Few brands are more aware of the shift in tastes from cars to SUVs than Chevrolet. General Motors has been selling trucks and SUVs for more than a century now, so it’s something that Chevy has gotten pretty good at. A few brands have fallen behind on keeping up with the demand for SUVs, even within the GM family, but Chevy has never had a shortage of utility vehicles. Chevy has so many SUVs, in fact, that there’s one that I didn’t know existed until recently. It’s the Chevrolet Spark Activ, which has been on sale since early 2017 — and I think it’s the cutest, tiniest SUV you can buy.
The Chevy Spark Activ takes the Spark hatchback, Chevy’s smallest and most affordable car, and gives it the trappings of a rugged SUV. It adds plastic cladding around the bottom of the car, special wheels, a revised front fascia with round fog lights, a different rear fascia, skid plates and a suspension lift of a whopping 0.4 inches. On the inside, the Spark Activ gets heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a few other interior goodies.
Much like the Spark’s RS trim, the Activ package doesn’t actually add any performance upgrades, so it’s mainly aesthetic. Mechanically, the Spark Activ is identical to every other Chevy Spark. Its sole engine option is a 1.4-liter Ecotec inline four that makes 98 horsepower and 94 lb-ft of torque, it’s front-wheel drive, and it can be had with either an automatic or a 5-speed manual transmission.
But the result of the changes is a tiny hatchback that genuinely looks like a little baby SUV. A small lift, more plastic, roof rails and round fog lights are all it takes. This goes to show just how easy it is for automakers to take an existing car platform and transform it into a crossover with rugged aesthetics that may or may not have rugged capabilities. No one has ever needed skid plates on a Chevy Spark, but that option is available to you if you want the appearance of ruggedness — and the "feel" of a crossover — while spending well under $20,000 on a new car.
Okay, the Spark Activ might technically not be an SUV, per se, but rather just a subcompact hatchback in SUV cosplay. But how does that make it any different from most crossovers? Isn’t the Chevrolet Trax just a Sonic on stilts? GM has plenty of crossover-specific platforms, but so many CUVs on the market share platforms with regular passenger cars — which, to me, means that the Spark Activ is almost as much a "real SUV" as just about any other unibody, FWD crossover.