Vehicle overview With each passing year, more and more subcompacts have been coming out for sale. These small, fuel-sipping cars are affordable and ideal for urban use. General Motors entered the game last year with its Chevrolet Spark. Not only is the South Korean-built 2014 Chevy Spark one of the smallest cars available in the U.S., it's also one of the least expensive. Compared to Chevrolet's next-smallest car, the Sonic, the Spark is some 14 inches shorter from nose to tail. And while the Spark might look odd with its relatively big body and small wheels pushed to the corners, those qualities translate into a surprisingly roomy interior. Inside the Spark, you'll find a simple, clean design with enough chic sculpting and color flourishes to help you overlook the hard plastic surfaces. And while the base model is somewhat spartan, it comes standard with power windows, air-conditioning and a radio. Higher trim levels offer additional electronics and conveniences, though their bigger price tags are within striking distance of larger, more desirable hatchbacks. Based on pricing and practicality, the four-door Chevrolet Spark is one of the best subcompact cars available for 2014. The base model costs far less than either the two-door Fiat 500 or Scion iQ. The Chevy lacks the Fiat's cute-as-a-button style or the even more diminutive Scion's parking ease, however. We'd suggest looking at more traditional hatchbacks as well. They cost more, but Chevy's own Sonic, along with the Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio and Nissan Versa Note are more substantial and appealing to drive. But the 2014 Chevrolet Spark is tops at the bottom line, and it's refined enough to make you proud of your new ride. 2014 Chevrolet Spark models The 2014 Chevrolet Spark is a small, four-door, four-passenger hatchback offered in LS, 1LT and 2LT trims. An all-electric version, the Spark EV, is reviewed separately. Standard LS features include 15-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, air-conditioning, power windows, 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-only steering wheel, a trip computer, OnStar telematics and a four-speaker radio with an auxiliary audio jack. Opting for the 1LT trim adds power-adjustable mirrors, cruise control, remote keyless entry, power door locks, floor mats, steering-wheel-mounted audio and phone controls, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a 7-inch touchscreen display and a six-speaker audio system with USB/iPod integration, satellite radio and smartphone app integration (Chevy's MyLink interface). The 2LT top trim adds unique wheels, foglights, heated mirrors, roof rails, sporty front and rear fascia treatments, chrome exterior trim, faux leather upholstery, heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. 2014 Highlights For 2014, the Chevrolet Spark receives a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) that replaces the previous four-speed automatic. Chevy says the CVT reduces engine noise on the freeway and increases both fuel economy and acceleration. The rest of the car is pretty much unchanged, though enhancements have been made to the Spark's smartphone connectivity (late availability). Performance & mpg Powering the 2014 Chevrolet Spark is a 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 84 horsepower and 83 pound-feet of torque. A standard five-speed manual transmission sends power to the front wheels. A new CVT is optional on all trim levels and takes the place of a conventional automatic transmission. Chevrolet estimates a Spark with a manual transmission will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 10.5 seconds. Compared to average subcompacts, the Spark will likely trail them to 60 mph by about a second. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 34 mpg combined (31 mpg city/39 mpg highway) for the manual and 34 mpg combined (30 mpg city/39 mpg highway) for the CVT. Safety Standard safety features on the 2014 Chevy Spark include four-wheel antilock brakes (front discs, rear drums), hill-hold assist, stability and traction control, front and rear side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front-seat knee airbags. Six months of OnStar is also standard and includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking, stolen vehicle assistance and turn-by-turn navigation. In government crash tests, the Spark received four stars overall (out of a possible five), with four stars for total frontal impact protection and five stars for total side crash protection. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, the Spark received the highest possible rating of Good in the moderate-overlap frontal offset, side impact and roof strength tests. In the small-overlap frontal offset test, the Spark scored a second-highest (out of four) Acceptable rating. It is the only subcompact thus far tested (out of 11) to earn above a Poor (lowest) or Marginal (second-lowest) rating in this stringent new test. The Spark's seat/head restraint design was rated Good for whiplash protection in rear impacts. In Edmunds brake testing, a Spark 2LT stopped from 60 mph in 123 feet, which is average for this class of car. Driving With only 84 hp -- less than many motorcycles -- it's clear that the 2014 Chevrolet Spark is not intended to excite or inspire. With the five-speed manual transmission, there's adequate acceleration for merging onto freeways. The manual transmission's shift throws are unusually long in order to reduce effort, yet the well-spaced gates make for precise gearchanges. As of this writing, we've yet to test a Spark with the new CVT. The Spark's somewhat tall body gives the impression of a European cargo van left in the clothes dryer too long. Thankfully, it doesn't drive like a misshapen van, as it's remarkably agile around turns. Although the Spark is far from a sport sedan, this small Chevy still manages to deliver well-mannered driving characteristics overall. Road and wind noise are noticeable, but no more intrusive than in other cars at this price point. Interior The 2014 Chevrolet Spark features a simple, modern interior enlivened by color-accented dash and door panels. Hard plastic surfaces are expected in an affordable hatchback, but the Spark has some well-textured trim pieces that impart a subtly classier ambience. Sporty, motorcycle-like gauges add further visual interest, featuring both a traditional speedometer and a digital multifunction display. The available MyLink touchscreen infotainment system adds to the Spark's modern vibe with sharp graphics and intuitive menus. It also boasts strong smartphone app integration, including Internet radio, text message translation, voice commands and available navigation. Still, like a lot of similar systems, it's not compatible with all smartphones, and the screen sometimes fails to register touch inputs, which can be frustrating. The seating is better than you'd expect in such a small car. The upright position of the Spark's front seats fosters the impression that you're sitting on the chairs rather than in them, and there's nothing in the way of lateral support. Still, most adults will find the seats comfortable enough, even on longer drives. While larger than many in the subcompact segment, the rear seats are still better suited to smaller passengers. The low seat cushions and headrests will likely draw complaints from average-sized adults. Behind the rear seats, 11.4 cubic feet of cargo can be crammed into the narrow space. Folding down the rear seats isn't a simple affair, as the seat cushions must be flipped forward and the headrests removed before plopping down the seatbacks. Once that's done, however, you get a fairly flat cargo floor and a more accommodating 31.2 cubes of capacity. For larger items, the 2LT trim provides a functional roof rack.