Perk­i­ness and punch

Mt Druitt - St Mary's Standard (East) - - CARS GUIDE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

WHAT price do you put on peace of mind? In the case of Holden’s new Spark mi­cro hatch, plenty ap­par­ently.

The Holden is the beste­quipped and best-han­dling car in this class — but it’s $3000 dearer than its ri­vals in a bud­get-con­scious seg­ment, that’s a big ask.

Hence the query. If I had a twen­tysome­thing daugh­ter, ap­par­ently the ma­jor mar­ket for the Spark, would I help pay the pre­mium?

The ar­gu­ments for the Spark in­clude: the con­ve­nience of An­droid Auto and Google CarPlay, which should help minimise the time spent look­ing away from the road; and the best re­solved han­dling in this class, which should help avoid a crash.

The counter view: you can save $2000 and buy the Kia Pi­canto with more room, a seven-year war­ranty and a stan­dard au­to­matic trans­mis­sion (the Holden’s CVT adds $1700); or spend an­other $2000 and buy a Skoda Fabia hatch with the same smart­phone con­nec­tiv­ity, big­ger crum­ple zones and au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing, which should re­duce the in­sur­ance pre­mi­ums.

It’s a tough call but about 150 peo­ple a month are grav­i­tat­ing to the Spark. They’re buy­ing a perky, ma­noeu­vrable hatch with enough space for four adults and lo­cally tuned ride and han­dling that give it ex­tra com­pli­ance and agility on in­ner-city street sur­faces.

DE­SIGN

The Spark sparks in­ter­est as soon as you see it. It has the edgi­est de­sign in the class, from the fins lead­ing to the fog lights to the flared curve that runs into the tail lights. The styling was over­seen by Aus­tralian de­signer Mike Sim­coe, who wanted to im­part a more grown-up look to the city car.

It works. The Spark is now the best look­ing of this breed. The seven-inch touch­screen is the stand­out fea­ture of the in­te­rior and the cen­tre fa­cia has been de­signed to ac­cen­tu­ate it.

Smart use of tex­tures helps dis­guise the hard dash plas­tics, the heat­ing/cool­ing is quick to op­er­ate and te front seats also feel more com­fort­able than the su­per­seded model.

The only omis­sion is ad­justable reach for the steer­ing wheel (it shifts for height).

Opt for the $18,990 LT ver­sion and there are 15-inch al­loy wheels, push-but­ton start and key­less en­try, cruise con­trol, re­vers­ing cam­era and up­graded up­hol­stery.

AROUND TOWN

A 9.6-me­tre turn­ing cir­cle means the 3.6m-long Spark is in its el­e­ment scoot­ing up tight laneways and into the last apart­ment park­ing space.

The 1.4-litre en­gine’s ex­tra ca­pac­ity com­pared to the op­po­si­tion and its will­ing­ness to pro­duce power rather than just noise at it nears the red­line mean it can be short-shifted for a re­laxed drive or wound out in sec­ond gear for brisker per­for­mance.

The ex­tra power doesn’t hurt when car­ry­ing four adults — there are three rear seat belts but you’d need a fairly in­ti­mate trio to try it — as it loses lit­tle in off-the-line ac­cel­er­a­tion.

The five-speed man­ual is light to shift and easy to op­er­ate, though most buy­ers are likely to opt for the con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion.

There isn’t a huge space un­der the rear hatch — 185L — and the up­right de­sign means there’ll be as many gro­cery bags in the back as in the boot.

It will take a mid-sized suit­case or a pair of overnight trol­ley bags.

Hav­ing man­ual win­dow winders in the rear can be te­dious, at least un­til the teens get over the nov­elty of phys­i­cally us­ing a mech­a­nism rather than press­ing a but­ton. They’ll still for­get to close them as they exit the ve­hi­cle.

ON THE ROAD

City cars of­ten fare poorly on free­ways where their size plays against them, from be­ing buf­feted by trucks to strug­gling to hold 100km/h on ex­tended in­clines.

The Spark avoids those fail­ings be­cause it feels and goes like a car in the next class up.

The steer­ing is solid at high­way pace with­out the darti­ness found in many short­wheel­base cars and the 14-inch tyres de­liver enough grip to make it a de­cent han­dler through the turns.

The over­driven fifth gear helps with open road fuel use but you’ll be slip­ping into fourth if build­ing or main­tain­ing mo­men­tum looms as an is­sue. CVT own­ers will sim­ply press fur­ther on the ac­cel­er­a­tor.

There is faint wind noise off the wind­screen pil­lars and roof but the cabin ex­pe­ri­ence is well muted for a car typ­i­cally more com­fort­able at 60km/h.

Fuel use didn’t come close to the claimed 5.2L/100km com­bined cy­cle but was still rea­son­ably fru­gal at 6.8L.

VER­DICT

The Holden Spark is the de­served class leader in looks and per­for­mance but not by enough of a mar­gin over the Pi­canto to jus­tify the hefty hit on price.

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