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  • Cheap pricing and cheerful face; decent rear head and legroom; body strength and standard safety equipment; frugal fuel economy
  • Far from light car state-of-the-art; thrashy 1.2-litre; vague steering; ordinary ride and handling; cheap, but not particularly good value

5 / 10

2012 Holden Barina Spark Review
2012 Holden Barina Spark Review
2012 Holden Barina Spark Review
by Daniel DeGasperi

The headlines say Australians are deserting large cars like the Commodore, but they’ve also forgotten ultra-cheap hatchbacks like the Holden Barina Spark.

Despite a $12,490 entry sticker a full $3500 less than the Barina proper, the larger Holden hatch outsells its Barina Spark sibling by 10 to one.

Before it’s claimed that a lack of automatic transmission availability has affected popularity, the Barina Spark’s 1168 sales to October 2012 compares poorly with its also-manual-only Daewoo Matiz successor, which recorded 3148 sales in the first 10 months of the year 2000.

Even Daihatsu managed to shift 2038 Sirions to the month after the Sydney Olympics, and both numbers were recorded despite the market being substantially larger twelve years later…

Sales trivia aside, buyer tastes are clearly changing for the better, because until the arrival of the Volkswagen Up, the sub-light class has been evolving at turtoise pace – incremental improvements from a low base of ability.

The Spark – called Barina only to leverage badge cache – is now available with an automatic transmission, for the first time since its launch two years ago.

However, the Holden Barina Spark utilises a four-speed automatic, the same number of ratios eventually provided as an option in the Matiz a decade ago. Holden charges $2000 extra for the auto-shifter, the single-spec $14,490 CD priced $500 less than the Nissan Micra ST auto but $1200 more than the Suzuki Alto GL auto. Neither the (awful) Chery J1 or (brilliant) Up are available with an auto, though.

2012 Holden Barina Spark Review
2012 Holden Barina Spark Review
2012 Holden Barina Spark Review
2012 Holden Barina Spark Review

Curiously, only the facelifted Spark auto gets a GM ‘Gen II’ engine, but it’s no small-block V8, sadly. Instead the lightly-upgraded 1.2-litre four-cylinder, now with variable valve and cam timing, produces 63kW at 6400rpm and 113Nm at 4200rpm, marginally up on the manual’s 59kW/107Nm. The auto also gets fuel-saving electro-mechanical power steering where the manual retains its hydraulic power assistance. Claimed combined consumption still favours the self shifter, 5.2L/100km versus 5.8L.

The most impressive thing about the 3.6-metre long Holden Barina Spark is its body. There’s nothing remarkable about the predictably cute styling, nor the cabin quality. Plastics are mostly of the cheap and hard variety, but nicely textured surfacing dominates the dash top, and the gloss-silver plastic highlights in the door and dash pockets add colour.

The facelift sees the ‘motorcycle-inspired’ square speedometer and tachometer replaced with more conventional round units. The standard ‘Sportec’ trim – a euphemism for vinyl – is as unappealing and boiling as it is in a Falcon taxi on a summer’s day, while rear window winders keep the Spark in another era. Even a 1998 Sirion had rear fast glass.

A feeling of body strength and decent cabin packaging, however, is competitive. On rough coarse-chip rural roads, the smallest Holden provides decent ride quality and reasonable refinement, relative to its price. It doesn’t feel tinny, and the metal is backed by standard six airbags and stability control. For a car likely to be purchased by younger, less experienced drivers, the strong safety story is particularly appealing.

Unfortunately, the bits that connect driver to the Barina Spark are less impressive. The steering is sadly vague, turn-in requiring slightly increased degrees of lock to segue between emptiness to actual movement of the front wheels. The front-strut/torsion-beam rear suspension is troubled by larger bumps, and the chassis lacks the balance to bother pushing past the limited grip levels provided by the 14-inch Kumho tyres.

The 1.2-litre engine is uninspired and noisy, though it pushes the Spark along with competitive foot-flat performance – that is when the four-cog auto isn’t desperately shuffling between gears. It isn’t only the lack of gear ratios that is problematic, but the auto’s lack of intuition means each time the throttle is eased, it immediately slurs into taller gears, before hunting back up the chain, to the detriment of economy. Selecting the ‘intermediate’ or ‘low’ detente is a must, but there’s little incentive to cane the engine when it offers little reward.

Much of this won’t matter to buyers wanting a cheap, competent sub-light hatch to point towards the shops or university using only light throttle. As the sales figures show, however, less Australians want a car that performs only basic duties well. Buyers are demanding increasing levels of sophistication in a hatchback and are clearly willing to pay for it.

Meanwhile Volkswagen has produced a sub-light hatchback with real depth, one that is impressive in all aspects. If an auto is absolutely required, the Micra is also a superior car.

