Holden Astra VS Holden Spark
- Sedan's comfy and composed ride
- Hatch's beautiful styling
- Aussie tuning for sedan and hatch
- No AEB in sedan
- Hatch's storage could be better
- Sedan's rear headroom limited
- A cut above from behind the wheel
- Plenty of cool tech
- Not cheap for its segment
- Lacks niceties for backseat passengers
There are two types of people in this world*. Those who like hatchbacks, and those who prefer sedans.
We're not making any judgments. If you're a sedan fancier, it's your business, and hatchbacks have their leagues of loyalists, too. Whichever way you lean, Holden hopes it has something to please you with hatch and sedan versions of its Astra small car.
This is the mothership of Astra reviews, taking both the hatch and sedan into account to help you make a better decision.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the updated Holden Spark LT with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
The micro-car segment in Australia has driven off a cliff. We are shunning our smallest cars in a way we never have before, and nobody seems to be entirely sure why.
The strength of the second-hand market is one suspected culprit, while another is the tempting price point of vehicles that are one size bigger, with city-car shoppers able to upsize for relative peanuts.
Whatever the reason, the segment is stuck in neutral and halfway along Struggle Street. It needs a spark. And Holden's hoping theirs is just the ticket.
Now you might recognise it as a Barina, but Holden dropped that part of the moniker when this new model launched in March. It is now simply known as the Holden Spark, tested here in top-spec LT guise and wearing a sticker price of $18,990. It sits above only the entry-level, bargain-basement LS ($13,990 manual, $15,690 automatic) in the two-model Spark range.
Designed and built in Korea, the Spark seems to have little to do with our unique marketplace, but Holden promises us this new model couldn't be more dinky-di if it ran on vegemite. Australia had crucial input into its design in Korea, while Holden's Aussie engineers put the new model though its paces on the company's proving ground, tweaking the suspension and steering for Australia's road surfaces.
So the question now is, is the Spark bright enough to lure buyers back to the micro-car segment?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Astra sedan is a different car to the hatch – but then it's really aimed at different people, perhaps more mature ones. I mean, one of the sedan's paint colours, 'Old Blue Eyes', isn't available on the hatch. This could be a hint.
Either way, the sedan could be a better pick for you because of its more comfortable ride, extra rear legroom and bigger boot.
The hatch is a much better looking car. It's also more refined and stylish inside and out. The hatch comes with a more powerful engine and better handling, but its ride is not as comfortable as the sedan's.
As for the sweet spots for each range. For the sedan it's the LS+ with its great safety equipment at a good price. For the hatch line-up, it's the RS because it comes with the larger 1.6-litre engine, advanced safety equipment, and many of the features on the top-spec RS-V, which is $4500 more.
*But wait, there really are more than just two types of people in this world. There are wagon people, too. And Holden will soon have that covered when the Astra Sportwagon arrives by the end of the year. And that one looks a lot like the hatch.
Are you a hatch or sedan person? Lets us know what you think in the comments section below.
The marvels of local engineering strike again: the Spark LT definitely feels a cut above some of its budget competition from behind the wheel. It is well-equipped, too, and packed with connectivity and technology features. In short, it could be just the spark Australia's city-car segment needs.
Would you consider a small city-car like the Spark? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
Holden has performed cosmetic surgery to bring them closer together, but they still look like distant cousins at best.
Let's focus on the hatch first. This seventh-generation car looks damn good, but it's near impossible to identify the different levels. The easiest way is to look at the wheels (design and size), while the RS has shiny metal blades on the grille, and the RS-V gets that, plus the same trim around the windows for a posher look.
The cabin is also good looking, but regardless of grade, doesn't have the premium feeling the car's exterior looks suggest. Don't get me wrong, the RS-V's interior is cool and stylish, but the use of glossy plastics and a lack of contrasting colour cheapens the vibe.
All Astra hatches have the same dimensions - 4386mm long, 1807mm wide and a height of 1485mm, which is a smidge longer than the Corolla and a bit shorter than the Mazda3. The RS-V auto is the heaviest at 1363kg.
