We reviewed the last model Holden Barina Spark a few months ago as part of our $20k Challenge. With this latest model it’s just known as the Holden Spark, and is similar to the model sold in Europe and the US as a Chevrolet. There are two trim levels available – LS and LT. The LS is available with a 5 speed manual transmission or a CVT, while the higher spec LT is CVT only. Our test car was the $19,990 LT.
All Sparks come with the same 1.4 Litre four cylinder, producing 73kW/128Nm, power is up on the previous model. It’s slightly shorter than the outgoing car too. Other than that it sticks to the same formula – an entry-level five-door city car.
Included throughout the range are a five star ANCAP safety rating, Electronic Stability Control, with Hill Start Assist, Front, Side impact and curtain airbags, ISOFIX Child Seat Mounts, Remote locking, Daytime running lights, aircon, Holden MyLink infotainment system with Phone projection using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and 6-speaker audio.
The LT adds keyless entry and start, 15″ alloys, some extra chrome accents, front fog lamps, “Leather appointed” seats, leather steering wheel, Cruise Control, Rear View Camera with parking sensors, and rear power windows
Of course the first thing to notice about our test car is its colour. I got the strange urge to refer to it as Kermit. Personally I love the metallic Lime Green. I think small cars look great in bright colours. Also available are red, blue, violet, black, silver and white so you get a decent choice. There are quite a few options to customise your Spark too. Wheels can be specced in several colours, and the front grille surround, mirror caps and spoiler can can be painted Black, Lime Green or Solar Red.
The Spark is a smart looking little car. It has the Holden corporate face and double grille, with running lights and fogs at the bottom corners. There are slashes moulded into the side which break up what would be a big expanse of metal. The rear door handles are at the top behind the rear door glass, which completely confused my five year-old the first time she went to get into the car. She also had a bit of trouble reaching them to open the door.
Inside, the first thing that jumps out at you is the big white patterned panels across the dash and doors. I like them, they’re something different and they really brighten up the interior. In Europe they’re changeable for different colours, but in New Zealand we just get the white.
There’s a large 7” central touchscreen which controls the infotainment system. When you sit in the car it wakes up and displays an animated Holden logo, which is a nice little touch.
There are physical controls under the screen for home, volume and track skipping, as well as audio and phone controls on the steering wheel. Three knobs control the aircon, temperature, vents etc.
At the bottom there’s a cubby with a power socket, USB port and aux socket, which lights up at night in a soft blue. Another nice little touch.
The LT has proximity key, and push-button start. In front of the driver is a large central speedo, rev counter to the left and information display to the right. This can display range, fuel consumption etc. The instruments are always lit, which I find can lead you to forget to turn the lights on at night. For this reason I’m surprised the Spark doesn’t have auto lights.
The seats are trimmed in synthetic leather, and are pretty comfortable. There isn’t a great deal of side support but this isn’t really the sort of car you’ll be throwing around corners. I didn’t find it hard to find a comfortable driving position, even though the leather trimmed steering wheel only adjusts for height, not reach. There’s no height adjustment on the driver’s seat either. The door panels and dash are made of the sort of hard plastic you’d expect with a car in this price bracket, but they do look nice.
There are ISOfix child seat mountings in the back seats, and there’s just enough rear leg room to fit four adults in the car. Anyone taller than my 5’10 would start to struggle though. The 185 litre boot looks tiny, but I fit a decent load of shopping in there with room to spare. The rear seats fold flat if needed and are 60/40 split for fitting in larger items. The squabs have little bags on the back to slot the headrests into, which is a good idea.
Pairing my phone with the car worked quickly and smoothly, it downloaded my call history and contacts, and played my music. But every time I got out of the car and back in it switched back to radio and I had to go back to the source menu source and switch to Bluetooth to get my music back. I also tried installing Android Auto and connecting via a USB cable. It might have been my particular phone, but try as I might, I could not get the two to communicate as they should.
The six speaker stereo sounds really good. There are large speakers in all four doors and they give impressive bass and are clear all the way up to a louder volume than I could stand. Much better than most cars in this class.
