Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sixth Car Shopping Weekend - Chevy Volt and Spark

Chevy Volt
2011 Chevy Volt
Chevy Spark
2013 Chevy Spark
It's been a while since we went out to look at cars. The last trip was actually back when I took the Prius in for its regular maintenance at the new Toyota of Orlando location. While we were there waiting on the car my wife went out for a test drive in a 2012 regular Prius. Once my car was finished we went home.

Today in the middle of the heat we went over to Courtesy Chevrolet, across the street from Toyota of Orlando's former location on Colonial. We needed to at least look at the Chevy Volt, and at least check it off our list. It's a good thing we did, because it isn't worth $45,000, let along half that. Talk about sticker shock...
Chevy Volt Pricing
The surprising price tag
Chevy Volt Interior
The nondescript interior
We never took one out for a test drive. In fact, we were pretty much left alone for a fairly long period of time before anyone came out to talk to us. The salesman was pleasant enough, but activity seemed pretty dead (or else the sraff was very, very busy and we just didn't see them).

We looked pretty closely at the interior and the exterior of the Chevy Volt on display. And we were disappointed. The materials, at best, were nondescript, the kind of materials you'd find in a low end car from just about every other manufacturer. When you put a $45,000 price tag on a car, I expect to see the materials, fit, and finish of a $45,000 car. Trying to say that the cost is tied up in the technology underpinnings won't cut it. If you can't use luxury materials you can at least design the interior creatively to give the impression of a luxury interior. The interior of the Volt looked no more different than, say, the sub-$20,000 Spark sitting a few cars down from it.
Chevy Volt Charging Port
External power port and Volt logo just forward of the driver side door
Chevy Volt Hood Open
2011 Chevy Volt engine compartment
Even the Volt's mileage is suspect. While I can attest to getting 50MPG combined or more with our 2009 Prius under regular use, the Volt's "94MPG electric/37MPG gas" numbers I found somewhat bogus. I've never been a big fan of plug-in hybrids, or at least the way the Volt's hybrid system is designed. And to be honest I'm holding the new plugin Prius somewhat suspect as well, until I get more information. Chevy/General Motors is having a hard time telling their story to me about the Volt, and in the process they're not making a sale, most certainly not at that price.
Chevy Spark Pricing
2013 Chevy Spark particulars
Chevy Spark Hood Open
2013 Chevy Spark engine
Chevy Spark Interior
2013 Chevy Spark front interior
Chevy Spark Rear Driver Side Seat Down
2013 Chevy Spark rear seat folded flat
Chevy Spark Hatch Open
2013 Chevy Spark hatch open, rear seats up.
We were pleasantly surprised by the Chevy Spark. I was able to sit comfortably in both the driver and passenger sides, and we liked the styling. Unlike the slab-sided Soviet-era GM design of the Volt, the Spark and the Sonic that sat between it and the Volt were reasonably priced and interestingly designed little cars. When I compare the interior of the Spark with the Volt, I see little to differentiate the two, which is a shock considering that the Spark is nearly $30,000 less than the Volt. Or, to put it a different way, I could have bought two nicely equipped Sparks with plenty of cash left over for the price of one Chevy Volt. My wife discovered that the Spark's sub-assemblies are made in Korea and assembled in America. The design of the Spark (and the Sonic) is bears a strong design resemblance to Hundai. I wonder if perhaps the remnant of Daewoo Motors, which GM owned and eventually deconstructed due to "brand damage", are responsible for the bulk of the Spark's manufacture in Korea.

One final comment about the finish of the Volt; the lower door edge on the shotgun side showed nicks and marks from what appeared to be traffic getting into and out of vehicle. I have never seen that kind of early wear on any vehicle, which was another reason to question why I would ever spend $45,000 on a Chevy Volt.

I'm glad we had an opportunity to look at the Volt, the Spark, and a bit at the Sonic. We'll keep the Spark in mind as we begin to trade the Kia Sedona in for a new vehicle. But unless a miracle occurs with the Chevy Volt, I will never look at one again nor recommend it to anyone else I know.

As for cost, the MSRP for the various versions of the Spark and Sonic place them in direct competition with the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Scion iQ, and Smart ForTwo. Just about everybody beats the ForTwo, and the iQ is questionable. The Nissan Versa looks good at first until you get closer, then it begins to suffer. The Toyota Yaris is the only car that can compete effectively with the Spark. The only problem with the Spark is its relatively low mileage in comparison with others in its class. It should be getting 38-40MPG on the highway. If the mileage were higher, or the price lower, we would be seriously considering it or its larger cousin the Sonic. I'm not saying that we'll buy it, but if you can get a good deal on the Spark, pushing the price below $15,000, then it would make a decent little city/urban runabout, either as a first time car or a second economy alternative to a larger family vehicle like a van.


  1. Thank you for writing this up. I am in the process of replacing my Dodge 4x4 pickup with a compact and I have been looking at the Sonic and the Spark. Did you try the rear seats of either vehicle at all? At this point it would mostly be my 9yo and 7yo that would be sitting back there but I am sure at some point there would be some adults put back there. The picture you took of the hatch open on the spark is great I was wondering thought what you though of the storage space back there. It has hard to tell via a 2d picture but can you fit a reasonable amount of things back there? Beach bags, groceries, etc?

    1. I tried sitting in the rear of the Spark and found it to be very tight for me, but then I'm 6'4" and 250lbs. The front seats were actually reasonable. The rear space under the hatch is narrow (not very deep into the vehicle) and tall as the back of the rear seats. It would be fine for tall objects like large paper bags of groceries. but not too many, say four or five. I might hold about a dozen plastic bags full of groceries. Or it might hold two or three roll-around luggage bags, like the kind that fit in overhead bins. The cargo netting helps to hold a large number of smaller items, such as a mix of filled plastic grocery bags and 2 liter soda bottles more easily in the back.

      The Spark is aimed at couples or small families with young children with one or two children at the most. It's also an urban car as apposed to larger vehicles. It's small and easily maneuverable into and out of parking spots as well as city street traffic.


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