Now the sedan. Holden has styled the front to look more like the hatch but I don't think it's fooling anybody.
The sedan's cabin is also different to the hatch's. We're talking completely different, from the steering wheel to the temperature controls. I'm more of a fan of the hatch's interior styling than the sedan's relatively basic look.
The sedan is 30cm longer than the hatch at 4665mm end-to-end, it's shorter in height though, standing 1457mm tall (-28mm), but is exactly the same width at 1807mm across.
There's only so much that can be done with a car in this bracket (there's hardly an abundance of surface metal to play with), but Holden's Korean design team have done an admirable job of inserting some excitement into what is traditionally a fairly bland category.
A powerful front end, with two fog lights sitting below the headlights, is dominated by a vaguely Kia-esque grille. And when viewed side on, the Spark looks to be sitting low, courtesy of standard 15-inch alloys that fill the wheel arches and tarmac-kissing side skirting that runs front to back. Two fairly heavy body creases also break up the metal monotony, running along the front and rear doors.
It's an energetic-looking package, and even more youth appeal arrives courtesy of a huge array of personalisation options, with Holden promising 33 different changes a buyer can make, including the wheel inserts, wing mirror caps and roof rails.
Inside, the focus is more on connectivity than luxury, so you can expect fake leather, hard plastics and fairly ordinary seat cushioning, but it's all nicely put together, and the basic feel is broken up by some well-placed style elements, like the coloured insert that runs the length of the dash.
This could be the clincher if you're wondering whether the hatch or sedan is roomier. And the answer may not be the one you expected.
So, in one sentence, the Astra sedan has more rear legroom, but less rear headroom than the hatch, while the sedan's boot is bigger, but I'd pick the hatch if I was using it to move house.
The first bit makes sense. The sedan has a longer wheelbase, meaning more legroom for passengers in the back. Even me, and I'm 191cm tall. In the sedan I still have about 5cm of space between my knees and the driver's seat set to my position, but I can only just squish my knees in when I'm in the hatch.
But in a cruel twist of design fate the roofline of the sedan is lower than the hatch's, and my head skims the ceiling.
The sedan's 445-litre boot is 85 litres bigger than the hatch's (360L), but I'd choose the latter to move house because it has a larger cargo opening. Fold the hatch's back seats down and you could slide a coffee table in, which is not going to happen in the sedan.
The sedan has better cabin storage areas, with four cupholders (two up front and two in the back), bottle holders in all the doors, and a decent-sized centre console storage bin. The hatch gets bottle holders in all the doors, and while there are two cupholders there aren't any in the back. The hatch's centre console bin is small, but there is a driver's side pull-out bin.
Nope. This is a pocket-sized car, namely because it has the same cargo capacity as your pocket.
Holden has stretched the space between the wheels to maximise passenger space, and as a result there's actually plenty of room in either row. But to add space somewhere, you need to take it from somewhere else, and that somewhere else is the boot, where you'll find a mere 185-litres of luggage space. The situation is improved by dropping the 60:40 split rear seats, but you'll be forever choosing between passengers and luggage.
Front seat passengers share a pair of cupholders, but rear seat passengers get none. They don't get room for bottles in their door pockets. Or door pockets at all, for that matter. The backseat does, however, get two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat.
Price and features
Let's start with the hatchback. There are three grades of Astra hatch: the entry-level R lists for $21,990; then there's the mid-spec $26,490 RS, and at the top-of-the-range is the RS-V for $30,990. These are all prices with a manual transmission, and it's another $2200 on top if you want an automatic. There's a sort of bonus level, too – the 'R+' which is an R with advanced safety equipment, but costs $1250 more.
There are three grades to the Astra sedan range, too – but wait, they don't align with the hatch line-up, and even have different names.
The sedan kicks off with the LS spec at $20,490, if you opt for the manual gearbox, or $21,490 for the auto. Standard features at this level include 16-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with reversing camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, as well as rear parking sensors.
