Smaller badge, bigger performance for Holden's new Spark city car

Korean-sourced Spark has had steering, suspension and chassis calibration work in Australia.
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Korean-sourced Spark has had steering, suspension and chassis calibration work in Australia.

 

HOLDEN SPARK
Price range:
$16,490 (LS manual) to $19,990 (LT automatic).
Powertrain: 1.4-litre petrol four producing 73kW/128Nm (automatic) or 120Nm (manual). Five-speed manual (LS only) or continuously variable transmission, front-drive.
On sale: Now.

Holden has dropped the "Barina" part of the Spark city car's name for the new model. In doing so, it brings the car more in line with its international naming conventions. Elsewhere, it's always just been 'Spark'.

No ball of fire, but significantly more power and torque than its city-car rivals.
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No ball of fire, but significantly more power and torque than its city-car rivals.

With this new (well, newish) name comes a strong attack from Holden on the city car segment. But the company also predicts the little Korean-sourced Spark will take a few bites out of the next segment up.

Why is that? Power, price and technology, says Holden.

READ MORE: New Spark is a really big deal for Holden

Interior fails to live up to high style of previous model - not that you'd want to swap.
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Interior fails to live up to high style of previous model - not that you'd want to swap.

Traditionally cars in the city segment have been fairly basic affairs, with the likes of the Mitsubishi Mirage and Suzuki Celerio packing low-powered three-cylinder engines, basic equipment levels and functional styling.

The Spark on the other hand brings more power - a throbbing 73kW - and more standard equipment than has been available in this segment previously. It also comes at the same price as the lower-powered and lesser-equipped opposition.

The new Spark comes to New Zealand in two guises, LS and LT, with a choice of five-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT) in LS guise. The top-spec LT is auto only.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both integrated into touch-screen.
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Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both integrated into touch-screen.

Both are powered by Holden's all-new European-developed 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 73kW of power and 128Nm of torque (120Nm in the manual LS). In a segment that traditionally hovers around the 50kW mark, the Spark is the most powerful car in the class.

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The LS comes as standard with 14-inch steel wheels, six airbags, cloth seat trim, front electric windows, steering wheel audio controls and a trip computer, but its real party trick is the standard inclusion of both Holden's excellent MyLink infotainment system with seven-inch touchscreen, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity.

This brings not only full smartphone integration to the Spark, but also features like internet radio streaming, voice control and satellite navigation to a car that is priced from $16,490 for the manual LS.

Hidden rear doorhandles continue in new Spark model.
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Hidden rear doorhandles continue in new Spark model.

The LS auto costs an extra $1500 and features the same specification, while the top-spec LT lands at $19,990 and adds 15-inch alloy wheels, a leather wrapped steering wheel, synthetic leather-like seats, rear power windows, chrome exterior highlights, rear parking sensors, a backing camera, cruise control, fog lamps, keyless entry and pushbutton start.

While the Spark brings more power to the segment, it's still not exactly a powerhouse on the road, with the manual in particular needing to be rowed along.

The CVT models are better in this regard, with that fraction more torque. The automatic also removes the chance of you shifting at just the wrong moment and slipping off the torque wave into a hole of breathless unresponsiveness that lurks around the very top and very bottom of the Spark's rev-range.

Spark's powertrain still works best in the city - especially the two-pedal CVT.
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Spark's powertrain still works best in the city - especially the two-pedal CVT.

The CVT is one of the better in the segment, with Holden following current trends by programming in fake 'gear shifts' at open-road speeds. This breaks up the awful tendency of many CVTs to flare - rolling up to the top of the engine's rev range and simply sitting there, screaming away under hard acceleration.

The Spark still has a slight tendency to flare and drone, and it is a bit sluggish off the line. But the CVT remains well-matched to the engine, with a particular affinity to responsive city driving. Which is, after all, where the Spark is particularly aimed.

Not that this means it isn't surprisingly capable out on the open road, with a mature and impressively well-resolved ride that could easily come from a car a size or two bigger.

The interior is spacious (with surprisingly good rear leg room for such tiny car). While dominated by black plastics, it's of decent quality and an attractive, if largely unadventurous, design.

In fact, interior design is the one area where the new Spark fails to easily exceed the previous Barina Spark, with that car's motorcycle-inspired interior having the upper hand.

The new car does, however, simply destroy the old one in every other area.

While manual rear windows and a five-speed manual transmission may be out of step with today's expectations, you do have to remember that the entry-level LS comes in at $16,490 and still includes MyLink, CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Spark brings new levels of technology and power to the city car segment, while the input from Holden in optimising it for local conditions goes to prove that there is clearly life in the Lion well beyond Commodore.

 - Stuff

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