Chevrolet’s Flash of inspiration

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IN TODAY’S market, about £7,000 is the bottom end of what you can pay for a brand new car.

There are all kinds of weird and (not so) wonderful models priced substantially below that but when you venture down through the bargain basement into the abandoned mine of affordability, you need to be ready to accept a whole lot of compromises.

Rather than merely ticking the boxes marked ‘four-wheels’ and ‘engine’, Chevrolet’s Spark appears to be a cohesive and well-rounded small car. With prices that pepper the £7,000 barrier, should the 1.0-litre version be grabbed with both hands or left teetering on the precipice?

The entry-level engine option is usually worthy of consideration in city cars. If you’re sitting in urban traffic jams most of the time or crawling along in search of a parking space, a lack of power isn’t so much of a problem.

The Spark’s entry-level unit has 67bhp which is 12bhp less than the 1.2-litre unit that occupies the next rung up in the range.

Given the full beans, the 1.0-litre Spark will accelerate to 62mph in 15.5s which isn’t particularly rapid but a 96mph top speed should mean it’s up to motorway journeys if not overly comfortable on them.

The Spark has a compact footprint, with the wheels pushed out to the corners of its body for a tight turning radius of just five meters.

The power steering, however, is hydraulic and gives greater feel than the electric systems more commonly used in city cars.

Pricing for the Spark 1.0-litre looks very attractive but tread with caution because the entry-level version is about as well equipped as a man climbing Everest in Speedos and a sombrero. With no stereo, manual windows and not even a clock, the main purpose of this model is attracting buyers into showrooms with its £7,000 asking price.

The real value is to be had at Spark + level where air-conditioning, electric windows, central locking and a USB compatible four-speaker stereo are all included for a modest price increase.

The LS grade is the next step up with body-coloured exterior appendages, a rear spoiler, front fog lights and remote central locking.

Running costs are obviously crucial in any city car and the Spark’s compact petrol engines should deliver the goods. There are more economical small cars out there but the Spark holds its own and keeps upfront costs down. It should also hold its own against mainstream city cars in terms of residual values.

With its good looks and lots of interior space, the Chevrolet Spark is a strong contender in the city car sector but it does rely on its low prices to compete with the class leaders.

Those prices can be misleading because few buyers will be satisfied by the paltry equipment list included on the entry-level car but climb one or two rungs up the ladder and the value proposition is much more compelling.