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Holden Spark 2016 review

EXPERT RATING
8
Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new Holden Spark, with specs, fuel consumption and verdict at its Australian launch.

It used to be known as the Holden Barina Spark, but now it’s just called the Spark. That’s not important. What is important is the latest generation Spark has arrived and it's better than the last one. To be honest, the new Spark is way better than it needs to be. Here’s why.

See, as painful as it may be, if you look hard enough at the impending end of Holden manufacturing in Australia it is possible to see a bright side. As one door closes and another door opens, right? In this case the door closing is an Australian-built Commodore’s and the one opening is that of Holden’s smallest car – the Spark.

The end of local production means the company can channel more of its money and talented people into designing and engineering global vehicles like the new Spark.

Holden joined a global team based in Korea to develop the Spark and overseeing the styling was Australia’s Mike Simcoe who is GM’s Vice President – Design and GMI. The Spark was then brought back to Australia where Holden put it through thousands of kilometres of testing at its secret proving ground in Lang Lang, Victoria.

Holden put the Spark through thousands of kilometres of testing at its secret proving ground in Lang Lang, Victoria.

It was here that the Spark was refined especially for Australian road conditions, and behind the wheel was none other than Holden’s lead dynamics engineer Rob Trubiani. He’s the test pilot who helped develop the latest Commodore’s great ride and handling, oh and the guy who set the fastest lap for a commercial vehicle at the famous Nurburgring in Germany in a VF SS-V Redline Ute.

It sounds like overkill for a car like this, but given the very ordinary dynamic ability of the previous car, it’s a welcome change.

As with the old Spark there’s only one engine in the range – but this is a new, bigger, more powerful and fuel efficient one. It’s a 73kW/128Nm 1.4-litre four cylinder and for a car this tiny that’s plenty of grunt. With the five-speed manual the combined fuel economy rating is 5.2L/100km while the CVT automatic transmission is 5.5L/100km.

There’s two trim levels - the $13,990 LS with a five-speed manual or $15,000 driveaway (add $2000 for the CVT automatic transmission) and the top-spec CVT auto-only $18,990 LT.

That’s a $1500 increase on the range’s entry price, but this is a completely new car with more standard features. The LS gets a seven-inch touchscreen with Holden’s latest MyLink media system and Siri Eyes Free with voice recognition, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a hill hold function and a USB port.

Stepping up into the LT adds keyless entry and ignition button, leather steering wheel, rear parking sensors and rear view camera and cruise control.

The micro car segment only has a handful of players in it – there’s the Mitsubishi Mirage hatch which starts at $11,990, the Nissan Micra for $13,490, Suzuki’s $12,990 Celerio and the $19,000 Fiat 500.

At 3595mm long the Spark is 444mm shorter than a Barina hatch. It’s the same overall length as the old Spark but you’ll find more legroom in the back seats because the actual distance between the front and back wheels has been increased.

The boot is small, even for a micro - it’s 185 litres. That’s smaller than a Micra’s by 66 litres and 50 litres smaller than the cargo area in the Mirage and Celerio. There’s a space saver spare under the floor, it takes up room, but it may get you out of trouble one day.

We weren’t thrilled by the cheap feel of the old Spark’s cabin with its hard plastics and it’s good to see that’s no longer the case. Okay, there’s nothing luxurious about the interior, and there’s still a lot of hard plastic but the materials used have a more premium feel. There’s cooler interior with styling, with a clean dash and a large centre console stack featuring the touchscreen and aircon controls – it’s a simple and functional design. The LS has cloth seats, while the LT gets black Sportic upholstery – it looks like leather, but is most definitely not.

Both cars have electric windows up front and manual winders in the back.

On the road

Holden held the media launch of the Spark at its Lang Lang Proving Ground –  for the past 70 years its role has been essential in developing locally-built Holden cars.

There won’t be any more building, but Holden will keep the site in operation to develop cars such as the Spark.

Launches are designed to play to a vehicle’s strengths and the schedule had us doing timed slalom runs on bitumen and dirt, hill climb courses, plus a bit of regular driving on public roads.

On paper the schedule looked ambitious for a micro car and it would have been better to do it in something beginning with ‘Por’ and ending in ‘sche’ but the Spark surprised.

First, the steering feels great – it’s been calibrated by Holden to have an on-centre feel, which makes the electric power steering feel more natural and less artificial than some other systems.

Next, the ride is excellent for a car at this end of the price spectrum, actually it’d even be excellent for something larger and pricier.

The high-walled tyres would be partly responsible for cushioning the blow of potholes, but over bumps and dips the suspension keeps the car’s ride composed and comfortable.

Handling is outstanding for a micro car too, it feels stable and holds well in corners even when pushed harder.

The hill climb on a wet course was a decent test of the lot - engine, brakes, tyre grip, ride and handling.

The 1.4-litre four cylinder got flogged on the steep ascent maxing out at 140km/h, but you wouldn’t want to be travelling any quicker as the left hander just over the crest means jumping on the brakes hard. There’s discs at the front and drums brakes at the rear and they pull the Spark up well.

The road was slippery and on more than a few occasions the stability control light on the dash flicked – a great safety net which 'caught' me a few times through the greasy corners. There’s also ABS, traction control and front and curtain airbags for front passengers.

The five-speed manual is the pick for getting the most out of the engine, but the continuously variable transmission (CVT) wasn’t bad at all. CVTs aren’t known for their driveability – they can feel slow transfer the power to wheels. Holden agrees and developed this CVT to feel more responsive like an automatic transmission.

On paper the schedule looked ambitious for a micro car ... but the Spark surprised.

Out on the road we tried out Apple CarPlay and sent text messages using the voice controls, streamed music and used the phone’s navigation through the touch screen. Tech which means you don't have to touch your phone is safety equipment in our eyes.

The cabin is quiet, even on coarse chip country roads with a hint of wind noise at about 100km/h. The front seats are comfortable and supportive and even the back row isn’t bad – we managed to fit two well-fed 190cm journos in the back. Sure, our legs were mashed up against the front seat backs (left in our driving position) but anybody shorter will fit fine.

Verdict

The new Spark is better in every way than the last one – looks, cabin quality, technology, safety, ride and handling. It’s good to see that it’s better than it needs to be too – this car will force the rivals to lift their game. And when you consider that the majority of the buyers in the segment are young people, then a car that’s comfortable with good ride and handling, plus technology that will keep their hands on the wheel is going to be safer bet.
 

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

Pricing Guides

$10,999
Based on 23 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$8,990
Highest Price
$12,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
LS 1.4L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $8,990 – 12,490 2016 Holden Spark 2016 LS Pricing and Specs
LS Driver Assist 1.4L, ULP, CVT AUTO $8,990 – 12,990 2016 Holden Spark 2016 LS Driver Assist Pricing and Specs
LT 1.4L, ULP, CVT AUTO $11,990 – 12,980 2016 Holden Spark 2016 LT Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Richard Berry
Senior Journalist

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