The Holden Spark is unashamedly marketed towards young (or young-at-heart) drivers.
But is the Spark a good fit for a modern driver in the 21st century?
Between 2010 when the last generation Barina Spark was launched and 2016, what buyers expect from their car has grown exponentially. It’s no longer good enough for carmakers to demand people get into popular, volume-selling models to experience the full capabilities of their engineering or technology departments.
The new Holden Spark bursts onto the scene; amid criticism for the old model that it was abandoned without any major spec changes over the six years it was on sale in Australia.
A new design, new style and new technology dominate the Spark inside and out, so we took the entry model Spark LS out on the road.
The original (Barina) Spark’s design was left of field when it was first launched, and won praise and criticism for its offbeat angles. The new Spark has dropped the Barina name, and softened the harsher lines to create a more agreeable profile. It works and creates a car that looks more complementary as a ‘fun-size’ Barina, rather than an oddball cousin.
The big new change inside is the inclusion of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto into the MyLink multimedia system. This is obviously to snag young, tech-savvy carbuyers who are maybe fresh out of high school, or heading off to uni, and cannot possibly be separated from their smartphones.
The entry model LS is one of only two in the range, with the only place to go but up to the top-tier LT. The motorcycle-esque cluster in the middle is conveniently set out, if a little simple. Dominated by the 7-inch MyLink screen, the heating, ventilation, air-conditioning (HVAC) controls are a little pushed down, but are still within easy reach.
The Spark gets a new 1.4L engine to power it, a step up from the 1.2L that came standard in the Barina Spark. This is either matched to a five-speed manual (as standard) or a CVT automatic, which is expected to be the more popular choice – and was fitted to our test vehicle.
The engine is willing, with punchy acceleration from standstill, and is happy to putter around at low speeds around town. Running past a 100km/h makes the little Spark buzz, before settling down into a comfortable cruising mode – it will happily sit on the highway, and you never feel like the engine is struggling when you go for overtaking manoeuvres, even if you do get a little intimidated when a semi-trailer speeds past on the highway.
The CVT transmission is bound to be the more popular choice, especially among younger buyers in cities (or older buyers who aren’t as confident to continue driving manuals), but it requires an adaptation in the way you drive. The Spark doesn’t appreciate a lead foot; the CVT tends to go to the highest gear it can find, necessitating that you take your foot off and then reapply it more gently. If you want a car that can drag other cars at the lights, then perhaps the Spark isn’t for you.
Handling is nimble, as you’d expect, with a sharp turning circle and good on-road manners. The steering is predictably light around town, but takes on an even weight when you start to speed up. The standard 14” steel wheels on the LS mean that ruts and potholes in the road are more keenly felt. Suspension is tight, but not so harsh that there is no travel between the road and the teeny Spark’s body.
With a little over 3.5m from nose to tail, and 1.5m across the front, the Spark may be a small package, but good things do come in small packages.
Inside, the Spark features improved headroom, so even those above 6ft can sit easily in the spark. Of course, the backseat won’t forgive the front passengers adjusting their seats all the way back, but in a pinch, the back seat can transport three adults – but it’s best for just occasional use. The front seats, however, are more than spacious – so as a two seater, the Spark works very well.
The big talking point will be the Apple Carplay/Android Auto connectivity that anchors the motorcycle-style central instrument cluster. In terms of connecting your smartphone, the software is flawless – calling and texting is a breeze, and significantly reduces the risk of distracted driving by having the system read out the texts. Music apps are easily connected, whether that’s the native app (like Apple Music) or a third-party system like Spotify or Pandora.
The multimedia system also operates Holden’s MyLink software when it’s not connected to an Apple or Android smartphone via USB, which is painless to use and features Pandora internet radio connectivity if your smartphone playlist is not available offline.
Boot space is fine, you can probably fit a gym bag plus some shopping in there – but if you want to drive with a dog, or anything bulky (e.g. a pram or a dog or a couple of suitcases), you’ll have to drop the back seats down. This opens up the Spark a lot more, with the obvious drawback of losing passenger spots. On the plus side, the boot opening is wide, with a low tailgate so you can often just drop things in.
Fuel consumption is never going to be terrible, the Spark is tiny and the 1.4L Ecotec engine is never flustered enough to drain the petrol tank. Officially, Holden says the Spark will use 5.2L/100km combining highway and city driving. In the real world, we got down to around 7.0L/100km in city based driving, with a car loaded with various amounts of passengers and luggage.
A 5-Star ANCAP safety rating is standard, aided by six airbags including full-length curtain airbags, as well as electronic aids like stability control with hill start assist to put your mind at ease if it is your first car, or even your first new car.
Available in two trims, the entry model Spark LS and the higher grade LT. The Spark starts from $13,990 for a manual LS, with the optional CVT taking it to $15,690 – while the LT is only available with the CVT and comes in at $18,990.
Prices listed exclude on-road costs such as registration, stamp duty and dealer delivery. Premium paint is a $550 option, which is everything outside of Summit White and Solar Red.
Holden’s Lifetime Capped Price Servicing covers the Spark, with servicing due every 9 months or 15,000km. Confirm with Motorama Holden for pricing details as they’re released.
When the last Barina Spark was launched in 2009, it marked Holden’s entry into the subcompact, light-car segment, as an alternative to the already diminutive Barina. It won praise for it’s ability to distinguish itself as a small car for young people, particularly those needing a frugal, often first car to get to uni or work and look stylish on a tight budget.
If it wasn’t painfully obvious from the start of their marketing campaign, the Barina Spark was marketed towards females, despite a healthy reception from all car buyers. This mostly continues with the Spark, but with Holden broadening the appeal to young, often first time, car buyers who want something that’s essentially an extension of their life – rather than, say, a performance vehicle that needs attention to how it runs and everything you put into it.
And while it may not be the most macho car in the parking lot, it’s a fun, practical and affordable way to get into a new car with the latest technology.
See the team at Motorama Holden to test drive the Spark for yourself, and see how electric the drive is.