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The market’s smallest vehicles aren’t selling quite as well as they used to, but you can’t attribute this decline to any lack of quality on the part of car makers.

Two of the best, and newest, entrants are compared here: the Australian-tuned Holden Spark from Korea, and the just-launched Suzuki Ignis from Japan.

Both offer character in spades, a surprisingly fun driving experience for beginners and more mature drivers alike, and a long list of modern features that’ll please those who won’t feel foolish in something so diminutive.

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You may remember the Spark coming first in our five-way micro car comparison test last year, despite receiving criticism for higher pricing than its rivals. But we have a sneaking suspicion the reborn Ignis will give the Holden a run for its money.

Both of these cars are similar in size, each about 30cm shorter than a Mazda 2, Toyota Yaris or Skoda Fabia, which can be had for similar money with less equipment. But if you truly live by the mantra that size isn’t everything, the Holden and Suzuki offer plenty.

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Pricing and specifications

Neither of these offerings can match the price-leading Mitsubishi Mirage or soon-to-be-replaced Kia Picanto in terms of drive-away deals. But while cost is obviously the key for most buyers of vehicles in this class, there’s also a market for those who want all the mod cons and are prepared to fork out for them.

The Holden Spark range kicks off at $13,990 plus on-road costs for the LS manual ($14,990 drive-away at the moment), while the Suzuki Ignis can be yours from $15,990 ($16,990 drive-away) in base GL manual form.

Yet here we’re testing the range-toppers, in order to show both cars from their finest angles. The Spark LT and Ignis GLX both cost $18,990 plus on-road costs. You should aim to drive away in both for about $20k.

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Note that both both cars use the same engines across the specification levels, so the extra money goes on cabin tech and styling updates. Naturally, for that money you’d want a lot of features, and both cars deliver.

Both get a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto app mirroring, six-speaker audio systems with Bluetooth/USB/AUX-in connectivity, Bluetooth phone, air conditioning, push-button start and keyless entry, cruise control, steering wheel shortcut buttons, rear-view camera and reversing sensors, trip computer, alloy wheels and six airbags.

The Spark alone has ‘sensatec’ artificial leather seats (in place of the Suzuki’s fabric), but the Ignis alone has integrated satellite navigation (in the Holden you have to use your phone’s maps though the touchscreen), 16-inch alloys (the Holden has 15s) and LED daytime running lights (the Spark’s DRLs are halogens).

See the full table at the bottom of this comparison for a side-by-side comparison.

Winner: Suzuki Ignis 

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Designs

In this part of the market, a cool design is a massively important selling point. Both of these cars sure look the part in upper-spec forms, with stylish alloy wheels and a raft of various metallic paint options for $500. The Ignis also comes in two-tone for $1000, with the contrasting black roof a particularly stylish choice.

The Spark has curvaceous lines and the de rigueur obscured rear door handles, giving it some welcome upmarket flair. There’s little surprise it’s sold in Europe as an Opel, because it would look right at home in grimy Paris (despite the lack of a Peugeot or Citroen badge).

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But it’s the Ignis that is the real stylistic superstar. Not only is the name a throwback, but so is the design. Its chunky retro looks throw nods to the late-1970s Suzuki Cervo as well as more modern Vitaras. It’s as Japanese as Japanese can be, and its standout headlights and daytime LED running lights make you just want to hug it.

But hey, it’s all subjective. So let’s put a pin in that.

Winner: Suzuki Ignis

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Cabins

You’re not paying or size with these cars, you’re paying for style, so both cabins need flair to back up their features. Thankfully, both do enough to move away from anything that could be considered excessively cheap or nasty and put something like the Fiat 500 in the shade.

The Holden Spark’s fascia is dominated by a well-integrated touchscreen with swift app mirroring, immediately winning over buyers motivated by good infotainment. The design is contemporary but classical, jazzed-up by glossy black trims and contrasting white plastic highlights.

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Most switches are also pleasantly tactile and don’t feel too stingy, though in typical Holden style the steering wheel dials and buttons are a little low-rent, ditto the gear-shifter. There are also a number of good storage solutions for phones and other odds and ends, and the Spark alone gets (decent-grade) faux leather that’s vegan-friendly.

