So, my vacation has been officially partially ruined. When I arrived, with a reservation for a compact car, they told me they were out of cars, in spite of being a Hertz #1 Gold member and having reserved 6 weeks ago (usually it is in a special spot close to the door all ready when I arrive). So they hunt around and find my reservation (which I made through their site and this was a corporate location). They give me the saddest car they have, claiming it is a “compact”: A Chevy Spark. I insist that it isn’t a compact. It isn’t even a subcompact. It’s a “city car”, “supermini”, or “European A-segment”. She didn’t know a damn thing about cars after downgrading me a full two classes, and I am still somewhat pissed. I’ll be contacting corporate about this one.

So we accepted our fate as they insisted they had no other cars. We went up to pack stuff in it, finding it had barely enough room for the roller bag we have in the back and the rest of the bags we just piled in the back seat. Getting in, we were far from enthusiastic. I was familiar with the model because a coworker formerly owned one, but my girlfriend had never seen one up close, and her initial reaction was, “This is a car? Where is my armrest?”.

How does it drive? Like an old Korean shitbox with somewhat better handling and less power, if that’s possible. It’s also a little like a golf cart. In corners it has similar body roll to a 1970s full-size American car, but it isn’t cushy, with incredibly little suspension travel (jarring, to say the least). The engine note is argumentative, like it is grumbling about being forced to transport us around, like a crotchety old man. It downshifts to get up small hills while slowing down and complaining. Driving over about 35mph feels like you’re bucking a stiff headwind, even with a tail wind. The only upside I have is that it doesn’t push quite as bad as I would expect. In a city, it would probably feel decently-nimble.

Appearance? I feel as though the driving experience, which my girlfriend is having vicariously through me because we don’t want to pay the underage surcharge, is coloring our opinion more than the actual car. However, as noted elsewhere, it is quite disproportionate. They did a good job with packaging, though, and I still find the rear door handles a highlight of the design.

Ergonomics? There are park benches I’d rather sit on for hours over these. They are possibly the worst seats I have ever encountered. Little padding and little adjustment available. The infotainment system is very usable and pretty easy to figure out. Remarkably responsive, to boot. As I have noted in other examples of this car, this is a cup holder lover’s dream. There are more cup holders with more size variety than I have seen in any other car.

All this said, this car is awful. In 1995 people would have been reluctant to buy a new economy car this terrible even if it was dirt cheap. Not only is it 20 years later, but this car is not dirt cheap. I thought the Sonic was bad, but at least it was a competitive value. Not so with the Spark. Even the fuel economy is sad; you could get so much better for similar scratch. Hell, you could buy a real car.

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Every time we get in it, all we do is rag on how awful it is. We also discussed how, if we had a teenager and could get one with a warranty for under 4k, we’d give them this car to keep them from getting into any trouble (speeding, burning out, parallel parking, sex in the back seat, etc) since It would suck the joy out of driving for someone that really shouldn’t be joyful behind the wheel yet. Today my girlfriend described it as a, “clown car that isn’t funny”, and now simply refers to it as, “the clown car”.

Our question is: What purpose does this car serve? Who actually buys these things? A Fiat 500 is better. A Smart Fortwo is distinctly better. B-segment cars can be purchased at about the same price. It’s ugly, small, uncomfortable, dangerously-slow, and doesn’t even drive well. Is there still that much GM loyalty remaining among some group of buyers of mini cars? Don’t the Japanese and (to a lesser extent) Europeans own this market? This car boggles our minds.