Australia’s Micro Car market has been a hive of activity lately.
Two brand new models have arrived, the Holden Spark and Kia Picanto, while the Mitsubishi Mirage has been updated. Add to this list the 15-month old Suzuki Celerio, and you have a mean little quartet of bargain-basement offerings.
Each of these baby cars bring something unique to the table. The Spark has class-leading infotainment, the Picanto has some vaguely Euro charm, the Mirage offers sheer value, and the Celerio has some real practicality.
Which super-small and super-cheap car offers the most joy for the least coin? And given the buyer spectrum for these vehicle tends to be either very young or elderly, which balances the contrasting needs best?
But there’s another question we want to ask here too — principally, should you bother with a Micro Car at all? Nissan and Volkswagen clearly don’t think so, as their respective Micra and Up models have been given the axe. Ditto the short-lived Fiat Panda.
The sobering reality is that the market’s smallest and cheapest new vehicles aren’t selling remotely as well as they used to. Sales of these Micro Cars in Australia have more than halved since 2014.
That’s why you also see a wildcard here, called the Hyundai Accent, a vehicle that is significantly larger and more practical than the others, also comes with an optional sedan body along with the Mirage, and which at current campaign pricing looks an absolute steal. Does going down this route actually make more sense?
Note: We’ve tested all five with their automatic gearboxes as that’s what most people in Australia buy, though all bar the Picanto also come with a cheaper manual option.
The cheapest car here at recommended retail is the Suzuki Celerio auto at $13,990. Next is the Mitsubishi Mirage ES auto at $14,250, followed by the Kia Picanto auto at $14,990, the Holden Spark LS auto at $15,690 and the Hyundai Accent Active auto at $16,990.
However, as usual, the RRP does not include State-specific taxes and other assorted dealer charges, so it’s not quite what you actually pay. Car brands can choose to absorb some of these costs, or pass them all onto the consumer. Here it gets interesting.
We got simple quotes from each car brand’s public website. We didn’t go to the extreme of haggling direct with a dealer, because that’s too variable. But these are good baseline figures.
On this basis the Suzuki Celerio is $14,490 drive-away, the Kia Picanto is $14,990, the Mitsubishi Mirage costs $15,990, the Hyundai Accent is $15,990 and the Holden Spark comes in at $16,690. It’s the Hyundai with the biggest discount over RRP — about $4000.
We wouldn’t normally place much emphasis on exterior design in a comparison test, because it’s just so subjective. Who are we to tell you what’s attractive and what isn’t?
But we dare say that in the micro car class, a sense of fun in the design is important, at least to the younger buyers each brand covets. It’s a segment where the heart is perhaps as important as the head. With this in mind, credit is surely due to the designers behind the Spark and Picanto.
The Spark for its edgy body design with creases and angles, and its hidden door handles (the Spark project was overseen by GM’s brand new global design boss, Australian Mike Simcoe, by the way), and the Kia for its ‘friendly’ nose, classy side profile and edgy rear. Both also have daytime-running lights.
Side by side, the poor little Mirage’s design looks a little subdued, even in the optional lairy orange paint and with the standard chrome inserts up front, though the recent update does much to improve the design. And the Celerio? It’s a little bit like a tiny bread van with windows. A utilitarian box with charm.
Understandably, considering its larger proportions, the Accent is the most mature design here, with more than passing similarity to the Ford Fiesta.
Two important external aspects: all come with 14-inch steel wheels with hubcaps. Each car also costs more if you want jazzy premium metallic paint — $475 for the Suzuki, $495 for the Accent and $550 for the Spark and Mirage. Black on the Kia costs $520 while the other hues are free, including our test yellow.
On the topic of dimensions, the Spark/Picanto/Celerio are all about 3.6 metres long, 1.6m wide and roughly 1.5m tall on 2.4m wheelbases. The Mirage is about 20cm longer again though a similar height, while the Accent measures a little over 4.1m long and 1.7m wide.
Clearly the bigger car. This is reflected in how much each of the cars weigh. The little Suzuki is the most exiguous car here at 860kg by kerb weight, almost 300kg lighter than the Hyundai, which is the heaviest car here. The Mirage-Kia-Holden are positions 2-3-4.
