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Round it up: 2013 Chevy Spark rated at 38 mpg

Chevy Spark front three-quarter gray backgroundAutomotive advertisers are making 40 mpg the new standard of fuel economy. Most of the major companies have a car that can achieve the magic 4-0, although usually only on the highway. The 2013 Chevy Spark subcompact was gunning for 40 mpg, but, at 38 mpg, it missed the target. Does that mean the Spark will fail to attract fuel-conscious shoppers?

The EPA rated the Spark at 32 mpg city, 38 highway. That’s for cars equipped with a five-speed manual transmission; four-speed automatic cars are rated at 28 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.

Every Spark is powered by a miniscule 1.2-liter four-cylinder engine, which makes 85 horsepower. That makes the Spark one of the least-powerful cars currently in production. With such a small engine, one would expect big mpg numbers from this Chevy.

Several of the Spark’s competitors have managed to reach the gold standard of 40 mpg. The Kia Rio does, with a manual transmission, although the Spark gets two mpg more in the city. The Ford Fiesta SFE also achieves 40 mpg, with an automatic transmission. In fact, Chevy’s own Cruze Eco scores 42 mpg highway, and 28 mpg in the city.

The Spark’s biggest headline may actually be its city mpg number, which is much more competitive than its highway mileage. A small car like the Spark would probably be better off as a city runabout anyway; merging onto a highway with only 85 hp does not sound fun.

Another potential advantage for the Spark is its price. Starting at $12,995, it undercuts the Kia ($14,350) and the Ford ($16,295). It’s also cheaper than a Fiat 500, despite having more doors.

The only car that bests the Spark’s base price is the Nissan Versa sedan, which starts at $10,990. With a 1.6-liter four-cylinder (109 hp) and continuously variable transmission, the Versa returns 30 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. That makes it nearly identical to the Spark.

The Spark is not a bad car, but it puts in a middling performance in a very competitive segment. Under certain conditions (in the city, with a manual transmission), it shines, but its small size may not make it as useful outside urban areas. Buyers wanting the absolute best fuel economy or the absolute lowest price should look elsewhere. The Spark comes close to the competition on mpg and price, but its tiny engine might be too much of a sacrifice, even for fuel-conscious buyers. That, not the Spark’s inability to achieve 40 mpg, might be its biggest drawback.