Holden Spark

NZ Autocar - - Contents - – Peter Louis­son

The drive pro­gramme pretty much said it all. At the launch of the orig­i­nal Ba­rina Spark we drove the ve­hi­cle around Syd­ney streets. Noth­ing more than 80 kays then. It’s a city car, Holden reck­oned, and even at that it was hardly sparkling. In­ter­est­ing then that the all-new sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Spark – the Ba­rina badge has been dropped – was pre­sented to the mo­tor­ing me­dia at Holden’s Lang Lang Prov­ing Grounds where we got to bully it over their rough and tum­ble hill climb road. Which was ev­i­dently quite a priv­i­lege; few out­side of Holden have driven this won­der­fully up and down, round and around sec­tion of tar­mac, which Spark was un­daunted by. On one fast and rough cor­ner, it showed off sus­pen­sion ac­tion beau­ti­fully. And then for another hour or so we took in some beau­ti­ful empty rib­bons of smooth tar­mac in the lo­cal vicin­ity, so not a city street in sight for the launch of the much sassier, much im­proved Spark. Where there was none be­fore, there’s cer­tainly some life and spark to the car now.

That’s not just be­cause of its en­livened en­gine ei­ther. As it hap­pens, the talk­ing heads paid scant at­ten­tion to mo­tive power. While the 1.4 four pot­ter might not be any­thing par­tic­u­larly spe­cial it does enough to put Spark up there for per­for­mance in its class. It’s a far cry from the old 1.2, out­put up 20 per cent to 73kW and torque ris­ing by 20Nm to 128Nm. So it may not win any fuel econ­omy runs – com­pe­ti­tion like Mi­rage and Cele­rio are in the high fours whereas this is rated at 5.5L/100km – but at least now it doesn’t feel to be run­ning on only three of its four pots. And there seems to be vir­tu­ally no dif­fer­ence in per­for­mance be­tween the two dif­fer­ent trans­mis­sion op­tions, per­haps be­cause the man­ual gets slightly less torque (120Nm). For our mar­ket, there’s es­sen­tially just the auto; the five-speed man­ual is to-or­der only. The all-new en­gine (de­vel­oped in Europe, built in Korea) comes hooked up to a fresh CVT which works well in this set­ting. Be­sides, city cars are built pri­mar­ily for city run­ning, and man­u­als, even light­weight shifters like this, can still be tire­some in bumper to bumper traf­fic.

Holden is rather proud of its new tranny. We found Spark auto a touch hes­i­tant off the mark, but un­der the pump it ‘shifts’ like a reg­u­lar au­to­matic, and it also has an L po­si­tion, mainly for im­proved en­gine brak­ing. On the test­ing hill cir­cuit, the L po­si­tion was a win­ner, help­ing it keep pace on the hills. Roughly four clicks long the hill track has an ex­am­ple of al­most ev­ery cor­ner imag­in­able. We only got to drive the base LS mod­els there, more’s the pity, as the LT has ex­tra rub­ber on 15-inch al­loys and tends to grip bet­ter, squeal less. Still, the new chas­sis that un­der­pins the Spark proved en­ter­tain­ing to drive, though the real ben­e­fi­ciary is much im­proved ride qual­ity. Holden engi­neers tuned the sus­pen­sion at Lang Lang, opt­ing for firmer dampers, im­prov­ing road hold­ing and body con­trol. They also cal­i­brated steer­ing for bet­ter on cen­tre sen­si­tiv­ity, and pro­gres­sive build-up of steer­ing ef­fort. ESP was tuned too, to work well on gravel and tar­mac. Holden engi­neers had laid out

a slalom run on a flat gravel road to high­light their ESP tweaks, which al­low a lit­tle slip at the rear be­fore in­ter­ven­ing. One could be brisk pro­vid­ing steer­ing in­puts were smooth, lim­it­ing ESP-in­duced brake nip­ping. This was se­ri­ous fun, in con­trast to a near run-in with a tiger snake when search­ing for a spot to wa­ter the gar­den.

A bit of door play at lunch re­vealed lit­tle in the way of hatch space (185L), and the split fold­ing sys­tem leaves the seat backs at an an­noy­ing 40-de­gree an­gle. How­ever, styling and con­nec­tiv­ity are high­lights. The Spark no longer looks car­toon-like; it’s a cleaner design, with a lower roofline, a slightly longer wheel­base with wheels pushed to the cor­ners and a range of paint colours, some bright, to ap­peal to the largely young (19-29), fe­male au­di­ence. Spe­cial fea­tures in­clude a seven-inch touch screen with Ap­ple Car-Play and An­droid Auto as stan­dard. There’s also voice recog­ni­tion.

Two ver­sions of Spark are avail­able, LS and LT. The former costs $17,990 and comes with 14-inch steel wheels, cloth seats, au­dio con­trols on the wheel, air con, six airbags, the usual safety elec­tron­ics, and trip com­puter. Add $2000 to step up to the LT ver­sion and you add a smart key and push but­ton start, 15-inch al­loys, leather-look seats, rear view cam­era and park­ing sonar, cruise con­trol, power win­dows fore and aft and a leather wrap wheel. If you’re buy­ing to a bud­get the to-or­der-only man­ual vari­ant saves $1500, at $16,490. There are also per­son­al­i­sa­tion op­tions, with con­trast­ing colours for mir­ror caps, wheels and grille.

From be­ing just another wannabe, the new Spark now vies for city car lead­er­ship, while ap­peal­ing es­pe­cially to young mil­len­ni­als with its well con­sid­ered tech and safety pack­age.

This was se­ri­ous fun, in con­trast to a near run-in with a tiger snake when search­ing for a spot to wa­ter the gar­den

Hand­brake turn the quick­est way round the

pole; steel­ies on the base LS; bright colours con­tinue to be pop­u­lar given the skew to­wards young and young-at

heart buy­ers.

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