Front of cabin
There are some common themes in terms of standard equipment. All get Bluetooth audio and phone connections, and USB points. All also offer air-conditioning, (front) electric windows, trip computers, cup-holders, a 12V outlet, sun visor mirrors and remote central locking.
The major thing missing from each is cruise control, available in some ranges on higher grades, but not at all on the one-spec Picanto and Celerio. That said, if you’re pottering around the city 99 per cent of the time, who cares. A common theme is also steering columns with tilt-adjust only.
Each of these cars also gets six airbags including side-curtain bags in the rear, and all bar the Suzuki get the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. The Celerio scored four stars against 2014 ratings, though it only just missed out on five with a score of 32.5 out of 37.
The most impressive cockpit belongs to the most expensive and (unsurprisingly) newest-design car here — the Holden Spark. The 7.0-inch touchscreen with MyLink operating system is better than what you find on many cars well north of $20k, and the integrations with smartphone mirroring services Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are unique. It means you get integrated maps through your phone projected to the screen, a Spotify app and voice recognition systems that actually work.
Not only is this a big deal to millennials, but it’s also a good reason to eschew a larger used car bereft of such technology.
Beyond this, the layout is quite modern, and the glossy black and silver inserts inject some welcome contrast to the otherwise drab and cheap-feeling cabin surfaces. There are also plenty of open and closed storage cubbies to be found, and the air-conditioning dials feel of good quality. Ditto the steering wheel with audio and phone controls. The sound quality from the six-speaker audio setup was also one of the better in this test.
You can also option up to a Driver Assist Pack that adds niceties such as cruise control, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera — features that are already offered on the higher-grade Spark LT. The options pack costs $750. But by that point, the Spark's price is really getting up there...
As you might expect from the tall, boxy design of this A-segment vehicle, the headroom in the Spark is excellent, and outward visibility through front pillars (more so than the rear) is great. The six-way adjustable driver’s seat is also comfortable.
Next among the dedicated micro cars is the Picanto, sold in a single specification. Next to the Spark, it’s all rather basic in appearance, which should surprise nobody considering this car, though new to Australia, has been on sale in Europe for five years now.
The simple audio screen with low-res red lighting looks very old hat, and the actual interface for functions such as Bluetooth pairing and phone functionality are a little like yesterday’s news, though the re-pairing is rapid. The four-speaker sound system is also a weak point.
But despite the austere appearance, the actual fit-and-finish is really excellent. The Picanto feels nothing less than solid and bulletproof, and the knurled buttons and well-made switchgear could belong to a car that costs more than $15k drive-away. There’s also lots of storage areas, headlined by a large open cubby below the fascia with neat flip out cupholders.
Furthermore, the interesting two-spoke steering wheel (with buttons) and silver plastics add a hint of colour and life, too, while the line art on the tough-cloth seats also looks interesting. Ditto the LED footwell lights.
As with the Spark, the Picanto’s tall body gives excellent room up front, and outward visibility is equal-best here with the Celerio. The Kia also has a party trick with its standard rear parking sensors, as if it wasn’t simple enough to park already…
The Hyundai Accent cabin has one major bonus — space. It’s a lot of metal for the money. That said, the more car-like (than vaguely van-like) silhouette compared to the smaller rivals actually makes it a little harder to see out of, and the bonnet isn’t as snub and hidden from the driver’s vantage point.
As you can see in the pictures, the Accent is the one other car here (beyond the Spark) with a touchscreen — a five-inch unit that offers an excellent user interface across various menus. There’s also Siri Eyes Free voice control, a decent six-speaker sound system and some welcome silver accents (pardon the pun) offset by classy dimpled, well-constructed plastic panels.
The layout is basic but easy to navigate, the instruments are clear and the trip computer good. There’s also more cabin storage (good door pockets and glovebox, though like the others there’s no hinged centre console) and big, well-bolstered seats. The feeling of solidity throughout is matched only by the Kia, its fellow Korean.
The fourth member of our quintet is the Mirage. Open the doors via the unfortunately cheap-feeling handles and you’re greeted by a serviceable cabin with some nice contrasting plastics, a basic but easy to operate layout with notably poor audio quality, and good storage/seats.
