CHEVROLET SPARK Prices: from £7,160 - £10,430 CHEVROLET'S rise from niche marque to major international player has gone largely unnoticed in the UK.

Thanks to a steady flow of new models and successful product refreshes, sales have soared during the recession.

In the first six months of this year, Chevrolet sold 2.35 million cars worldwide – its best performance in 100 years.

Bosses put the amazing sales success down to new small cars like the Cruze hatchback and the Spark city car.

Since the Spark went on sale, in December 2009, more than 220,000 have been sold. As word has got around that Chevys aren't gas guzzling muscle cars any more, Spark sales have accelerated, with 100,000 sold in the first half of this year.

Perhaps that's because the Spark offers the convenience of four doors in a market where two are still the norm. It also seats five people in comfort provided anyone in the back doesn't have a fondness for pies.

The Spark certainly isn't a shrinking violet. The massive front grille, with its enormous Chevrolet “bow tie” and giant headlights, looks as though it belongs on a much larger car. Chevrolet designs deliberately planned it this way. The Spark's predecessor, the Matiz, had that startled “rabbit caught in the headlights” look which blights so many city cars fitted with round lights and they were determined to avoid making the same mistake.

So it ain't cute, but it does cut a dash thanks to the substantial front end, crisply creased bodywork and the wheel-at-each-corner stance.

Inside, it does feel built down to a price, but it would be unfair to labour a point about the brittle plastics and the undamped switchgear when every other city car has the same problem.

At least it looks rather funky, with the instruments housed in a little pod and no sign of bare metal.

The entry level model looks to be a snip at a shade over £7,000 but you don't get much more than four wheels, an engine, some seats and a boot. The windows requiring winding up (and winding down if you want air conditioning), each door needs locking separately and there's a hole in the fascia where a stereo would normally reside.

If you can stretch the budget to £8,695 you'll can forget about whistling (there's a stereo), the front windows are power operated and cooled air comes out of the fascia vents. The stereo can handle MP3s through a USB port, too. It's all the Spark you could usefully want.

The 1.0-litre petrol engine is a perky powertrain. It'll happily zing along at 60mph and you'll rarely get less than 50mpg outside town. If you regularly do long trips then the 1.2 would probably be money well spent.

In town, the soft suspension and light steering make light work of the urban grands prix. Gaps open up for small cars that you wouldn't notice in something bigger and the little Spark has the acceleration to reach them before they close.

The tall body doesn't roll too badly and the tyres have enough grip to make the Spark an entertaining drive.

It's a bit noisy, though, particularly on rural roads when the engine thrashes about and plenty of wind noise reaches the cabin.

Above all, though, it's fun to drive - a little car with a big attitude is always a hoot – which is something that couldn't be said of its predecessor. Sensible types will always say a two-year-old supermini will be a better bet for the money but some people need the reassurance of buying new. And you can't beat the new car smell.

So, another Spark of genius on Chevrolet's part then. The success story looks set to continue for awhile yet.

SPEC: Engine: 995cc, 4 cylinder, 16v petrol Max power: 68PS @ 6,400 rpm Max torque: 68 lb/ft @ 4,800 rpm Top speed: 96mph 0-62mph: 15.5 seconds You might also want to consider: Citroen C1: Great little city car and not too bad outside town, but the price is starting to look a bit steep.

Fiat Panda: Matches the Spark on price and is better to drive but, with a new one on the way, buying a new Panda now could be a depreciation disaster.

Ford KA: The cute Fiat 500's ugly sister (they are built in the same plant), the KA should be serious competition for the Spark but some curious decisions by Ford's marketing department means it costs thousands more.