With the exception of body strength and safety equipment, the Holden Barina Spark is stuck in another era, specifically in the period when the segment actually sold well. Having actually been badged as a Daewoo overseas when it launched, and with Epica defunct, Barina and Malibu developed by GM, and Cruze built here, it is the Holden brand’s final connection to the ill-fated Korean brand.

In many ways, yet with the exception of sharing healthy sales figures, it shows.

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2012 Holden Barina Spark Review
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  • Amlohac

    In short. Dan says … Dont buy one. Ever.

    • Schah7

       & it’s another latest UGLY AS from GM.!

    • Zaccy16

      exactly, awful car, another awful holden, 2 and a half stars says it all

    • Rod

      I bought this car about 1.5 years ago.. I’m pretty happy with it. I drive between Newcastle and Sydney every few weeks. It’s pretty zippy, it’s only slow when you fill it full of people. It performs better than an older 1.5lt car. I did have 1 issue, the air conditioner stopped working but Holden fixed it quickly. I can’t understand why it’s rated so poorly?

  • Captain Nemo®™

    They might be manual rear windows but at least they wind down. Unlike the awful pop out things in the VeeDud throw -Up!.  What decade are they stuck in i wonder? 60s or 70s. 

    • Golfmother

      UP will outsell this pile of junk , so pop outs are no problem if you rarely have back seaters , nostalgia mate like the 60’s , mini , 2002  , VW , we have air con , they didn’t .

      This is possibly the worst car on the road , sales back that up , man GM is scraping the bottom of the barrel , long live DAEWOO .

      • Captain Nemo®™

         Yet VeeDud make the most gutless A/C on the market. That’s if it’s working properly so pop out windows are a concern.

        • Golfmother

          GOOSER able seaman nemo , VW air is just as good as BMW , honda, and subaru , we know delco thought theirs was the best in the 60’s but the rest of the world went past them , never had an issue with any air con in the last 20 years ,all nice and cool , i lie just remember my 735i blew its comp at 130,000km .

          • Captain Nemo®™

             Keep dreaming Bungle VeeDud A/C is like Nana with asthma breathing on you.

          • Golfmother

            AS nemo has only ever driven bogan holdens he has no idea about other air cons , any one with intelligence who lives in this fair country always tests before buying.

            Today it was 39c ,and i cruised the hills in comfort as i have in subaru and honda’s .

            The stand up troll doll below has no idea how to string a sentance together or how and when to use capitals , obviously not  BMW owner , IQ is  85 .

          • Homer

            Keep your hand on it Nemo. In the last 5 years my wife and I have owned 2 BMW’s, one Benz and 3 VW’s. We live in Queensland and all the above cars had excellent air con with ample cold air at low fan speeds.

          • Captain Nemo®™

             Wow Homer i never realised that pink turd you drive on TV is a VeeDud.  Is it a Jetta or Pus-satt?

          • Standuptroll

            vw as good as bmw
            ha ha ha ha hah 

            there’s our motherf#####r laugh for the day.
            when you realise you you’ve failed as an auto reviewer you could have a  successful career in stand up comedy
            shame they’ll be laughing at you not with you
            But I wish you success – keep the jokes coming 

          • SickofHoldenbashers.com

            HaHaHa, you and a 735i, HAHAHAHA, Dream on or prove it….If in Victoria name a place to display it and I will look from a distance so that both can be sure of themselves or if elsewhere I will arrange for one of my interstate colleques throughout Australia can verify that either you do own a 735i or are just deluded or dreaming or just a little boy. People can claim anything as their car on this forum. You are pobably a 12 year old dreaming about his dream car. Oh By the way I have a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.. I may just well have one or I maybe doing your thing. And VW are well known not just in Australia to have AC not up to standard. They are not used to our heatwaves just like many cars but for the price VW command they should have better AC than cheap Asian cars.

          • Golfmother

            I did own a 735i along with honda’s and subaru , past tense .

            Obviously being a holdenphile driving a craptiva you have no experience of other brands air con , so you cannot comment on VW air , more OZ bomb drivers with an axe to grind as holden sales crash .

          • Gibbut

            sick of non bogans?

          • Zaccy16

            exactly golfmother, my polo has the best air con out of any car ive owned, it worked fantastically on the 38 degree day we had recently in geelong

          • Pro346

            See how it goes with 5 people in the car towing a trailer uphill in 40 degree heat…not that it would ever get up it.

          • Henry Toussaint

             You really love your VeeDubs…

      • Zaccy16

        exactly golfmother, this car is a laughing stock, only complete imbeciles would buy one over a up or even a micra eg captain nemo

        • Dave W

          Just so you know, Renault Clio RS shares platform with Nissan Micra and Tiida.

