There are two things a first car must be good at: it has to be fun to drive and it has to have a stereo that can handle being absolutely cranked. Happily, if you're looking for your first set of wheels, the 2016 Holden Spark confidently ticks both boxes.
Whether you remember yours from your past or you’re on the hunt for your very own, your first car is exciting. It represents freedom, mobility and independence. Most importantly, though, it represents fun. At least, it should.
Opt for our Splash Blue (a $550 metallic paint option) LS test car’s CVT automatic instead of the base car’s five-speed manual and pricing goes up to $15,690 before on-road costs or $16,690 drive-away.
For context, that makes the near-on 3.6-metre-long, five-door micro Holden dearer than the equivalent Kia Picanto ($14,990 drive-away), Mitsubishi Mirage ($15,990 drive-away), and Suzuki Celerio ($14,490 drive-away) – all compared back-to-back in full here. That said, even the flagship LT manages to undercut the $19,500 automatic-equipped entry point into the recently updated Fiat 500 range.
The LS does miss out on the range-topping LT’s push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, ‘Sportec’ seat upholstery, front fog lights, and 15-inch alloy wheels, but you can option in the LT’s standard cruise control, rear parking sensors and rear-view camera as a combined $750 ‘driver assistance pack’.
What is standard on the LT, though, is remote central locking, daytime running lights, cloth trim, air conditioning, front power windows, a six-speaker stereo, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Holden’s MyLink infotainment system, Bluetooth phone and audio functionality, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Hill-start assist, a rear spoiler, and 14-inch steel wheels are also included, along with six airbags, two ISOFIX-compatible rear seats and a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
Further, Holden says for those keen to customise, the all-new Spark offers up to 33 different accessory options, including variously-coloured grille surrounds, mirror caps, rear spoilers, and wheel inserts.
Okay, so the base Spark might not have the rear power windows (reserved for the LT) of its nearest rivals, or the adjustable seat belts found in the Kia Picanto and Mitsubishi Mirage, but it’s still a solid reminder of just how much gear you get in a modern micro car.
It wasn’t that long ago that features such as power steering, power windows (any), power mirrors, a trip computer, steering wheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming technology or any ‘infotainment’ beyond a CD player – not to mention the Spark’s impressive safety standards – were the domain of larger and more expensive vehicles. This, then, highlights just how far the segment has come.
Climb in, possibly have two cracks at closing the Spark’s somewhat ‘sticky’ or ‘stiff’ doors, and you’re met by basic but comfortable front seats, a variety of hard black plastics, brushed silver plastics, some gloss black touches and a smattering of chrome details.
Storage up front is good with reasonably-sized door pockets, three cup holders, a compact glove box, a passenger-side in-dash cutout and a couple of handy extra spots for keys, mints, gum and other ‘stuff’. Closed-off door pulls also provide another bonus place for loose change and the like.
Head room is ample and, although the new Spark is near-identical to the old Barina Spark in terms of exterior dimensions – it’s the same 3595mm long and a mere 2mm narrower – two adults are easily accommodated.
The Spark’s mix of analogue and digital dash instruments are clean and clear and neatly presented, with red needles and white numbers being a nice touch.
Touch points such as the plastic-moulded steering wheel and solid gear selector clicker/button help make the cabin one of the best in the segment, along with vanity mirrors for both driver and front passenger. However, the power window and mirror switches don’t light up at night. The lock and unlock switches and all steering wheel-mounted buttons do though, which is one up on even the FG-X Ford Falcon range.
Thanks to the Spark’s big boxy windows - and despite slightly chunky B- and C-pillars and a lack of A- or C-pillar cut-outs - vision out is excellent, making the micro lion even easier to park.
With only wind-up rear windows, no door pockets, map pockets, rear grab handles (just two coat hooks), or cup holders, and a basic and flat rear bench that offers little to no under-thigh support, the backseats fall short of those ahead.
Toe and leg room is commendable and head room is acceptable, however, access to the second row is a touch impeded by a B-pillar that extends into the rear passenger foot well and encroaches on the rear door aperture.
Lift the Spark’s light and easily handled tailgate, and you’re presented with a small-for-the-class and Fiat 500-equalling 185-litre boot.