The tall body also gives you good headroom and outward visibility from the front, abetted by the snub bonnet, but the c-pillar (the bit at the rear of the car that connects the side and back windows) is large and hurts visibility when reversing out of places.

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The Suzuki Ignis’ cabin dials up the cool factor again, with its floating tablet screen (including a proper sat nav system as well as phone mirroring, with the trade-off being its slower loading speeds than the Holden), a very distinctive digital climate control system, and old school switchgear brimming with flair.

It also matches the Spark in terms of cabin storage and ergonomic ease-of-use, and while the grade of many of the plastics aren’t particularly great, the build quality is typically good. The fabric seats aren’t as premium as the Holden’s, but they’re as comfortable, and feel hard-wearing.

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Other strong points include the delightful leather wheel, crisp analogue dials, and the colour-contrasting plastic highlights that your dealer can swap whenever you like for another colour, for a few hundred bucks. For instance, you can make the transmission tunnel and door grips orange, red, blue or grey.

Depite being so dimensionally similar (the Suzuki is 10cm longer, and 5cm longer between the wheels), the Ignis offers notably better rear legroom, even accommodating my 194cm frame easily enough, somehow.

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Pictured: Holden (top) and Suzuki (bottom)

It also offers reclining rear seats that slide forwards on rails to boost cargo space. Nifty. The trade-off is that the 50:50 split-folding seats mean it can only handle four occupants, not five.

The Suzuki also offers 80L more cargo space with all four seats in use, and 119L with them folded flat. The Ignis is altogether more practical, and indeed would give a car from a class above, or even certain small crossovers, a run for their money. Both the Suzuki and Holden offer two ISOFIX tethers and full rear side airbag protection.

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Pictured: Holden (top) and Suzuki (bottom)

Disappointingly, neither car has reach-adjustment on the steering column.

Winner: Suzuki Ignis 

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Drivetrains

Both the Holden and Suzuki offer diminutive four-cylinder engines with normal aspiration (non-turbo). They’re both basic and simple units designed to keep pricing low, and are offset by both cars’ modest weights.

Under the bonnet of the Spark is a 1.4-litre unit with 73kW of power at 6200rpm and 124Nm of torque at 4400rpm. It’s matched to a CVT automatic transmission sending torque to the front wheels.

It’s a fairly willing little engine, and the CVT keeps revs at optimal levels without letting too much engine noise or vibrations into the cabin. It’s relatively responsive off the mark (0-60km/h in about five seconds is okay), while at highway speeds it’ll sit comfortably at about 2000rpm in relative quietude.

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By comparison, the Ignis has a 1.2-litre engine with 66kW of power at 6000rpm and 120Nm of torque at 4400rpm. It’s also matched to a CVT automatic transmission sending torque to the front wheels. Suzuki makes up for its lower power output with a lighter weight. At 865kg (kerb), it’s significantly lighter than the 1018kg (tare) Holden.

This means the Suzuki is equally willing off the line (a slow drag race would reveal a draw, or close to one) but the CVT is a little less refined and the engine sends more vibrations into the cabin. In essence, the Holden just feels a little more grown up and mature.

Claimed combined-cycle fuel economy is also superior in the Suzuki at 4.9L/100km compared to 5.5L/100km for the Holden. Our testing returned figures of 7.1L/100km and 8.1L/100km respectively. Both run on cheap 91 RON fuel and have 32L fuel tanks.

Winner: Holden Spark  

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Dynamics

Both cars come with simple suspension set-ups comprising struts up the front and a torsion beam and coils at the rear. Both also use ventilated disc brakes up front and primitive drums at the back, but given their modest weights, this isn’t a big problem.

There are distinct character differences, however. The Holden Spark received significant suspension tuning from its Australian engineers based in regional Victoria, and as such has a distinct loping ride and a stable, refined nature that will surprise you.

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There hasn’t been a light car since the dearly departed Volkswagen Up! that drove in such a mature fashion, while around town the Holden’s feather-light electric steering makes it a breeze to throw around.

In more challenging surrounds, the Spark belies its tall and slim body to turn-in with alacrity, soak up mid-corner hits and offer smile-inducing nimbleness. It’s a cracking thing to spend time in, which isn’t something we’ve said about all imported Holdens lately.

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On the other hand, the Suzuki Ignis has a vital point of difference over all rivals – ground clearance. The Japanese brand calls it a light-sized crossover, and it’s justified. Its 180mm ride height is well above even crossovers such as the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V.