The fact we drove the Mitsubishi after time in the much more modern Spark and sturdier Picanto probably coloured our judgement, but there’s really not too much beyond passable in here. Storage is fine, we liked the open bit running above the glovebox, the seats are fine and the ergonomics about right. Ditto the urethane steering wheel, which at least looks expensive.
Notably, the design lends itself to inferior outward visibility to the Spark, Picanto and Celerio,
The Suzuki Celerio has a front cabin best described as honest and serviceable. The layout, like the exterior, is devoid of any real pizazz, though as an ergonomic exercise in austerity it’s fine. It’s red-lit screen might be even lower-fi than the Kia’s, though it’s all simple enough to work out. The four-speaker audio has decent bass, but the speakers themselves aren’t quite up to it.
There’s a degree of storage space scattered about, but the door pockets are tiny, and the door plastics themselves — along with those on the dash — feel pretty cheap. Said doors also feel exceedingly light and not entirely pleasant to hand.
One big benefit of the Celerio’s van-like design is the tremendously airy feel given to the cabin. Large windows and slim pillars will do that. People will be attracted to this simply because it’s so breezy to drive, while the hip-point height was a particular target in development.
For the front of cabin verdict, the modern Spark wins, followed the solid Kia and roomy Hyundai (tough to call), with the Mirage and Celerio behind.
Rear of cabin
While the Spark, Picanto and Accent had the most to offer in the front of cabin department, in the rear seats it was a different story.
Most importantly, each get ISOFIX points, adjustable headrests, all-round lap-sash seatbelts and curtain airbags, though none of these specialise at carrying four or five people — you do sit very close to the back of the car in all bar the Accent, and it’s impossible to pretend you don’t feel a little intimidated next to a truck or bus, or even a big 4WD.
Obviously, the Hyundai is biggest in the rear, given it’s easily the largest car on test. There’s plenty of space for two adults or three kids, good door pockets and grab handles and simple-to-clean plastic seat backs.
Pictured above (top to bottom): Accent, Celerio, Mirage, Picanto and Spark
The Hyundai also offers the best boot, at 370L. Of the proper micro cars, the Celerio wins at 254L, ahead of the Mirage (235L), Picanto (200L) and Spark (a miserly 185L). The Hyundai also gets a unique full-size spare wheel, not a space-saver with limited top speed. In all five cars, the rear seats fold forward to accommodate bigger items.
I’m 194cm (6ft 4), so it’s safe to say none of these cars was really designed for someone like me in the back. But the Picanto, Mirage and especially the Celerio were all acceptable for quick trips in terms of space and comfort. By comparison, the Spark is poorly packaged in terms of space, and is the only car here with winding rear windows.
Pictured above (top to bottom): Celerio, Picanto, Mirage and Spark
The Suzuki gets bonus points for its huge rear-side windows that are the easiest to see out of. The Celerio is also a little more honest in its aspirations, as it’s technically a four-seater unlike the others. Not a big fan of its flat seat bases, though.
It’s unlikely that rear seat space will be a big priority, but bundle this in with cargo space, and the order (first to last) goes: Hyundai, Suzuki, Kia, Mitsubishi (just because its back window is a little smaller) and then the Holden in last. The only part of this comparison where the Spark lags...
Tiny cars, tiny engines.
The most powerful engine here belongs to the Accent, with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder petrol making 74kW of power 6000rpm and 133Nm of torque at 3500rpm. But as mentioned earlier, it's between 100kg and 300kg heavier than the other cars here, so the engine has more work to do.
Next is the Spark, with its 1.4 four-cylinder engine making 73kW at 6200rpm and 128Nm at 4400rpm. This is well ahead of the Picanto (a 1.2 four-cylinder engine with 63kW at 6000rpm and 120Nm at 4000rpm), Mirage (1.2-litre three-cylinder with 57W at 6000rpm and 100Nm at 4000rpm) and Celerio (1.0-litre three-cylinder with just 50kW at 6000rpm and 90Nm at 3500rpm).
We tested each of these cars with automatic transmissions, though all bar the Picanto can be had with a five-speed manual manual (or six-speed in the Hyundai). Four of the cars get CVTs, while the Picanto gets a four-speed conventional automatic with a torque converter. All are front-wheel drive.
