Holden Spark lightens up

Holden Spark is one of a new generation of light cars that are superior to the models that preceded them, with improved on-road dynamics provided by increasingly refined engines, drivelines and suspension.

Drivers also get a heightened sense of build quality thanks to better seating, and the tactile feel of steering and gearshift, as well as the improved visual presentation of the dash. In an increasingly competitive market that’s to be expected, but all too often there’s a fine line between the way car companies execute cost reduction, and the degree of simplifying components which ultimately affects the disposability of cars priced in the mid-teens. The Spark is no exception. After all, this is around the same amount you’d lose to depreciation on a new Commodore Evoke in the first two years.
 

Spark ticks the right boxes

For front seat occupants, Spark ticks the right boxes. In our car review, we found the cabin easy to access, seating well shaped and supportive and plenty of leg and headspace. Drivers have seat height adjustment plus tilt but not reach-adjustable steering. There’s also central locking and hill-start assist. The dash is simple, smart and easy to use, while chunky grips on the steering wheel and gear stick provide a feel-good touch. There’s a notably large colour touch-screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus Siri voice command. On the safety front, Spark includes a full-length curtain airbags for a five-star ANCAP rating.
 

Rear seating compromised

Beyond obvious cost-cutting measures such as 14-inch steel wheels, the areas likely to cause some annoyance are rear seating and load space. The seats are small and severely compromised, designed only for children unless the front seat is well forward. It’s a dingy place with a high sill line and no lights or vents. On the plus side, the trim looks to be hard-wearing, and the usual childseat points, including ISOFIX, are provided. Yet seat cushion tip, headrest removal and squab fold for load versatility are abysmal. Flimsy in construction, awkward to move and nowhere near flat, these folding seats deliver little carrying advantage.
 

Tiny boot

The boot is tiny, there’s a small space-saver spare wheel, and even something as innocuous as the fuel lid feels like it will snap on opening. As such, Spark we drove weighs just 1014kg, which is an aid to both performance and fuel economy.

On the road Spark will not disappoint. The 1.4-litre engine always feels willing and the CVT does a good job of keeping it responsive in traffic. There are always going to be times, such as overtaking on the highway, when the engine is working hard in the upper rev range and noise levels increase noticeably, but the performance is satisfactory. Our overall fuel economy of 6.4L/100km is good but not outstanding in this company.
 

Good ride and handling

The ride and handling package is much better than previously found in this class. Spark has a surefooted feel in the corners with tactile feedback and response from its electric power steering. Ride for the most part is comfortable, although like many light cars there is the occasional intruding thump on uneven roads.

An entry-level Spark LS manual with a good list of safety and connectivity features and air-conditioning is $13,990 plus on-road costs of around $3400. A CVT adds $1700. The auto-only LT from $18,990 gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 15-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry/start, front fog lamps, rear parking assist and a reversing camera.
 

The verdict

In an age of surprisingly good entry-level cars, Holden Spark is one of the best for owners with little need for the rear compartment. But it’s no class leader, an accolade that remains with Kia Picanto.

Car review: Ernest Litera
 

HOLDEN SPARK LS AUTO

Price: $15,690 + $3403 (est.) on-road costs. Premium paint $550. Range $13,990-$18,990.

Safety: ESC. Six airbags. Hill-start assist. ISOFIX. 5-star ANCAP rating. Daytime running lights. (Rear park assist and reversing camera available in option pack.)

Connectivity: Bluetooth. Siri smartphone voice recognition. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto. USB input.

Vehicle features: Air-conditioning. MyLink infotainment system on a 7-inch touch-screen. 60/40 split-fold rear seats.

Driver features: Electric power steering. Cruise control. Remote release fuel cap.

Specifications: Drivetrain: 1399cc, 4cyl petrol. FWD. CVT auto. 73kW@6200rpm, 128Nm@4400rpm.

Fuel economy: 6.4L/100km (RACV test figure); 5.5L/100km (govt figure). 32L tank. 91RON petrol.

Wheels: 14” steel, 165/65 R14 tyres. Space-saver spare. Towing limits: not recommended.

Environment: 128g/km CO2.

Service/repairs: 9-month/15,000km services. Lifetime capped-price services. 3yr/100,000km warranty.

RACV RATING * * *

Written by Ernest Litera
September 16, 2016