x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

My little Chevrolet is the Spark that lights up my life

There can be few countries in the world where the cars are bigger than in the UAE.

There can be few countries in the world where the cars are bigger than in the UAE. As we all know, there are SUVs by the bucketload, and enough big German and Japanese saloons are sold to keep BMW and Mercedes in profit for the next 20 years. Even the smallest cars that are popular here, such as the Nissan Sunny and the Mitsubishi Lancer, would be medium-sized by European or Asian standards.

With petrol as cheap as it is, the temptation to buy the largest model with the biggest, thirstiest and most powerful engine is obvious. In such a "big is best" motoring culture then, the Chevrolet Spark stands out as something of an anomaly. This is a micro car and its engine is every bit as small as its body. The slowest version of this South Korean-made four-wheeler is powered by an 0.8-litre, three-cylinder engine that generates just 52 horsepower and, allied to an automatic gearbox, takes an eternity - 21.9 seconds to be precise - to reach 100 kilometres per hour from a standing start.

I own just such a Spark. Each time I step into this road-going miniature, I admit I feel a touch of embarrassment. I can feel the looks of pity from the other road users, and even those whose most upmarket form of transport is a public bus seem to be laughing at me too. "Who on earth would drive a car like that?", I imagine they are asking themselves. When you actually get going, the pity turns to scorn, because other drivers take a perverse pleasure in picking on the Spark. They are like the ugly big kids in the playground bullying their smaller classmates.

Everyone behind you wants you to speed up and so they sit inches from your rear bumper, flashing their headlights and blowing their horns. Of course, aggressive drivers are a hazard all of us in the UAE are familiar with, but it really is worse in a car this small. On occasion I have taken to the roads in a Honda Accord or a Nissan Altima, and the treatment you get really is different - even when you are pottering about in the slow lane doing Spark-like speeds.

But despite these downsides, I have nothing but fondness for my little Chevrolet, which is basically an updated version of Daewoo's highly successful Matiz. For all its compact dimensions, the Spark is a surprisingly roomy car, with an upright stance and a light, airy cabin. The raised driving position gives you a better view of the road than, say, Toyota's latest Corolla, and the headroom is way beyond that in the Japanese car.

The turning circle is simply incredible, so amazing in fact that I have forgotten what a three-point turn is. In this car, you never have to make them. You just swing the steering wheel round and the Spark more or less pivots on the spot. While other cars are bloated and fat, with vast amounts of interior space that will never be used - what is the point of having a big gap between the two front seats, for example? - the Spark is beautifully slim and can fit into narrow gaps that would scupper not just the Land Cruisers of this world, but also the Yarises and the Sunnys.

With its ability to fit into the tiniest of parking spaces, there is no better car around town- and even on motorways, the Spark will happily cruise at 120kph. Another plus point is reliability. My Spark has barely put a foot wrong in its first 11,000km, with the only problem being a leaking rear window washer that was fixed at the first major service. With South Korean cars, you now get Japanese quality at a much keener price. The price I paid was so keen, in fact, that I could have got two Sparks for the cost of one Nissan Sunny.

The financial side of owning one of the smallest cars on offer extends beyond the purchase cost. For all the petrol it uses, this car might just as well run on water. A full tank costs me little more than Dh40 and seems to last forever. Insurance costs are modest too - having to pay a premium of four per cent of the value of a Spark each year will hardly make you bankrupt - so at least you can actually make a claim when someone chooses to scratch the paintwork or dent your door.

I have friends with more expensive cars who decide against making repairs when their cars suffer cosmetic damage, so terrified are they of losing their no-claims bonus. When I finally come to leave the UAE, my pint-size blue Chevrolet will be the one thing that I miss more than any other. It has cheeky looks, lots of space, good build quality and is easy to drive. The day I say goodbye, the Spark really will have gone out of my life.

dbardsley@thenational.ae