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Holden Barina Spark 2011 review

The design is funky and kind of cute ...

I was ready to spend the next 600 words bagging out this car. But then the boss (she who must be obeyed) reminded me who Holden's Barina Spark is targeted at. And that's city dwellers who just want something cheap to get them from A to B. Something that's easy to park and doesn't use too much fuel. At a starting price of $12,490 plus on road costs, the Barina Spark (not sure what the deal is with the dual name) does this admirably.

Built in Korea like most Holdens these days, Spark is one of the new breed of tiny hatches with a small footprint and deceptively large interior, a little like Doctor Who's time machine.

Design

The design is funky and kind of cute, even to someone of the definitely wrong generation like myself. It's a design that's been popular in Japan for many years where space has always been at a premium, but is just starting to gain a foothold here.

Spark sits on a set of the tiniest wheels and tyres that we've seen for some time, with 14 inch 155/70 profile tyres. The colour palette is bright and attractive, especially the metallic green of our test vehicle.

The cool instrument cluster takes its inspiration from motorcycles, with steering wheel audio controls and a four-speaker AM/FM audio system, with CD player, iPod/iPhone AUX input and a USB input for MP3 players. Sounds pretty good but the playback quality is average. The trip computer details distance to empty but not average fuel consumption. Bluetooth is noticeably absent.

Safety

Spark gets a five-star rating in the Federal Government's Green Vehicle Guide (same as a hybrid Prius) but the jury is still out on safety on safety because it's yet to be crash tested. It does however come with six airbags, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes as standard.

Technology

Spark is powered by a similarly tiny 1.2-litre four cylinder petrol engine that delivers the best fuel economy of any Holden currently available, but probably less torque than any other model too. The 1.2-litre in-line DOHC 4-cylinder 16-valve engine produces 59kW of power at 6400 revs and maximum torque of 107Nm at 4800 revs. It's mated to a tried and true five-speed manual, but surprisingly there's no automatic.

Given it's role as a city car where you're going to spend plenty of time sitting in traffic, this is hard to fathom? Fuel economy is officially rated at 5.6 litres/100km, but it has a small tank.

Driving

Torque's the stuff that gets you up and running quickly and provides the pulling power to dispatch long hills. In this context, let's just say hills are best taken at a run and the best idea is to stay in low gear and keep the revs up. If you get caught behind someone, it's not going to be pretty.

We gave our entry level CD model a damn good thrashing and were surprised to find how refined the ride is. It also handles quite well to a point, but it's easy to engender plenty of tyre squeal.

The seating position is upright and close to the steering wheel and that means keeping your accelerator foot in a prone position for long periods which can become tiring. The clutch action is light but it can be difficult at first to operate smoothly, particularly holding the car on hills and during stake offs. Being so close to the wheel we found ourselves continually knocking the fan speed control for the airconditioning.

For another $1500 the CDX model adds a few more goodies. You get what you pay for and this case that's slightly better performance than the segment leading Suzuki Alto, which comes with a 1.0 litre engine.

Pricing guides

$5,990
Based on 29 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$3,500
Highest Price
$8,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
CD 1.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $3,740 – 5,500 2011 Holden Barina Spark 2011 CD Pricing and Specs
CDX 1.2L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $3,410 – 5,390 2011 Holden Barina Spark 2011 CDX Pricing and Specs
Chris Riley
Contributing Journalist

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