cars

2013 Chevy Spark: High Tech, Low Cost

$13,745.00

This little car previews the tech that could revolutionize in-car tech. Seriously.

First Impressions

The Chevy Spark 1LT costs just above $14,000, and it contains some of the most groundbreaking tech in the automotive world.

That's somewhat surprising, since the Spark is not just a very inexpensive car, but also a very small car. Just a little more than three feet longer than a Smart Fortwo, it's got room for four passengers and a little bit of cargo, or two passengers and a decent amount of cargo.

While "cheap and small" may not sound like a particularly appealing package, Chevy thankfully gave the Spark some pizazz. Bright colors inside and out are the first clues that at least some effort was put into this minicar. That LCD screen in the dash is further proof — but we'll get to that later.

First off, the Spark isn't at all a bad car. We had a chance to drive one recently, and found it to be both engaging and energetic among cars that sell for under $25k. Our tester had a five-speed manual transmission, which helped raise the driver-amusement quotient, though we must complain about that shifter's long throw — the distance required to move it from one gear to another.

Size-wise, the Spark deceived, shapeshifting like a Sauron: We weren't surprised that parallel parking was a cinch, but we were surprised that the rear seat could actually hold an adult human. Up front, there's no hint of just how diminutive the Spark is until a glance at the rear-view mirror reveals just how close the trunk lid is to the steering wheel.

Those factors alone would give us reason to praise the Spark among vehicles in its class. But it's that LCD screen that truly interests us. See, it's the first ever in-car application of the infotainment technology that we predict will be on every single car a decade from now — and it's on a bright green minicar that costs less than a used Camry.

For the Spark's MyLink infotainment system, Chevy adopted MirrorLink's smartphone mirroring platform. MirrorLink is a product of the Car Connectivity Consortium, a group of car and phone manufacturers working on creating a global standard for in-car smartphone connectivity. Its members include everyone from Audiovox to Volvo and most major companies in between, but the little Spark was the first to get MirrorLink technology on board.

We can assure you that it's impressive for any car, let alone an entry-level one. Just sync your smartphone with your Spark, and the touchscreen will show car-optimized versions of apps like Pandora, Stitcher and TuneIn, using your phone's data plan to stream audio.

The most interesting feature is navigation. Just pay $50 and download the BringGo app (make sure there's enough room on your phone -- it can be fairly large depending on how many regions you download) and it will immediately mirror a complete navigation system on the Spark's LCD screen, using pre-downloaded maps and GPS for navigation, and the phone's data connection for search. If you've got an iPhone, the Spark can even run Siri Eyes Free.

Chances are, if you're looking at a car that sells for $14,000 brand new, you're not into spending extra money on an infotainment system that (likely poorly) duplicates the functionality of the smartphone you already own. That's the genius of MyLink, and why we predict that similar systems will be on cars costing many times as much as the Spark in the near future.