Chevys to chase if you're a January bargain-hunter

Chevrolet unveils new models for the credit crunch

Has Chevrolet got past people's preconceptions yet? Stop thinking about oversize Americana with fins, chrome and no suspension damping, we are implored.

It's true that even in the US, Chevrolets have long ceased to conform to such a stereotype. Only the police and the taxi industry now use the last remaining traditional, mainstream, full-size Chevy saloon, with a hefty engine up front and rear-wheel drive – the Caprice.

Instead, Chevrolet is General Motors' worldwide value brand, a notion which has survived unscathed from the tumultuous reorganisation of GM, post-credit crunch. Today's Chevrolet operation has its roots as much in the former Daewoo company of Korea as in the US, and it is within GM-DAT (Daewoo Automotive Technologies) that the cars destined for near-worldwide sale are conceived, albeit with input from its GM parent in the US and the Opel operation in Germany.

Here are the latest two: a saloon called Cruze, which shares some understructure with the new Vauxhall Astra (but not the Astra's clever rear suspension), and a mini called Spark, which replaces the model we once knew as the Daewoo Matiz. We'll take the second of these first, not least because it's a joy to drive a properly small car – of the size so-called superminis used to be, before they turned obese and grew larger than a Volkswagen Golf or a Ford Escort.

It's a good-looking little car, with an aura of cheeky fun – sparkiness, even – about its being and a large amount of youth-targeted marketing to go with it (always a dangerous route because cool young people with money to spend tend not to like being so openly pursued). It has five doors, remarkable cabin space front and rear, and a dashboard with an almost motorbike-like instrument console behind the steering wheel. This consists of a speedometer in a pod and a small LCD display to its right, containing most other things you need to know, including a graph-shaped rev-counter scale.

As befits a real supermini, the Spark has a choice of two small engines: a 1.0-litre unit with 68bhp and a 1.2 with 81bhp. Match the latter engine to the LT trim level, and for the required £9,845 you get all kinds of upmarket equipment which you don't really need.

Or you can pay just £6,495 and have the most basic Spark with nothing sybaritic at all, although you do get six airbags. The notion of this one is appealing as a stand against the over-complication of too many modern cars, but even with such a mindset I would favour the Spark+ with the same engine and an £8,145 price tag. Because then I would have air-con, electric front windows, central locking, and a stereo system with a USB connection. And what more, really, should I want?

Is 68bhp enough, though? Well, an original Mini managed with exactly half that, so it should be sufficient. And so it proves: the 1.0-litre Spark feels little slower than the 1.2, and its engine is much sweeter when worked hard. It also lacks the bigger version's hiccup when trying to accelerate vigorously from low engine speeds. The steering is accurate enough, bumps are soaked up adequately, and while the Spark might not generate thrills for a keen driver, it is as agile and nippy as a little car should be. Good effort, I say.

Now, the Cruze. After the understandably plasticky Spark, the Cruze feels quite upmarket, with a soft-touch dashboard and lots of equipment in the mid-range 1.6 LS version I sampled. This is a lot of car for £12,845, and its showroom appeal is considerable. This falls apart a little when you drive it, though, and you soon realise why it's so inexpensive.

First, the engine feels flat and lethargic in a way which seriously undersells its claimed 113bhp. It needs some expert recalibration of the engine management system, because the Cruze actually proves faster than it leads you to expect. Second, Chevrolet has overdone its efforts to appeal to "European" tastes, making the suspension too firm and fidgety while the steering remains anaesthetised. It's a curious tactile mismatch. Third, it has hi-tech multiplex electrics but slow processors, so there's too much delay between moving a switch and gaining a result – as proved to me by the irate headlight-flashing of oncoming motorists who thought I had forgotten to dip my headlights.

Of the two new Chevrolets, then, it's the Spark that does the better job of doing what it is designed to do. The Cruze has the makings of a resounding bargain but it isn't quite finished yet. Even so, it makes the new Vauxhall Astra, good car as it is, seem extremely expensive.

The Rivals

Fancy the Spark?

Try the Suzuki Alto 1.0 SZ3 at £7,745. Characterful and punchy three-cylinder engine, great fun to drive, has the essentials but is intelligently minimalist and very economical.

Like the Cruze?

What about the Skoda Octavia 1.6 SE, at £13,420? Fully-developed, thoroughly likeable car, with Volkswagen Group quality. Much cheaper than a Golf and just as good – which makes it a bargain.

There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

    £16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

    The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

    £35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'