2016 Holden Spark, Kia Picanto, Mitsubishi Mirage and Suzuki Celerio review

29 April 2016
 by 
, CarsGuide

Cheap no longer means bare bones basic, even at the bottom end of the new-car market.

The latest city cars have most mod-cons covered, with at least six airbags and a four- or five-star safety rating (depending on when they were tested).

The arrival of two new models -- the Holden Spark and Kia Picanto -- meant it was time for us to get reacquainted with the top-seller in the segment, the recently revised Mitsubishi Mirage, and the winner of our last tiny-tot comparison test -- and Australia's cheapest car -- the Suzuki Celerio.

While car makers at this end of the market like to advertise cheaper manual transmission prices, we tested automatic versions which account for the overwhelming majority of sales.

Holden Spark

Holden's smallest car has grown up in more ways than one. It drives better than before and is almost as big as the original Toyota Echo.

The Spark has a good combination of comfort and handling, the smartest and most modern automatic gearbox and the most zip among this quartet.

They're not supposed to be race cars, but to deal with the perception these hatchbacks don't have the power to get out of their own way, we did 0 to 100km/h tests -- and the Spark aced them.

A bold design, the Spark has lost the toy-like looks of its predecessor. Coincidentally, it matches the Kia Picanto in every dimension except a 4mm difference in height.

The cabin is roomy and has massive storage pockets; the technical grain on the dash does a good job of disguising the cheap plastics.

The Spark is the only car in this class (to date) with the convenience of Apple CarPlay, which brings key apps from your phone to the touchscreen in the dash.

A rear camera, not yet available on the other cars tested, comes in a $750 bundle that includes cruise control and rear parking sensors.

But the Spark still has room for improvement. The driver's power window lacks an auto up or down function and the back windows have old school winders.

The biggest issue for the Spark is its price. At $16,690 drive-away -- plus a hefty $550 for metallic paint -- it's the dearest in this test and almost as expensive as cars in the next class up.

Kia Picanto

The Kia Picanto comes to Australia as it nears the end of its model life.

It's been on sale overseas since 2011 but we're getting it 12 months ahead of an all-new model because Kia wants to claim some ground.

Even though sales of city cars were down by one-third last year, Kia and others believe new metal will boost buyer interest.

As the saying goes, when you're last in you better be best dressed.

Kia has gone all out with just one model -- the only option is colour -- and crammed as much as it can into its super sharp $14,990 drive-away price.

Combined with an industry-leading seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, the Kia Picanto mounts a compelling case.

Standard fare includes an auto up and down power window for the driver, rear sensors, cloth map pockets behind the front seats, height adjustable seatbelts, and the usual suite of airbags.

The interior trim and layout are aging well; the glovebox and centre console are big but the door pockets are slim.

The large window area makes it easy to manouvre in traffic and when parking.

The seats were the most comfortable on test, with the best lateral and under thigh support.

The engine was the second zippiest among this quartet, although one of the noisiest at freeway speeds.

As the only car on test with four-wheel disc brakes (the other three have rear drums), the Picanto had by far the best stopping power and brake pedal feel.

The suspension was comfortable but not quite as composed over bumps as the Holden Spark and the Suzuki Celerio, and the steering felt a little unevenly weighted in corners.

Side winds at freeway speeds affected the Kia a little more than the other cars, even though they all have the same size tyres.

Are these deal breakers? Not at all. Overall, the Kia Picanto will suit the needs of most city and suburban buyers.

Mitsubishi Mirage

A new nose on Australia's top-selling city car is a pointer to substantial changes under the skin.

There are now three engine mounts instead of two (to give the driveline a more refined feel), the CVT auto and steering have been recalibrated, and the suspension has been retuned.

The improvements are worthwhile; the updated Mirage drives better than before (after taking in some of the changes made to the sedan).

But rivals brands haven't been sitting idle either.

While this is definitely a better Mirage, it still leans a little more in corners and bounces a little more over bumps than do the others in this test.

Having stepped out of the two four-cylinder cars, the strangely appealing sewing machine sound of the Mirage's three-cylinder engine is immediately apparent.

Also noticeable is the improvement to the CVT auto; the Mirage now accelerates with lighter throttle inputs than before.

This doesn't make it faster (it was third slowest here) but it's more drive-able in stop-start traffic.

Other things we liked: auto up and down driver's power window, the five-year warranty and the cheapest servicing costs over three years (although the deal expires after four years).

Dislikes: the seats are a bit flat and unsupportive (and lack map pockets), the smaller window area and lack of rear sensors makes the Mirage a little harder to manouvre than the others, the USB connection is hidden in the glovebox, and Apple CarPlay isn't yet available even though it was introduced with this updated Mirage in the US.

And it's not as cheap as it once was: the changes have brought a price rise to $15,990 drive-away. Plus a steep $550 for metallic paint.

Suzuki Celerio

The Suzuki Celerio was never going to win a beauty contest, this one's for practically minded people.

