Some bright spark forgot to include an auto in Holden’s light hatch when it launched in 2010. The Spark (Holden calls it a Barina Spark but it is no relation to the light-sized car) now belatedly has one as it chases the estimated 70 per cent of light car buyers who opt for a self-shifting transmission. The adage that you get what you pay for has never been truer and the $14,490 price reflects its cheap interior and average handling.
The Spark only comes in one spec and the four-speed auto adds $2000 to the $12,490 price. Equipment runs from alloy wheels to Bluetooth connectivity, auxiliary and USB inputs for the four-speaker stereo and steering wheel-mounted controls for the phone and audio. That compares well with its competition, but back seat passengers will have to work out how to use a manual window winder.
The 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine has another 43cc of capacity to give a bit more grunt than the one used in the manual Spark. With 63kW/113Nm it leads the sub-$15,000 pack for on-paper performance. The auto also gains electric power steering that has been locally tuned to improve response.
There’s nothing wrong with the outside of the Spark. It sits on 14-inch alloy wheels and has a trendy look to it. The same applies inside, where the motorbike-inspired instrument display should appeal to students looking for cheap transport or first time car buyers. But the plastics look and smell a generation old, clearly showing its Daewoo origins.
The Spark trails only the VW up! for safety but is still only a four-star car as judged by ANCAP. The body is solid but some of the impact is transferred into the cabin, posing a potential risk to the chest and upper thighs. It earned 31.02/37 overall to be just behind the Nissan Micra but light years above the Alto. Six airbags and ABS with stability and traction control are standard.
The Spark responds relatively quickly and will be a good thing around town or on the highway. Put some weight on board and point it at a decent hill and the transmission’s age dulls the experience like an authoritarian parent at a teenage party. The auto reacts too quickly to any change in accelerator pedal pressure, hunting for a higher gear before slurring back into a lower cog when it realises it can’t hold revs.
Nothing dramatic, but it will see a lot of owners burying the right foot and blowing the claimed fuel consumption. The torsion beam rear end and limited suspension travel also see the Spark bang through decent bumps rather than roll over them.
The steering is direct and only needs a light touch to change direction, but the lack of feedback means there’s a disconnect with exactly where the wheels are pointing. The instrumentation is clear enough, though, and the seats are OK, but interstate runs won’t be recommended with adults in the back. The cargo area is a modest 170 litres, reinforcing its status as a shopping trolley.
An auto will help the Spark’s ordinary sales to date and it is one of the trendier lookers in this class. If I was buying, though, I’d take the VW Up! and change gears myself or spend another $1000 and get the bigger and better-riding Barina with a 1.6-litre engine.
Holden Barina Spark CD
Price: from $14,490
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Resale: 42 per cent (three years, Glass’s Guide)
Service interval: 9 months/15,000km
Crash rating: Four stars
Safety: Six airbags, ABS, TC, ESC, EBD
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder, 63kW/113Nm
Transmission: 4-speed auto, FWD
Dimensions: 3.6m (L), 1.6m (W), 1.53m (H)
Spare: Inflation kit (full-size spare NCO)
Thirst: 5.8L/100km, 139g/km CO2