Perkiness and punch
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.
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the hard dash plastics, the heating/cooling is quick to operate and te front seats also feel more comfortable than the superseded model.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.
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.
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.