HOLDEN SPARK

PLENTY OF EN­TER­TAIN­MENT FROM THE CHEAP SEATS, AS LONG AS YOU DON’T PAY TOO MUCH

Wheels (Australia) - - 2017 Car Of The Year - MIKE DUFF

THE RE­CENT form of small Hold­ens meant the Spark ar­rived at COTY free from the bur­den of high ex­pec­ta­tions. In­deed, fol­low­ing on from the ut­terly in­sipid Ba­rina gave it the un­der­dog sta­tus of a pooch wear­ing a min­ing hel­met. Of course, we’ve al­ready con­firmed that the Spark is a vastly bet­ter car than its slightly big­ger sis­ter – it re­cently beat the Kia Pi­canto and Suzuki Cele­rio to win out as our cur­rent pick of the sub-light crop. De­spite be­ing on what was ef­fec­tively en­emy ter­ri­tory it coped with You Yangs im­pres­sively well.

Al­though built in Korea, the Spark’s chas­sis sits on an Aus­tralian-tuned sus­pen­sion that de­liv­ers sprightly re­sponses and an amus­ing front-to-rear bal­ance that helps make the most of its mod­est lim­its. The han­dling cir­cuit even proved it’s happy to dra­mat­i­cally tighten its cornering line on an eased throt­tle. Ride qual­ity is im­pres­sive, too – an­other area where it has the Ba­rina b-b-beaten.

More than one judge got out of the Spark wear­ing a grin out of pro­por­tion with its on-pa­per specs. It’s cer­tainly no baby hot hatch, and the atmo 73kw en­gine needs to be whacked out of bed with a bat to give its best, but it still man­ages to feel big­ger and more grown up than ei­ther its di­men­sions or pric­etag sug­gest it should.

There’s a but, of course. The Spark looks like good value in ba­sic trim, but makes pro­gres­sively less sense as you as­cend the range. The $13,990 LS comes with stan­dard cruise con­trol and a 7.0-inch touch­screen that can run both Ap­ple Carplay and An­droid Auto, a strong seg­ment USP for tar­get­ing the smart­phone gen­er­a­tion. And al­though the rest of the cabin is cheap it’s far from cheer­less with some de­cent de­sign, tough-feel­ing ma­te­ri­als and adult-use­able space in the back.

But the boggo LS also ships with a quite de­cent five-speed man­ual gear­box that few ur­ban buy­ers are go­ing to want to live with, and adding the CVT – the first fit­ted to a Holden – adds a weighty $1700 to the Spark’s price. By the mod­est stan­dards of elasto-mat­ics it’s a de­cent one – it showed up sev­eral con­stantly vari­able trans­mis­sions fit­ted to other COTY chal­lengers – with pre­tend stepped ra­tios to cut down on the blender im­pres­sion when you go wide-open throt­tle.

But at $15,690 be­fore drive-aways, the ap­peal is def­i­nitely fad­ing. The se­nior LT trim keeps the same en­gine and has the CVT as stan­dard, while adding some coloured in­te­rior pan­els, pre­tend leather trim that fooled no­body, key­less go and a re­vers­ing cam­era (but no au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing). At $19K (be­fore op­tions or on-roads), the Spark LT is sim­ply too ex­pen­sive.

SPARK’ S FAM­ILY RI­VALRY

Our Spark and its sib­lings are all pro­duced at GM’S Chang­won plant in South Korea. It’s the Chevro­let Spark in the US, while in Europe it’s of­fered as the Opel Karl and Vaux­hall Viva. Spark, as the favourite child, gets a pok­ier 73kw 1.4-litre en­gine, while Europe’s sole en­gine is a 55kw 1.0-litre atmo triple. Pity nei­ther of them get the Opel Adam’s 1.0-litre turbo unit.

“GROWN UP AND MA­TURE, BUT STILL HAS PER­SON­AL­ITY” ALEX IN­WOOD “IT DOESN’T’T FEEL SMALL, LL, AND YOU CANAN SENSE THEE OPEL IN­PUT”T” TOBY HAGONN

HOIKING AN IN­SIDE REAR ALL PART OF LIT­TLE LION’S AMUS­ING REPER­TOIRE

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