First-drive review: 2017 Chevrolet Spark LTZ CVT

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 15) — If there is one vehicle sold in this country that has seen a dramatic transformation through the years, it's the Chevrolet Spark.

Much like singer Greyson Chance or actor Matthew Lewis (who played Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter series), puberty hit Chevy's supermini hatchback hard. And boy am I glad.

A little history lesson: the first-generation Spark replaced the dreadful Daewoo Matiz (remember those things?) But unfortunately, that old Spark still carried over much of its gawky looks and awful interior from the old Daewoo.

Then the second-generation Spark rolled in and although it still had a Daewoo platform, it looked amazing. With its enormous, swept-back headlights, pert rear end and the coolest instrument cluster I have ever seen in a small car, the Spark was finally a small car worth looking at (and better still, worth being seen in).

Adding to that Spark's credentials is a role in the Transformers series, which revitalized not only the car, but also the Chevrolet brand in the Philippines.

Once again, there is an all-new Spark, which debuted at the 2017 Manila International Auto Show.

Read: Highlights: 13th Manila International Auto Show

CNN Philippines took it for a spin to see how much has changed.

More restrained, but still cute

For this Spark, Chevrolet has ditched the "angry Pokemon" looks of the old car for something more grown-up yet nice to behold.

The flatter hoodline leads down to smaller, swept-back headlights that seem to glare at what's ahead. Between these is a slimmer grill with a chrome insert. Meanwhile, the large lower grill is flanked by prominent housings for the foglights.

The side profile has also changed significantly, especially since this new Spark is around 60 millimeters shorter than the old one. Aside from strakes running along the door handles, the beltline has also been made less raked. One neat touch that was carried over from the old car is the rear door handle hidden next to the rear window.

At the back, I found the styling quite familiar, although not because of the old Spark. The tuner-style taillights have been replaced with curved units that protrude out of the bodywork. These, along with the slim reflectors on the bumper and the large rear window, remind me more of the new Kia Picanto and the Suzuki Celerio.

In addition, the fabulous pastel-mint-green paintjob (called "Mint My Mind") really suited the car and I highly suggest that you choose this, the pastel yellow ("Brimstone") or the bright red ("Pull Me Over Red") over the other colors.

Classy interior

Inside, the transformation is even more notable.

Gone is the motorcycle-style digital instrument cluster from the old car, replaced with large, clear gauges with touches of blue to make it more attractive. Other nice features include the white-on-black multi-function display and fuel gauge.

The rest of the dashboard has also been nicely revamped from the sea of cheap and scratchy black plastic in the old car. This time, there is gloss-black trim generously applied throughout the dash, along with chrome accents and matte-silver trim on the air-con controls and the gearstick.

In addition, all Sparks get Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system as standard, which includes a 7-inch touchscreen placed at the top of the center console. Although the screen is clear and responsive, a long-term test of the Spark would help me find out how good this interface really is.

Some issues I did find with the interior are that the steering wheel does not adjust for rake or reach (which can be troublesome for some drivers) and that the driver's seat lacks thigh support.

Punchy engine, but CVT needs tweaking

And now, it's time to find out how well this little car goes.

All models come with a 1.4-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve inline-4 producing 98 horsepower and 128 Nm of torque, which is mated to either a 5-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). These figures make the Spark one of the most powerful cars in its class (equal to the Honda Brio).

Indeed, this car proves why big power in little cars means loads of fun. Unlike its buzzy 3-cylinder rivals, this little Chevy has loads of heave, which is delivered smoothly throughout the RPM range.

In addition, the ride is pleasant for a car of this size. But again, a long-term test would help me better ascertain the Spark's ride and handling in a variety of road conditions.

Something that isn't so smooth, sadly, is the CVT. Chevrolet has a lot of catching up to do with the likes of Honda in this respect as the gearbox is recalcitrant, especially when you need maximum power to do a safe overtake.

Other issues include the light but numb steering and the brakes that come in too deep in the pedal travel.

Worth a look

All in all, the Chevrolet Spark is a big car stuck into an attractive, cute and easy-to-park package.

However, one other thing that is surprisingly "big car" with the Spark is the ₱763,888 pricetag of this top-of-the-line LTZ model.

If it were my money, I'd give up the foglights, projector headlights and the 15-inch alloy wheels and go for the LT variant with the 5-speed manual (costing a far more reasonable ₱648,888).

Also, if Chevrolet works more on the CVT and the feel of the controls, it would really give other superminis a run for their money.

Without a doubt, this all-new Spark represents yet another dramatic transformation for the model. And thankfully, it's still heading in the right direction.