          • Zaccy16

            i did no that dave, thats why the micra drives well but the tiida was a horrible car 

  • matt

    matiz was $9,990 D/a back then… there is your increased sales

    • Gibbut

      heard of inflation?

  • Dennis

    Everything is built to a price.

    Holden isn’t asking 18-19k for this thing are they??? No

    But your better off spending 17-18k on a Barina.

    And no the Up! isn’t a better option. Your better off in a Korean than a Slovakian Built VW

    VW up! Options List
    FeaturesSunroof – Panoramic Electric Glass$1,400Comfort Drive Package$600Maps + More Portable Infotainment Device$500Comfort Style Package$2,500Paint – Metallic/ Pearl$500 

  • Andyw

    yuk barf

  • Andyw

    962kg and 59kw is a whopping 61kw/tonne, must be a thrill to drive, a 1975 Gemini did better than that

    • Gibbut

      please dont use the wonderful gemini and this thing in the same sentence!!

  • moonie

    Nothing to do with Daewoo at all.

    The body was designed in USA and it uses an update of the drivetrain from the Geo Metro/Cruze (sold here as the Holden Cruze 4WD).

    The supposedly “superior” VW Up puts out just 50 kW from  its noisy 3 cylinder engine.  Just because its German (in name) doesn’t make it superior….

    • Daniel DeGasperi

      moonie, the engine is an update of the E-Tec II engine used by Daewoo in the Matiz and Lanos/Kalos, which was disused by GM. Also, the point is this vehicle was the last GM Korea car designed to be a Daewoo and that wore Daewoo badges. Those who say a Barina or Cruze is simply a Daewoo are wrong, but the Spark essentially is. Cheers, Dan.

    • horsie

        The 1st AWD holden Cruze was made in Japan by Suzuki and used a suzuki 1.5 engine. 

      • moonie

        You shouldn’t rely on Wikipedia.

        The last Matiz (not sold in Australia) used a version of the modular engine co-developed with Porsche before the GM takeover (the Tosca/Epica uses the six cylinder variant).  The first Matiz used a Suzuki Alto /Maruti engine licensed from Suzuki.

        The Spark uses an updated version of the Geo Metro Cruze engine, which was the last of a string of engines developed by GM which originated in a total re-engineering of the Suzuki Alto engine for the first Geo Metro (Holden Barina) / Suzuki Swift co-developed with Suzuki in the mid-1980s.  RHD models were made by Suzuki in Japan.

        No Daewoo at all.

  • Scotty

    Agree with moonie above. No Daewoo at all. apart from the factory where daewoo were built is now transformed into a GM factory and has been for many years. but no daewoo parts at all. rebadged as Chevy in sates. Holden in aust. same car same materials.

Holden Barina Spark Specs

Car Details
Body Type
New Price
Private Sale
$6,270 - $7,130
Dealer Retail
$7,400 - $8,800
Dealer Trade
$4,700 - $5,700
Engine Specifications
Engine Type
Engine Size
Max. Torque
107Nm @  4800rpm
Max. Power
59kW @  6400rpm
Pwr:Wgt Ratio
Bore & Stroke
Compression Ratio
Valve Gear
Drivetrain Specifications
Drive Type
Final Drive Ratio
Fuel Specifications
Fuel Type
Fuel Tank Capacity
Fuel Consumption (Combined)
5.6L / 100km
Weight & Measurement
Kerb Weight
Gross Vehicle Weight
Not Provided
Ground Clearance
Towing Capacity
Brake:0  Unbrake:0
Steering & Suspension
Steering Type
Turning Circle
Front Rim Size
Rear Rim Size
Front Tyres
155/70 R14
Rear Tyres
155/70 R14
Wheel Base
Front Track
Rear Track
Front Brakes
Rear Brakes
Front Suspension
MacPherson strut, Coil Spring, Hydraulic double acting shock absorber
Rear Suspension
Torsion bar, Hydraulic double acting shock absorber
Standard Features
Air Conditioning
Control & Handling
14 Inch Alloy Wheels, Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Electronic Stability Program, Traction Control System
Power Steering, Trip Computer
Radio Compact Disc Player
Fog Lights - Front, Power Mirrors, Rear Spoiler
Cloth Trim, Power Windows Front
Dual Airbag Package, Anti-lock Braking, Head Airbags, Seatbelts - Pre-tensioners Front Seats, Side Front Air Bags
Central Locking Remote Control, Engine Immobiliser
Optional Features
Metallic Paint
Service Interval
12 months /  15,000 kms
36 months /  100,000 kms
VIN Plate Location
RH Side Under Rear Seat
Country of Origin