There's an 'LS+' grade for another $1250 which adds advanced safety equipment, LED daytime running lights and a leather steering wheel.
The $25,790 LT gets all of the LS+ features and adds 17-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, proximity unlocking, auto parking, sat nav and rain-sensing wipers.
At the top of the pile, the $29,790 LTZ has all of the above, plus 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, climate control air con, and heated, leather-trimmed front seats.
Depending on the grade, the hatch costs $1000 to $2000 more than the sedan.
While the cheap and cheerful entry-level Spark, the $13,990 LS, plays smack-bang in the middle of the micro-car segment, the top-spec LT has bigger, and considerably more expensive, shoes to fill. At $18,990, the LT sails perilously close to its bigger and equally well-equipped competition.
For that money, the Spark needs to arrive wanting for little, and in most respects it does exactly that. For a start, a CVT automatic is standard, and is joined by some stand-out features in this segment, like cruise control, keyless entry with proximity unlocking, push-button start and a fake leather trim that Holden calls Sportec.
Engine & trans
The Astra hatch comes with a choice of two petrol engines. A 110kW/245Nm 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo powers the R grade, and a 147kW/300Nm 1.6-litre turbo four sits in the RS and RS-V.
All Astra sedans come with just the 1.4-litre engine.
Buyers have a choice of a six-speed manual (when paired with the 1.4-litre engine torque is 240Nm) or six speed automatic.
CarsGuide test pilot Stephen Corby drove the Astra R grade and pointed out that Holden notes a 0-100km/h time for the base car of "n/a", which pretty much says it all, while our RS and RS-V hatch drivers, including me, found the 1.6-litre to have good acceleration (claimed 0-100km/h in 7.8s).
The six-speed auto in the RS-V hatch is slow and emotionless, while the six-speed manual's short gear ratios keep the turbo going hard.
When it comes to the sedan engine, that 1.4-litre, while competent, doesn't impress the socks off me. But (with socks still well and truly on) it does suit the nature of the sedan far more. The hatch needs a gruntier powerplant to suit its sporty styling and firmer suspension. Lucky there's a 1.6-litre that delivers more mumbo.
First the hatch. Sure, the 1.4-litre engine is the least powerful but it also uses less fuel, with Holden's claimed combined cycle figure being 5.8L/100km in manual and automatic. The 1.4-litre also only requires cheaper 91 RON fuel. The 1.6-litre engine needs 95RON, and the official figure is 6.5L/100km in the manual and 6.3L/100km for the auto. You'll 52 litres of it to fill the tank.
These are low claims and the stop-start tech would help achieve those figures. Our own driving found real-world consumption is higher, with the RS recording 8.6L/100km on the dash computer, while the manual RS-V scored 7.1L/100km.
After 250km in the RS-V auto the trip computer was reporting 10.2L/100km. I also found the fuel gauge needle moved towards empty faster than rivals I've driven. I don't think the Astra's efficiency is the core issue here, more my driving style, and it could be down to the Astra's 48-litre fuel tank, which is three litres smaller than the Mazda3's, and two litres less than the Corolla and i30's.
The sedan returns similar mileage, with official (combined cycle) fuel consumption for the manual sitting at 5.8L/100km, and the auto at 6.1L/100km. The trip computer in our automatic LS reported 8.2L/100km after a little more than 100km of country road driving.
Spring for the LT, and that's paired with a CVT automatic transmission, with Holden promising that combination will sip a claimed/combined 5.5L/100km (though we recorded a less impressive 8.0 litres on our test).
Three CarsGuide reviewers drove three different versions of the Astra, and it's pretty clear the R didn't impress in the same way the RS and RS-V did. While the chassis felt great, the issue was put down to the 1.4-litre engine, which had to work hard while the automatic droned on.
I took the RS-V on my 150km country road test loop and found the chassis to be taut and well balanced, and by the feel of the firm dampers, set-up for more sporty driving and handling rather than comfort.
