Subcompact cars are often ridiculed. How many jokes have you heard about SMART cars after all? And yes, their diminutive size and quirky appearance can look somewhat ridiculous when a grown man is tootling around town in one. So, my tester this week had me worried that I may have to turn in my man card for being seen driving around in it.

The 2014 Chevy Spark is indeed a competitor (and a viable one at that) to the SMART car. This four-door, four-person hatchback comes in color options like Salsa, Grape Ice, Lemonade and Lime. And wouldn’t you know it, my tester was the Lime color. And yes, it is that green, and yes, again, I felt my man card sliding out of my wallet any time I drove it around town.

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But before you abscond with my man card, let me make a case for why it should remain firmly in my possession.

Despite the cutesy color and the bulbous look of the Spark, there’s actually some nice design aspect to the Spark. The Spark is GM’s smallest vehicle made (in the U.S. market). It’s smaller than the two-door Fiat 500, but more aggressive looking than the ultra-cute (more female oriented) Italian car. This Korean-manufactured micro car has some sporty styling to it, including a chrome grille, rear spoiler and 15-inch aluminum wheels. On the roof is a luggage rack giving a little extra usefulness and contributing to the look of the Spark.

The engine of the Spark is equally small. A 1.2-liter, four-cylinder engine “powers” the Spark. It makes all of 84 horsepower. To be fair, a car this size could not hold a much bigger engine, and the targeted consumer of the Spark would not require significant horsepower. Nevertheless, I did feel quite overmatched on the road. And certainly, pulling out in busy intersections calls for added clearance time as this hatch is a sloth off the line.

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A continuously variable transmission aids in acceleration and improves the fuel economy of the Spark. While I’m not a fan of CVTs, this is a perfect vehicle to utilize this technology, and it certainly doesn’t diminish from the driving performance of the Spark.

The maneuverability and turning radius of the Spark are as good as any vehicle out there. In this case, there’s a perk to driving something so small. Also, fitting into small parking spots, and parallel parking is a breeze for Spark drivers.

Inside, the Spark’s interior impresses. With such a small price tag, you’d expect cheap materials and sparse technology. However, targeting itself to a younger buyer, the Spark is full of neat technology and actually has a quality interior (especially for its price tag). Compared to other competitors like the Mitsubishi Mirage and the Scion qi, the Spark is lavishly appointed.

The back seat is practically unusable but does allow for two passengers in the back, as long as they are small and willing to maybe duck down a little. Even my 12-year-old daughter sat horizontally across the back seat and wanted for more space. But, consider that as one of the selling points of the Spark.

Aimed at first-time buyers and young drivers, it will keep them from cramming too many friends into a vehicle that could cause more distractions.

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The Spark is equipped with Chevrolet MyLink with access to Siri Eyes, which is a free voice recognition app that is compatible with iPhones. Another handy app that came loaded on the iPhone that was part of the car loan to me was an app called BringGo. This navigation app works exclusively with MyLink systems. It’s a great app that is easy to use and provides safe, hands-free navigation including traffic alerts and locations of gas stations and other accommodations.

It’s nice to see carmakers leaning on apps like this instead of putting in their own expensive navigation systems that only increase the sticker price.

The Spark has a tiny 9.2 gallon fuel tank. With an EPA rating of 30 city and 39 highway, trips to the gas station will be fewer, but when they occur they won’t cost much. And this again makes the Spark appealing to young drivers and the budget conscience. In a week’s worth of driving, I averaged nearly 37 MPG.

For such a small space, the Spark has a surprising amount of cargo space. Behind the second row, lift the hatch to discover 11.4 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold the second row flat (which is what I would advise since the back seat is practically useless) and you have 31.2 cubic feet of space.

There are three trims available for this model year including the base LS, the 1LT and the top-of-the-line 2LT (which is what I drove). The LS is a bare boned model for a basic, no frills driving experience. However, the 2LT does add some nice features including faux leather upholstery, heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.

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Starting price for the LS trim is only $13,000 making the Spark one of the most affordable vehicles on the market. Move up to the 2LT and the MSRP goes to $17,210 which is still lower than comparable Fiat 500 and Scion iQ.

Nobody is proclaiming the Chevy Spark to be a manly vehicle. But it has its appeal both in looks, fuel economy and price point. The Spark is a great vehicle for young drivers, college students and urban dwellers. If you can get past the close-minded barbs and petty ridicule from driving a tiny, bubbly car, you will discover the best subcompact car on the market. Now can I get my man card back?

2014 CHEVY SPARK 2LT

PRICE/AS-TESTED PRICE………………………………………… $17,200/$17,200

MILEAGE…………………………………… 30 MPG (CITY); 39 MPG (HWY)

ENGINE……………………………………… 1.25-LITER ECOTEC

HORSEPOWER/TORQUE…………………………… 84 HP/83 LB./FT.

TRANSMISSION…………………………… CVT

DRIVE WHEELS……………. FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE

FINAL ASSEMBLY POINT……………. CHANGOWON, KOREA

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Jimmy Dinsmore

For several years Jimmy Dinsmore has reviewed new vehicles, offering up a unique look and an interesting voice in his weekly column. Jimmy looks at vehicles from the consumer’s point of view. Light on the technical jargon, and lacking the cynicism that pervades many other auto reviews, Driver’s Side treats each vehicle fairly, offering a light-hearted take. Email him at - [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @driversside.

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