All run on cheap 91 octane fuel. The lowest factory claim on the combined cycle is the Mirage at 4.6 litres per 100km, ahead of the Celerio (4.8L/100km), Picanto (5.3L/100km), Spark (5.5L/100km) and Accent (6.2L/100km). All will blow out in stop-start use, with loads or under heavy driving. Our best result on the test loop was the Celerio at 6.0L/100km.
It may not be the most efficient (indeed, at times our use went out into the 9s under heavy driving), but the Holden's little 1.4 is a great unit, it pulls harder than any here and does so with an almost rorty note. Letting the team down is the CVT auto, which elicits a little hesitancy off the mark and some gruffness right before the speedo hits zero.
The Picanto's little 1.2 engine (1.25 according to Kia, given its 1248cc displacement) proved quite gutsy during urban use, thanks to its rev-happy nature, the car's light weight and the decisive nature of its four-speed auto. Get up to highway speeds, though, and the lack of that fifth ratio only highlights what is an evident lack of torque well into the mid-range. Refinement goes out the window.
The Accent's engine has the most grunt on paper, but not the best power-to-weight, and while it pulls the car around fine, the Hyundai gets a little gruff under loads and clambering up hills. It lacks the Spark's pep, though cruises along nicely.
The three-cylinder units in the Mirage and Celerio are clearly the tiniest here, but these are also the two lightest cars. Both engines have the signature three-pot imbalance and characterful little 'thrum' under part throttle.
To its credit , the Celerio's CVT has stepped ratios that take away that typical clutch-slip-aping drone, and while there's a serious torque hole down low (it's as happy on steep hills as a cat in a bath tub), the Suzuki is quite charming, fun and willing to buzz around town, working its way into gaps and darting up side streets.
The Mirage has a little more pulling power (in other words, torque), but less charisma, and objectively speaking, inferior roll-on acceleration and NVH dampening. Still, it's a perfectly serviceable engine.
All told, the Spark is our favourite drivetrain (though the fuel use is far from best here), followed by the Picanto, Accent, Celerio and Mirage.
Ride, steering and handling
Surveys will tell you that young buyers in this class care about infotainment and design, while the older end of the spectrum value hip point height, reliability and fuel use. But you're never too inexperienced or over-the-hill to enjoy a car that's fun to drive. And that's once again where the little Holden impressed.
The Australian Spark, though made in Korea (like the Hyundai and Kia), benefits from lots of Australian tuning, done largely at Holden's proving ground in regional Victoria. Like the other cars on test, it gets a beam-axle rear with independent-front suspension, and has electric-assisted power steering.
But where it excels is dynamism. The Spark feels darty on turn-in thanks to its quick yet light steering, with good body control and handling, coupled with outstanding stability on the highway. It also has a nice, loping ride quality - ideal for patchy roads - and effective (slightly over-sensitive) brakes. In most ways, it feels bit sporty, and worth the requested premium.
The Picanto's steering is not quite quite tuned for sharpness on centre like the Holden, but is super-light for car-park twirls, and coupled with excellent turn-in that makes it feel a little zippy. Colleague Curt also rated to ride's compression and rebound highly, and it's one of only two cars here wth all-round disc brakes rather than rear drums (alongside the Hyundai).
The Accent offered the nicest ride over smaller corrugations that you find in the average side roads throughout the city, but overall lacks the pep and character of the Spark and Picanto. Its bigger dimensions make it feel a little more stable and planted, and its steering is nice and light for urban duties.
The Celerio has charm by the bucketload, with the nimble change of direction afforded by a car weighing only 860kg. The ride was generally genial enough, and the steering featherweight for parking (coupled with the great outboard visibility we mentioned earlier). Its ride is a little firmer than the Mirage though, and it's brittle and noisy over cobbles and bumps.
Both Matt and Curt thought the Mirage's ride was relatively compliant, though a lack of NVH dampening makes it loud over bumps and lumps. What let it down was the sloppy body control in corners (it leans through them, rather than ducking into them) and lacks mid-corner grip.
Perhaps the most important figure for these urban-focused cars are the turning circles, meaning how much road you use turning 360 degrees. The Mirage wins at just 9.2m, ahead of the Suzuki (9.4m), Kia and Holden (both 9.6m) and Hyundai (10.4m, a reflection of its longer wheelbase). All turn on a dime, though. Pardon that old-timey metaphor.
