Sales at U.S. retailers rose unexpectedly in February despite a drop in vehicle purchases and inclement weather that was expected to curtail shopping, according to a government report on Friday that bolstered hopes of a sustainable economic recovery.

The Commerce Department said total retail sales rose 0.3 percent as consumers bought an array of goods from necessities to luxury items. Sales for January were, however, revised down to only a gain of 0.1 percent from the previously reported 0.5 percent rise.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast retail sales slipping 0.2 percent last month. Compared to February last year, sales were 3.9 percent higher.

Motor vehicle and parts purchases fell 2 percent last month, likely reflecting vehicle recalls by Toyota Motor Corp, that have held back auto sales. They fell 1.5 percent in January.

Excluding motor vehicles and parts, retail sales rose a bigger than expected 0.8 percent in February after rising 0.5 percent the prior month. Economists had expected a 0.1 percent gain.

Core retail sales, which exclude autos, gasoline and building materials, increased 0.9 percent after rising 0.6 percent in January. Core sales correspond most closely with the consumer spending component of the government's gross domestic product report.

Consumer spending has been sluggish as high unemployment squeezes household income, leading to worries that the economy's recovery from the worst downturn in seven decades could falter when support from government stimulus and the inventory swing disappears.

Sales of building materials and garden equipment rose 0.5 percent, defying expectations of a decline following severe winter storms that slammed parts of the country last month. Gasoline receipts rose 0.3 percent, while sales at sporting goods, hobby and book stores jumped 1.2 percent after falling 0.6 percent in January.

Receipts at electronics and appliance stores soared 3.7 percent, while sales at general merchandise stores increased 1.0 percent.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)