It has the roomiest cabin, the biggest boot and the largest window area.

As the cheapest car here, it will also appeal to money enthusiasts. With an RRP of $13,990 drive-away with automatic transmission, it's hard to beat.

As with the Mitsubishi, the Suzuki has a three-cylinder heart but it's smaller in capacity and slightly more lethargic.

In the 0 to 60kmh dash, the pair are fairly close in acceleration. But the Celerio has an asthma attack at about 90kmh; it seems to take forever to reach 100kmh.

Suzuki makes no apologies for this; the Celerio was designed to be the most frugal city car among its peers.

The Celerio could do with more power, if only to take advantage of its well tuned suspension. It corners with precision and recovers well after bumps. We'd rank it alongside the Holden Spark in this regard.

But the Celerio has some differences that may set it back for some buyers. It only seats four while the others can, in theory, accommodate five.

And the Celerio comes with a four-star safety rating while the others have five -- even though the Suzuki performed better in the crucial offset frontal crash at 64kmh than the Holden Spark (13.58 versus 12.79 out of 16) and in side impact tests (16 out of 16 versus the Holden's 15.81 score).

We're not attempting to rule one vehicle safer than the other, rather we are pointing out there is more to the safety of these cars than the star rating, the criteria for which changes over time, making it confusing to compare like-for-like results.

Verdict

The updated Mitsubishi Mirage is a welcome improvement but it's not enough to justify the price rise. Other brands have now overtaken it.

The Holden Spark is the best to drive but it also costs too much in the most price sensitive segment. And it's missing some basics, such as an auto power window for the driver.

The Suzuki Celerio is the most metal for the money in this end of town, is the most fuel efficient and nice to drive, as long as you're not in a hurry.

That leaves the Kia Picanto as our pick, even though it is an older car than the others tested and not as fun to drive as the Holden or the Suzuki.

The Kia Picanto's sharp drive-away price, long standard equipment list, perky engine, low running costs, roomy cabin and that incredible seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty seal the deal.

At a glance

Holden Spark

Price from: $16,690 drive-away
Metallic paint: $550
Country of origin: South Korea
Engine: 1.4-litre three-cylinder
Power: 73kW/124Nm
0-60km/h: 5.3 seconds
0-100km/h: 12.3 seconds
Transmission: CVT automatic
Consumption: 5.5L/100km
Service interval: 15,000km/9 months
Servicing cost over three years: $916
Safety: Six airbags, 5-star safety rating
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Weight: 990kg
Dimensions: 3595mm (L), 1595mm (W), 1476mm (H), 2385mm (WB)
Turning circle: 9.6m
Boot space: 185 litres
Spare: Space-saver

Click here to see more 2016 Holden Spark pricing and spec info.

Kia Picanto

Price from: $14,990 drive-away
Metallic paint: $520
Country of origin: South Korea
Engine: 1.2-litre three-cylinder
Power: 63kW/120Nm
0-60km/h: 5.4 seconds
0-100km/h: 13.3 seconds
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Consumption: 5.6L/100km
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Servicing cost over three years: $930
Safety: Six airbags, 5-star safety rating
Warranty: 7 years/unlimited km
Weight: 994kg
Dimensions: 3595mm (L), 1595mm (W), 1480mm (H), 2385mm (WB)
Turning circle: 9.6m
Boot space: 200 litres
Spare: Space-saver

Click here to see more 2016 Kia Picanto pricing and spec info.

Mitsubishi Mirage

Price from: $15,990 drive-away
Metallic paint: $550
Country of origin: Thailand
Engine: 1.2-litre three-cylinder
Power: 57kW/100Nm
0-60km/h: 6.6 seconds
0-100km/h: 13.8 seconds
Transmission: CVT automatic
Consumption: 4.9L/100km
Service interval: 15,000km/12 months
Servicing cost over three years: $660
Safety: Six airbags, 5-star safety rating
Warranty: 5 years/130,000km
Weight: 890kg
Dimensions: 3795mm (L), 1665mm (W), 1510mm (H), 2450mm (WB)
Turning circle: 9.2m
Boot space: 235 litres
Spare: Space-saver

Click here to see more 2016 Mitsubishi Mirage pricing and spec info.

Suzuki Celerio

Price from: $13,990 drive-away
Metallic paint: $475
Country of origin: Thailand
Engine: 1.0-litre three-cylinder
Power: 50kW/90Nm
0-60km/h: 6.7 seconds
0-100km/h: 14.9 seconds
Transmission: CVT automatic
Consumption: 4.8L/100km
Service interval: 10,000km/6 months
Servicing cost over three years: $1284
Safety: Six airbags, 4-star safety rating
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km (extends to five years with capped price servicing)
Weight: 860kg
Dimensions: 3600MM (L), 1600MM (W), 1540mm (H), 2425mm (WB)
Turning circle: 9.4m
Boot space: 254 litres
Spare: Space-saver

Click here to see more 2016 Suzuki Celerio pricing and spec info.

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