The small urban delivery vehicle has been lacking from the local market for many years now. But, as GAVIN MYERS finds out, Chevrolet has very cleverly filled this open gap with its new Spark Pronto.
What’s this? A review of a small hatchback … in FOCUS? Yes, that’s right, your eyes are not deceiving you … nor are we shifting over to the passenger vehicle market. What you see here is the latest, innovative and funky commercial vehicle offering from Chevrolet – introducing the Spark Pronto.
The basic concept; remove the rear seats from a standard Spark, replace them with a flat floor and partition, and voila! The result is: what is currently the only vehicle of its type on sale locally. Of course, Chevrolet is not pioneering any sort of new market segment. Many will fondly remember the Carri, Toyota’s Tazz-gone-delivery-vehicle, as possibly the most popular vehicle of its type to be sold locally.
However, that vehicle has been no more for quite a few years now. Chevrolet has capitalised on the opportunity, enabled by the Spark now being produced locally (General Motors invested R1 billion in three local vehicle-assembly programmes). Local production of the Spark has also had the effect of prices being cut – the model you see here costs just R101 500!
So, it’s certainly one of the least expensive (“cheap” is not necessarily a descriptor that suits the Spark) commercial vehicles on sale today. But does it offer enough? Can such a small vehicle do the job?
The answer to that question lies in the job at hand … In the commercial vehicle industry, fleet managers are used to buying and running the vehicle best suited to the job. So yes, if the Spark Pronto is used for its intended purpose – delivery of small, light-weight cargo in an urban environment – it is among the best options available.
The rear compartment, accessed by the rear tailgate or the traditional rear side doors, offers easy access to the 876-litre cargo area. The Spark Pronto’s payload is rated at what some might consider a paltry 275 kg, but lest we forget this is a small vehicle meant for small cargo. (Standard roof rails are also fitted to facilitate the fitment of a roof rack.) The load compartment floor and bulkhead is covered in a tough material, but we couldn’t help thinking that a light rubber covering might have been better suited to stop items sliding around.
While the rear glass is not blocked-out, as one might have expected, the side windows are protected by bars. There are also bars above the bulkhead separating the passenger and load compartments. The rear doors are still fitted with their traditional cards and fittings, meaning they, as well as their wind-down windows, can be opened from the inside.
From the driver’s seat the vehicle remains familiar Spark, minus a few fixtures. In line with its commercial vehicle orientation, the Spark Pronto is fitted with easy-to-maintain plastic door panels. The dash is also in a similar plastic, and while most of it is hard-touch plastic, the interior doesn’t come across as cheap or tacky. The cloth-covered seats (height-adjustable on the driver’s side) are comfortable for days spent driving around town, the standard air-conditioning and key-operated central locking adding convenience. The Spark Pronto is “radio ready” for an aftermarket unit to be fitted.
Powering the Spark Pronto along is Chevrolet’s 1,2-litre 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder engine, as fitted to the rest of the range. The unit produces 60 kW at 6 400 r/min and 108 Nm of torque at 4 800 r/min. The output figures are enough to allow the spark to easily keep up with traffic and provide a relaxing drive, but when pressing on it can feel a bit low on power. It does, however, return great fuel consumption figures, Chevrolet claiming a combined-cycle figure of 5,4 l/100 km.
The engine is mated to an exceptionally smooth and easy five-speed manual transmission that is a joy to use. The brakes and overall handling are good, and the softer ride was a welcome surprise after the harder-riding commercial vehicles we’re used to driving.
Due to its compact dimensions it is also nippy and easy to pilot, however, the thick A-pillars can block the driver’s view when navigating certain bends and corners. But this was our only problem with driving the Spark Pronto and in all other regards it’s a great, fun, easy little vehicle to pilot around town.
Safety specifications include dual front airbags and anti-lock braking (ABS) with Electronic Brake Force Distribution (EBD).
General Motors is backing the Spark Pronto with a five-year/120 000 km warranty that includes roadside assistance covering both breakdowns and accidents. Further boosting the value-for-money proposition is that, as the Spark Pronto is a fully fledged commercial vehicle, a full VAT rebate on the R101 500 purchase price for VAT registered businesses applies.
With such a clever offer on the cards, the Spark Pronto should find a happy home with many a fleet and small business alike.