One thing we'd be keen to point out is that all of these cars are reassuringly composed at 100km/h-plus on highways, at least more so than many might think. The lack of cruise control is all that would stop you driving any of them to a regional centre, not that you'd particularly relish doing the journey in any.
If it's strictly city use you're after, with ease of parking, outward visibility and fun at the heart of things, the Spark and Picanto win, ahead of the Accent, Celerio and Mirage, in somewhat changeable orders. The Accent and Spark are the best for highways, though. But the real take away is that each are entirely liveable. It's just that some are even a bit fun.
Just as important as the purchase price is the cost of ownership.
The Spark and Celerio come with three-year/100,000km warranties, followed by the Mirage (five years/100,000km), Accent (five years/unlimited kilometre) and Picanto (an industry-best seven year/unlimited kilometre term). All are transferrable.
Four of the cars also come with complimentary 24/7 roadside assist (check specific details with the dealer). The Holden and Mitsubishi get 12 months (you can pay for extra), the Kia seven years and the Hyundai 10 years — the latter two term extensions being contingent on you getting your car serviced at an official dealer only. You have to sort your own with the Suzuki, with a service such as the RACV.
All come with capped-price servicing, meaning each company advertises the maximum you’ll pay to get an official dealer to check your car, so no funny business. The Suzuki has servicing intervals of six months and 10,000 km (whichever comes first), while the other four have longer intervals of 12 months or 15,000km. That’s how often you need to get your car checked.
At current rates (liable to change with inflation and exchange rates, but publicly advertised as such) the first four years of servicing if you stay under the km limits will cost $890 in the Mirage (12-month/15,000km intervals), $916 in the Holden (15,000km intervals), $1056 in the Hyundai (12-month/15,000km intervals), $1299 for the Picanto (12-month/15,000km intervals) and $1772 for the Suzuki, on account of its shorter six-month intervals.
However, in tricky fashion, different brands omit different things from their capped-price schedules, so be sure to check with your dealer what is and isn’t covered by this. For instance, Kia claims to be at least as sharp as the others with its inclusive plan.
This was an interesting test to conduct. The question of whether micro cars are really a viable option in Australia had to be asked, and it's pretty clear that there's a place for the road's smallest and most nimble offerings.
Among this properly pint-sized fleet, the Mirage and Celerio feel a step behind the Picanto and Spark. We'd have a Celerio over the Mirage on account of its inherent charm, its relatively spacious rear, and its more engaging manner on the road.
The Accent, as the test's wildcard, is an interesting car to place. If you want maximum space for minimum outlay, it's easily the one to buy. It's the best value car here, the most grown-up and the one with the most crossover appeal. Its more immediate rivals like the Mazda 2 are superior in some ways, but not in the metal-for-money equation.
Full disclosure, it's what this tester would buy.
But what if you don't want something Accent-sized? Believe it or not, for some a 3.6m car is bang on the money. The Picanto is better value than the Spark, and comes with superior aftersales care. It also has better cargo space and rear seats, and feels totally bulletproof. The Picanto was Curt's pick of the bunch, for what it's worth.
The big problem with the Holden is the fact that at $16,690 drive-away, it's up there on price with bigger cars. Luckily, its trick infotainment system, punchy little engine and excellent locally-calibrated ride and handling make it worth a premium, though we think it's marginally too expensive nevertheless.
To get to the point, the Picanto at $14,990 drive-away is a fantastic buy, but if you can justify the extra spend, the Holden is better than the Kia by a hair breadth. Hope this helps!
Holden Spark LS
Hyundai Accent Active
Mitsubishi Mirage ES
Current drive-away price
Five-year /unlimited km
Seven-year /unlimited km
Basic service costs over first four years
73kW at 6200rpm
128Nm at 4400rpm
74kW at 6000rpm
133Nm at 3500rpm
63kW at 6000rpm
120Nm at 4000rpm
57kW at 6000rpm
100Nm at 4000rpm
50kW at 6000rpm
90Nm at 3500rpm
5.5L/100km 91 RON
6.2L/100km 91 RON
5.3L/100km 91 RON
4.6L/100km 91 RON
4.8L/100km 91 RON
Metallic/premium paint cost
$520(only black, others free)
Click the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos. Videography by Brett Sullivan.