down rear seats. Yes, it's a city car with two more doors and seats than the Scion iQ and Smart Fortwo, but the seats don't seem to fold flat, no doubt hampering the car's practicality.

JL: The Spark's tight little turning circle, impressive fuel economy, usable back seats, adorable dimensions and cheery personality make it perfectly suited for city driving. Although most city cars can feel like budget, tin-can affairs, the Spark manages to break that stereotype by making budget driving a happier and more civil experience.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

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