One of the first things I noticed when driving the Spark was that the ride is excellent. Bumps are soaked up nicely, there’s no harshness or vibration from the road surface, and it’s quiet. Holden say the suspension is “tuned for New Zealand conditions”. I’m not sure exactly what that means but they have done a great job. Unlike some other small city cars I’ve driven, this doesn’t translate to lots of body roll either. Yes there is some, it’s a relatively tall car, but on cornering it feels tight and well controlled. The electric power steering feels light at low speeds, but not too light when driving along. At higher speeds there’s some wind noise but other than that it’s nicely insulated.
The cruise control works well, easily controlled by buttons on the face of the steering wheel. There’s my usual bugbear that the set speed is not shown on the digital display. Why don’t most cars do this?
When driving along, the Spark is pleasant to drive. The four cylinder 73kW engine has enough go to get you up the steep hills, or to have a little bit of fun. The CVT transmission seems well tuned too, rarely exhibiting that CVT drone that the earlier ones would have on acceleration. But I did have one issue with it. It may have been our particular car, but almost every time I came to a complete stop at a junction, then pressed the accelerator to set off again, the CVT seemed to be at the wrong ratio and had to wind down before the car would set off. This mean an irritating half-second pause before anything happened. Once it had sorted itself out the acceleration was pretty good.
Despite this little annoyance, the more I drove the Spark, the more I liked it. It’s an easy car to get along with, handles well and is fun to drive. There are places where its budget price becomes more obvious – the lack of carpet when you fold the back seats up, the boot shutting with more of a clang than a thud. But these things are part of the character of a car like this. It certainly compares well to many of its rivals in this entry-level segment of the market.
At under $20k for the top model it’s good value, and with Holden’s $99 a week Fuel and Go Offer you don’t even have to buy one outright.
|Brand / Model||Engine||Power||Fuel L/100km||0-100km/h||Price Highest to Lowest|
|Honda Jazz S||1.3l 4 cylinder||73kW/119Nm||5.1||N/A||$23,700|
|Kia Rio LS||1.4l 4 cylinder||80kW/137Nm||6.3||N/A||$23,490|
|Toyota Yaris GX||1.3l 4 cylinder||63kW/121Nm||6.3||14.1s||$23,190|
|Suzuki Swift Plus||1.4l 4 cylinder||70kW/130Nm||6.2||N/A||$22,990|
|FIAT 500 Pop||1.2l 4 cylinder||51kW/102Nm||5.1||12.9s||$21,990|
|KIA Picanto EX||1.25l 4 cylinder||64kW/123Nm||5.6||N/A||$20,990|
|FIAT Punto Easy||1.4l 4 cylinder||57kW/115Nm||5.4||13.2s||$19,990|
|Holden Spark||1.4l 4 cylinder||73kW/128Nm||5.5||N/A||$19,990|
|Mitsubishi Mirage XLS||1.2l 4 cylinder||58kW/102Nm||4.9||N/A||$19,990|
|Nissan Micra||1.2l 4 cylinder||56kW/100Nm||6.5||N/A||$19,750|
|Suzuki Celerio GLX||1.0l 3 cylinder||50kW/90Nm||4.8l||N/A||$17,500|
|FIAT Panda Lounge||0.9l 2 cylinder turbo||57kW/100Nm||4.1||11.5s||$16,990|
The pros and cons
What we think
The Spark is a good little car, and with a few tweaks could be very good indeed. It would make an excellent first car, and I think that’s the target market that they’re aiming for. It has the top safety rating, it’s comfortable and fun to drive but not too fast, has a great stereo, and enough space for your mates.
Rating – Chevron rating out 4 of 5
|Vehicle Type||Small hatchback|
|Starting Price||$16,490 + on-road costs (LS Manual)|
$19,990 + on-road costs (LT CVT)
|Engine||1.4 litre four cylinder with four valves per cylinder. Aluminium head. Die-cast aluminium block. Multi-port fuel injection.|
|Transmission||CVT Automatic Transmission|
|0 – 100 kph||Not quoted|
|Kerb Weight||1049 kg|
|Length x Width x Height||3595 x 1595 x 1476 mm|
|Cargo Capacity||185 Litres seats up|
985 Litres seats down
|Fuel Tank||32 litres|
|ANCAP Safety Ratings||5 stars|
|Warranty||3 year/100,000km warranty|
3 year roadside assistance