Down compared with the likes of the Celerio (254L), Mirage (235L), and Picanto (200L), it is up 15 litres on the old Barina Spark. Plus, once expanded with the 60:40 split-fold rear seats down, Holden claims an increase to 985L (up an impressive 417L on the Barina Spark). Although this figure comfortably outdoes that of the Spark’s key competitors, the spec sheet anomaly – one Holden puts down to "better packaging" – was far from validated during our recent real-world back-to-back testing.
What is guaranteed is that there’s a space-saver spare under the Spark’s boot floor and a light back there as well, which is great. But along with no luggage hooks, there’s also nothing attaching the parcel tray to the tailgate, which means you have to manually lift it up and, equally, remember to put it back down.
On the road, though, the Spark’s few niggles largely go out the wound-down rear window.
Going from city to urban to highway to country, the Holden Spark is a properly good little thing.
Super fun and boasting a genuinely excellent ride, the 1014kg (tare) Spark is light and agile, and just as impressive running around town as being willingly hassled through entertaining corners.
It copes brilliantly well with poor quality roads, speed humps, ruts and the like, yet also has high enough levels of body control, compliance and composure to make it a hoot through twisty roads.
Helped by grippy 165mm-wide, 65-aspect Continental ContiEcoContact 5 tyres, consistently light but engaging electrically-assisted power steering, and locally-tuned suspension, the Holden Spark is a happy, fun car that feels properly put together.
The brakes are a less-inspiring oddity though. Tied to a soft, spongey pedal, they lack feel and require deeper application than they should, to have much effect. Another issue is the Spark’s naff plastic front ‘under spoiler’ that scrapes when negotiating some speed bumps or going in and out of driveways. Very silly for a city car.
The automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) isn’t perfect, either.
Accompanied by an easily notable whine, the unit can be a little slow to respond and react to throttle inputs, making for laggy take-offs. It can also be a touch ‘clunky’ and jerky when swapping between ‘drive’ and ‘reverse’ - when parking, for example.
Up 150cc from the Barina Spark’s 63kW/113Nm 1.2-litre four-cylinder, the new Spark’s naturally aspirated 1.4-litre four-cylinder outputs 73kW of power at 6200rpm and 128Nm of torque at 4400rpm.
With good mid-range pickup from around 3000-3500rpm, the peppy little engine rarely needs revs beyond 4000rpm for the majority of ‘normal’ backstreet bashing, and there’s enough poke to maintain a 100km/h freeway cruise at a smidge over 2000rpm. Claiming to use 5.5 litres of unleaded petrol every 100km – a five per cent improvement on the Barina Spark’s 5.8L/100km claim – we averaged 6.3L/100km over our time with the car.
As part of our recent micro car comparison testing regime, 23-year-old CarAdvice ad operations coordinator Eva, spent a weekend with the Spark. And, basically - as she shares below - she fell in love with it.
Eva: I found the car super zippy. It has good power and doesn’t struggle to get up hills or anything. I also found it to be super fuel efficient.
The sound system is great and Apple CarPlay was amazing and super easy to use.
I really did fall in love with the colour and the entire car is just really nicely designed. For me, too, the room inside was sufficient. But, while it’s easy to park, some rear parking sensors would’ve been nice to have.
I hated the plastic back-door handles – I think they’re odd and look cheap – and the doors themselves were a tad ‘sticky’ and annoying to open and close.
I would’ve liked the LT’s engine start/stop button instead of the LS’s old-school key start, and I didn’t like the rotary dial light switch near the driver’s right knee – what’s wrong with being on the indicator stalk?
Without having a rope or anything attaching the parcel tray to the tailgate, the parcel tray kept getting in the way when I was trying to put things in the boot - and if I did manage to get it to stay up, I’d forget to put it back down and then would only realise once I got back in and couldn’t see out the back window.
The 2016 Holden Spark not only marks a positive step for Holden’s smallest model, it marks a significant step forward for the entire micro car category.
If you don’t mind stirring your own cogs, our advice would be to go with the $13,990 LS manual and lash out the $750 on the driver assistance pack, then you’re talking around $15,740 on road. And for that money, that’s a lot of car – particularly when you factor in the Spark’s three-year/100,000km warranty, 12-months roadside assist and lifetime capped-price servicing (with annual scheduled services every 15,000km ranging from $229 to $289 for the first seven years).
But, regardless of transmission choice, the all-new Holden Spark is a gooden. If you’re after your first car though, all you need to know is this: the stereo cranks and the thing is properly fun to drive…
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Holden Spark LS images by Christian Barbeitos.