What began in the Japanese market, in 1983, as the Suzuki SA310 ultimately spread to all but one continent, under half a dozen additional names. Shortly after its introduction the Japanese version was renamed Cultus but in the U.S. Suzuki called it Forsa. While most people would have no idea what a Suzuki Forsa is, most anyone that from the era would recognize the Chevrolet Sprint.
I remember just how diminutive it seemed at the time. For example, the length and width of a five-door Sprint is within a few inches of the Spark, currently Chevy’s smallest offering; however, in height, a Sprint stands almost eight inches shorter than the Spark and, at roughly 1,600 pounds, weighed nearly half a ton less.
Then again, the Sprint didn’t have anti-lock brakes or passenger airbags — actually, it didn’t have any air bags. Indeed, its noteworthy safety equipment list includes an energy absorbing steering wheel, lap/shoulder belts for all passengers and a dual-action hood latch system. Lacking that sort of equipment and its related weight added up to an EPA-estimated 44 city and 49 highway mpg, compared to Spark’s 31 and 39, respectively. In fairness, the EPA updated its testing methods in 2008 with tougher procedures to better reflect real-world conditions. Even so, estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy for the 1988 Sprint (5-speed), using the modern procedures, still equate to 36/43 (city/highway). Moreover, real-world accounts indicate 50 mpg is not unheard of.
Direct contributors to its petiteness were 12-inch wheels, an 8.7-gallon gas tank, and a 61-cubic-inch (1.0-liter), three-cylinder engine that produced a staggeringly-unfit 48 horsepower. Yes, 48 and torque wasn’t much better, at 57 pound-feet.
Even though this added up to a roughly 15-second dawdle to 60 mph (hardly a “sprint”), there is something endearing about the car. Maybe its because it looks like it can be put in your pocket, rather than parking it in a lot. Maybe because a driver can feel more intimate with the road in a smaller car, especially one that’s always operating at its limits. Maybe because it looks loveable without being cute.
For those who felt the Sprint was a tad under-masculine, there was the Turbo Sprint. Yes, it seems almost oxymoronic but, to be honest, its 45 percent increase in horsepower really was a big deal.
The results were still a paltry 70 horsepower and 79 pound-feet of torque but the acceleration time improvements were commensurate with the power increase. In 1987, a Turbo Sprint was tested by Car & Driver and it actually did sprint all the way to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds (the brochure shows 9.4) and through the quarter mile in 16.7 seconds, at 79 mph. Not bad. This exceptional option for the otherwise forgettable commuter was only available for the 1987 and 1988 model years.
The Sprint may have been a bottom-of-the-rung car but it served to alter the perception Chevrolet and prepared the way for Geo which came out about a year after this brochure was issued.