The RS-V's 18-inch rims, with low-profile 225/40 R18 92W Bridgestone Turanza rubber mean you'll feel almost every crack and bump in the road. Great grip, but the ride isn't comfortable.
The six-speed automatic doesn't match the 1.6-litre engine's perky personality, in that it's slow to change gears. Shift paddles on the steering wheel would add more connection to the driving experience.
Vani's RS-V was a six-speed manual and she loves how quickly that gearbox responds. All all our testers agree the steering is accurate, but artificial and light, although the sport mode gives it more weight, along with changing the throttle response to be sportier.
While the hatch has sporty styling and a firmer ride, Holden has tuned the placid-looking sedan's suspension to be comparatively supple. It's a far more comfortable drive.
I had seat time in each grade. The LS with the manual is the most enjoyable to drive - shifting is easy, the gear ratios are nicely spaced and I could get more out of that 1.4-litre engine.
Being tall and all arms and legs, I found I had to drive with the middle armrest up – my elbow kept bumping into it otherwise when shifting. The clutch also has a high return position.
The auto-only LT and LTZ ride just as comfortably as the LS manual. Steering on all grades has been tuned for Australian roads, and it feels accurate, well weighted and smooth. I've driven far fancier cars with steering that isn't anywhere near this good.
Cabin insulation is also impressive in the sedan – the hatch on the other hand has a fair bit of noise intrusion.
And that engine? Well, you're not going to win any drag races, but the comfortable ride and smooth steering, combined with looks that don't promise land speed records means it's far more suited to the sedan than the hatch.
Even with two well fed Holden employees and myself on board, the sedan didn't once feel like it was running out of puff, even on steeper hills.
The Astra sedan doesn't have the handling ability of its hatch sibling, it also has a ridiculously large turning circle of 11.9m (the Mazda3's is 10.6m), but it just skims in at seven out of 10 thanks to that great steering feel, and well-tuned suspension, keeping the ride comfortable and composed.
Holden's Aussie engineering team say they were able to get their hands all over the new Spark pre-launch, launching lap after lap of the company's proving ground as they tweaked the steering and suspension tune to better suit local conditions. And the results are very good.
The 1.4-litre engine doesn't generate a huge amount of power (though it is good for its class), but it's delivered in a way that makes the Spark feel like it's punching well above its weight, rarely feeling underpowered in everyday situations.
The Aussie magic sprinkled over the suspension and steering transforms the way the Spark LT drives, both in the city and further afield. The ride nudges the firm side of the spectrum (but not enough to bother you over inner-city ruts and bumps) which translates to a low, flat feeling through corners.
All in all, the little Spark more than holds its own on more challenging roads. The steering, too, helps the Spark outshine the regular city commuters, with a naturally engaging set-up that always feels connected to the road below.
There is a certain skittishness to the way it drives at times, though, with the gearbox wanting to continue lurching forward for a split-second after you take your foot off the accelerator, which takes some getting used to.
The R+ hatch adds a safety pack which includes such as AEB and lane keeping assistance.
The LS+ sedan is $1250 more than the LS and comes with suite of safety gear including lane keeping assistance, lane departure warning and forward distance indicator.
You'll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points for child seats across the back row in the sedan and hatch.
Standard safety fare comes courtesy of six airbags, along with hill-hold assist, ABS and ESC, but it does miss out on more advanced technologies like autonomous brakes.
Springing for the LT will add rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and cruise control as standard fare, though the lot can be added to the entry-level LS as part of Holden's Driver Assistance Pack.
The Spark range scored the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested early this year.
The Astra hatch and sedan are covered by Holden's three-year/100,000km warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 15,000km or annually. The Astra also comes with Holden's life-time capped-price servicing. You'll pay $229 for each of the first four services, then $289 each for the next three before stepping up higher as the car ages.
The Spark range is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty and requires servicing every 15,000kms. The Spark range falls under Holden's lifetime capped price servicing scheme, with trips to the dealership capped at $1,145 total for the first five services.