SHIFT IN TIME
It’s a very stylish shopping trolley that’ll zip around OK — without a big load
Holden’s Barina Spark is a stylish, zippy hatch well suited to city driving and now there’s an auto version
SOME bright spark forgot to include an auto in Holden’s light hatch when it was launched in 2010.
The Spark (Holden calls it a Barina Spark but it is no relation to the light car) now belatedly has one as it chases the estimated 70 per cent of light-car buyers who opt for a self-shifting transmission.
The adage that you get what you pay for has never been truer and the $12,490 price reflects its cheap interior and average handling.
The Spark comes only in one spec and the four-speed auto adds $2000. Equipment runs from alloy wheels to Bluetooth connectivity, auxiliary and USB inputs for the four-speaker stereo and steering wheelmounted controls for the phone and audio. That compares well with its competition but rear passengers will have to work out how to use a manual window winder.
The 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine has another 43cc of capacity to give a bit more grunt than the one used in the manual Spark. With 63kW/ 113Nm, it leads the sub-$15,000 pack for on-paper performance. The auto version also has electric power steering, tuned locally to improve response.
There’s nothing wrong with the outside of the Spark. It rides on 14-inch alloy wheels and has a trendy look to it. The same applies inside, where the motorbike-inspired instrument display should appeal to students looking for cheap transport or to first-time car buyers. But the plastics look and smell a generation old, showing its Daewoo origins.
The Spark trails only theVW Up for safety but is still only a four-star car as judged by ANCAP. The body is solid but in crash tests some of the impact was transferred into the cabin, a potential injury risk to front occupants’ chest and upper thigh areas. It earned 31.02/37 overall to be just behind the Nissan Micra but light years above the Suzuki Alto. Six airbags and ABS with stability and traction control are standard.
The Spark responds relatively quickly and will be a good thing around town or on the highway. Put some weight on board and point it at a decent hill and the transmission’s age dulls the experience.
Reacting too quickly to any change in accelerator pedal pressure, the auto hunts for a higher gear before slurring back to a lower cog when it can’t hold revs. Nothing dramatic but a lot of owners will bury the right foot and blow the claimed fuel consumption.
The torsion-beam rear end and limited suspension travel also mean the Spark bangs through substantial bumps rather than rolling over them. The steering is direct and only needs a light touch to change direction but the lack of feedback means there’s a disconnect with exactly where