Skoda Fabia VS Holden Spark
- Looks sporty
- Fun on a good road
- Good ownership prospects
- No paddle-shifters
- Some slow-speed lurch
- A cut above from behind the wheel
- Plenty of cool tech
- Not cheap for its segment
- Lacks niceties for backseat passengers
The Skoda Fabia range has been updated and facelifted. You mightn’t be able to tell just by looking at it, but there are broad-reaching adjustments across all models.
We’re in the sporty looking, high-spec Monte Carlo. It isn’t quite a hot hatch - rather, it has the makings of one, but instead makes do with a downsized turbo engine and a dual-clutch auto transmission without paddle-shifters. Shock, horror.
Even if it doesn’t hit the highs of some closely-priced go-fast compact hatches, the Fabia Monte Carlo offers some food for thought in this tough-fought segment.
|Engine Type||1.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium 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|
I like the Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo, but I’d have to love it if I was going to own it - especially considering I now live right in the guts of the city. If I still lived up in the Blue Mountains, it would make a bit more sense… but should that be the case for a city car? Arguably not.
Would you buy a Skoda Fabia? Tell us 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.
The redesigned front end of the Skoda Fabia is barely different to the model that preceded it, but trainspotters will note slightly redesigned headlights and a different bumper and grille. Those headlights include integrated LED daytime running lights, and there’s the option of full-scale LED headlights - but you have to pay for them.
In Monte Carlo spec you get sportier bodywork, including a black rear spoiler and black lower body kit, plus black 17-inch wheels with grippier Bridgestone Potenza rubber, and Monte Carlo badges on the B-pillars and door sills. Over lower grade models it also has front fog-lights and LED tail-lights.
There are changes inside the cabin, too, with different seat trim and a flat-bottom steering wheel. Check out the interior pictures to see if it’s to your taste or not.
I think it’s a sporty looking little hatch, with enough design flair to suit its compact dimensions. The Fabia hatch is just 3997mm long (on a 2470mm wheelbase), 1732mm wide and 1467mm tall.
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.
The cabin of the Fabia is compact. Admittedly, it’s a compact car on the outside too, but while most of Skoda’s other models manage to make you feel like you’re in something larger than you are, the Fabia - aside from its high roof and therefore very good headroom - is a little cramped.
Rear seat legroom and shoulder space is among the worst in the class, for instance - but if you’re not hauling 182cm-tall adults like me around in the back, then that mightn’t matter too much to you.
Youngsters will be comfortable in the back, and there are dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors and three top-tether points as well. Yep, it’s a five-seater.
There are bottle holders in all four doors, and a pair of map pockets on the front seatbacks, too. No cupholders in the rear and no centre armrest, either, and up front the cupholder situation could be better - there are two, but they are shallow and smaller than the standard Keep Cup. But hey, you get an umbrella hidden in the glovebox, and there’s a little rubbish bin in the driver’s front door pocket, too.
The materials used are on the cheaper side, with hard plastics on the doors and dashboard. But there are padded elbow rests on the doors and the small adjustable centre console cubby, and the carbon-look panel that runs across the dash is nice. The cloth seat trim looks great, too.
Boot space is good for the class, with 330 litres of cargo capacity with the rear seats up and 1150L with them down.
Not big enough? You can get a Fabia wagon - and as a Monte Carlo model if you’re completely sold on the look - and in that guise you’ll get a much bigger boot (530L/1395L).
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
It’s small, has some touches of luxury and sportiness, and is definitely no Toyota Yaris.
So, with an asking price of $25,490 drive-away, what other cars could you be shopping it against? How about a Mazda 2 GT auto ($23,680 plus on-road costs), or a Volkswagen Polo Comfortline auto ($21,990 plus on-roads), or if you really want something a bit more sporty, then maybe a Suzuki Swift Sport auto ($27,490 plus on-roads).
There are some other shortcomings for a car at this price point: you don’t get keyless entry or push-button start, for instance, and there is no leather seat trim, heated seats or built-in sat nav (add $950 if you want that). A panoramic glass roof will set you back $1000, too.
As has been the case in previous years with Skoda models, there are several packs that customers can choose to add to their car to boost the specification levels.
On the Monte Carlo model, that includes the Vision Pack (priced at $1400) consisting of full LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and additional safety spec in the form of blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert - our car was fitted with that pack.
There’s also the Tech Pack ($1800), which includes keyless entry and push-button start, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, climate control air-con, driver fatigue detection, DAB+ digital radio and dual USB ports in the rear.
Add both those options to the price and you’re approaching VW Polo GTI money…
The Fabia is available in an array of colours, including the choice of a black roof finish. You can choose between white, grey, blue, black and red, but green is reserved for non Monte Carlo models.
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
Under the bonnet of the Fabia Monte Carlo is what Skoda calls the 81TSI engine - a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol producing 81kW of power and 200Nm of torque.
It has a standard-fit seven-speed dual-clutch auto transmission, and like the lower-grade version, is front-wheel drive. There are no paddle-shifters, which might seem a bit of a silly concern - but after driving it, I found myself wishing there were.
Sadly, there is no manual version, which is a shame.
Claimed fuel economy is 4.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which is very good. But in the real world, you can bank on using about double that in city driving. Plus you’ll need to factor in that the engine requires 95RON premium unleaded petrol, so filling up will add a few extra bucks.
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).
On the right stretch of road, the Fabia Monte Carlo has handling as good - if not superior - to some pint-sized hot hatches. It holds the road beautifully, turns with grace and ease, and feels balanced and controlled in the twisty bits.
The engine revs freely, the transmission shifts smartly - only let down by a lack of paddle-shifters. The whole experience feels nice, and if you only deal with higher-speed driving that happens to involve a mountain climb on the way to work, then: a) you’re luckier than you know; and b) you’ll be happy with a Fabia Monte Carlo.
But the big issue here is that this is a city car, and that’s where it stumbles and fumbles most.
The transmission is the real problem - it is hesitant, reluctant, downright dumb at times. Combined with some turbo-lag from the three-pot turbo engine, traffic lights can actually be nerve-wracking, as there’s not really a ‘regular’ feel to the way the car will take off. Sometimes it’ll jump away from the lights, other times it will lag and lurch.
The ride is reasonable in town, but sharp edges can upset things. And while the steering is a lot of fun in its weighty, direct attitude, that heft can be a tad annoying when you’re trying to park it.
All in all, the drivetrain feels a bit like old-Skoda-by-way-of-VW, and it simply isn’t as well considered as the equivalent VW if you just drive around town.
What a damn shame there isn’t a manual Monte Carlo, because it would easily negate all these concerns.
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.
No Fabia model comes with adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert or blind-spot monitoring as standard, but those are optionally available (see the pricing section above).
There’s no lane keeping assist or lane departure warning system on the Fabia - standard or optionally.
Where is the Skoda Fabia built? The answer is Skoda’s home country - Czech Republic.
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.
Skoda offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty on its models putting it on par with rivals, though it was one of the earlier adopters of the long warranty program.
Skoda offers the choice of either following a capped price servicing plan (out to six years/90,000km) or buyers the option to pre-purchase three years/45,000km or five years/75,000km of servicing in a service pack.
The latter allows you to roll the maintenance costs into your finance, which is nice, and the costs area $760 for three years, or $1600 for five - which works out to a discount of $317 and $885 if you pre-purchase rather than follow the standard capped-price plan.
Follow the capped price path and you will find costs of maintenance are on the high side for such little car, at: $291, $351, $435, $622, $435 and $351 respectively.
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.