Western Suburbs Weekly - - Driveway - Craig Duff

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 best-equipped 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 Spark is now the best- look­ing of this breed. The seven-inch touch­screen is the stand­out fea­ture of the in­te­rior.

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 as it nears the red line 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 – 185litres – and the up­right de­sign means there'll be as many gro­cery bags in the back as in the boot.

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 and the 14-inch tyres de­liver enough grip to make it a de­cent han­dler through the turns.

Fuel use didn't come close to the claimed 5.2litres/100km com­bined

cy­cle but was still rea­son­ably fru­gal at 6.8.

Ver­dict: The Holden Spark is the de­served class leader in looks and per­for­mance but it comes with a hefty hit on price.

Holden's Spark is the big­gest of the city cars, but also the most ex­pen­sive.

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