YOU WOULDN'T want to take the Chevrolet Spectrum on a long trip, say from the District of Columbia to New Orleans.
This little car from General Motors Corp.'s Japanese partner, Isuzu Motors Ltd., can become uncomfortable after miles and miles of steady driving.
But things that make Spectrum a bummer as a long-distance runner make it a hummer as a commuter.
It is light and nimble. It has a 1.5-liter, four- cylinder engine that powers the car in and out of I-66 traffic quickly, safely. And you can park it almost anywhere, even in Georgetown on a Saturday night.
GM says that Spectrum is "the fourth of five main elements" in its Chevrolet Division's "near-term small-car effort." The other parts are the Chevette, which has been tooling around the country since 1975; the Cavalier, a best-selling compact; the Sprint, a surprisingly quick three-cylinder car from Suzuki Motor Co. Ltd. of Japan; and the Nova, a hybrid subcompact being built by GM and Toyota Motor Corp. in Fremont, Calif.
The Nova hasn't made it to most showrooms, yet. No matter. Already, Chevrolet's five-car strategy for the small-car segment looks more and more like four. Goodbye, Chevette.
For Spectrum, the outstanding praise is this: Its little engine accelerates with authority. No messing around at entrance ramps. The thing zips into traffic, does what it has to do and gets you where you have to go -- in reasonable comfort, assuming that you aren't going too far away from the Beltway.
Small cars usually have bumpy rides, mostly because they have a short wheelbase -- the centerline distance from the front wheel to the rear wheel. Spectrum is bumpy, but not nearly as bumpy as several other cars I've driven in this class.
Outstanding complaint(s): I drove the same Spectrum once with 2,300 miles on the odometer and, again, after it had accumulated 6,257 miles.
My love for the interior wasn't there the second time around.
Test cars receive some pretty rough treatment. But is that any reason for the vinyl on the left side of the driver's seat to start coming apart at the seams? Is that really an excuse for the vinyl cover on the interior of the right door to come unglued. Gimme a break!
Small cars on superhighways usually get blown around by winds, particularly winds pushed by speeding tractor-trailers. Spectrum has a nice aerodynamic design. But not nice enough to stop you from swaying in the wake of fast-moving 18-wheelers.
Head-turning-quotient: Mildly pedestrian. Spectrum won't make the federal government's "most-stolen" list. Still, a number of people -- particularly young women (honestly folks, no sexism here) -- described it as "cute."
Sound system: Surprisingly good for a small car. Bass is bass. Treble is treble. And the two of them join in excellent clarity here.
Climate control: Egad! No air conditioning on the test model. Wonder what would have happened to acceleration if there was an air conditioning unit draining power from that 1.5-liter engine? Hmmm. The heater, defrosters and outside-air vents all worked just fine.
Great find: An easily serviceable engine. Everything up front and accessible. Should really help to reduce time for routine maintenance.
Mileage: 'Twas hard to drain Spectrum's 11.1-gallon tank. First time out, I averaged about 27 miles per gallon. Second time out, after the car had been really "broken in," I averaged about 33 mpg. Unleaded regular, please.
Spectrum price as tested: $6,295. Note: As of this writing, Spectrum was being sold only in 16 Eastern states (including Virginia and Maryland) and the District of Columbia.