This feature, combined with the tiny overhangs, means you can hammer over kerbs, speed humps or through culverts without a worry, though its 2WD system will run out of traction before too long. The turning circle in the Suzuki is also marginally superior.

The extra clearance also gives you a more commanding, high-mounted driving position than you get in the Spark, giving you the best outward visibility this side of a motorcycle.

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However, the Ignis doesn’t soak up corrugations, isolate the cabin from wind and tyre roar, or absorb rapid-fire ruts such as cobbles as well as the Spark, though it’s still very, very ‘liveable’ and, at the very least least, on par for the class.

The Suzuki’s lightness means it feels extremely nimble but its steering has an unusual (and inconsistent) resistance from centre, and exhibits more rack rattle if you hit a bump mid-corner or are negotiating rough road surfaces.

Both cars feel quite confident and stable on freeways, but the Holden is both quieter and more planted. It’s smaller than the Suzuki, but it feels bigger on the road.

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Dynamically then, the Ignis is about average in all areas aside from its outstanding clearance, whereas the Holden exceeds expectations by some way, and then some. It’s the winner if you value a refined yet nimble driving experience that punches above its weight division.

Winner: Holden Spark  

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Running costs

Holden provides advertised service prices for the Spark. Intervals are 12 months or 15,000km, with the first four trips currently capped at $229, and the fifth at $289. Thus after five years (so long as you’ve accrued fewer than 75,000km on the odometer), your charge at current rates for basic servicing would be $1205. Read Holden’s terms and conditions here.

You also get a service loan car option, a three-year/100,000km warranty with free roadside assist, and one of Australia’s biggest dealer networks for extra surety.

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The Suzuki Ignis has shorter service intervals than the Spark, at six months or 10,000km, whichever comes first. The majority of visits are capped at $175 at present rates, with the fourth at $359, and the eighth and 10th at $399. Thus after five years (so long as you’ve accrued fewer than 100,000km), you’ll have paid $2382, almost double. Read Suzuki’s terms and conditions here.

Like Holden, Suzuki gives you a three-year/100,000km warranty, but you have to sort your own roadside assist through your state’s motoring club, and negotiate a dealer loan car yourself. On the plus side, Suzukis tend to be bulletproof.

Winner: Holden Spark  

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Verdict 

It’s clearly been a ripping contest between these two excellent little urban runabouts. We’ve given the Suzuki the edge in initial value-for-money, cabin design and ‘cool factor’, but the Holden offers a marginally better drivetrain, notably superior driving dynamics and what appear to be lower running costs.

At three-all, a decisive verdict is tough to come by, so it depends on your priorities. For mine, the Ignis is the car to have by the narrowest of margins. The Spark feels more refined and classy, but the Suzuki has an irrepressible sense of fun, more flexible cabin and that class-topping ground clearance to eat up the toughest surfaced roads.

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Yet in both cases, we’d urge you to consider the base derivatives and save a few thousand dollars. Drive both and see, and be certain that neither will let you down or fail to impress. It depends ultimately on your priorities. Remember also that new-generation Kia Picanto, which lies just around the corner.

 

Holden Spark LT Suzuki Ignis GLX
Price $18,990 MSRP $18,990 MSRP
Engine 1.4-litre four-cylinder 1.2-litre four-cylinder
Power 73kW at 6200rpm 66kW at 6000rpm
Torque 124Nm at 4400rpm 120Nm at 4400rpm
Transmission CVT auto CVT auto
Drive Front-wheel Front-wheel
Fuel economy claim (combined) 5.5L/100km 4.9L/100km
Suspension (front/rear) MacPherson strut/torsion beam, coils MacPherson strut/torsion beam, coils
Brakes (front/rear) Ventilated discs/drums Ventilated discs/drums
Length 3595mm 3700mm
Wheelbase 2385mm 2435mm
Height 1476mm 1595mm
Width 1595 sans mirrors 1660mm
Cargo storage 185 litres to 985L 264 litres to 1104L
Weight 1018kg (tare) 865kg (kerb)
Turning circle 10.4m 9.4m
Screen 7.0-inch touch 7.0-inch touch
Apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
Sat-nav Yes
Speakers Six Six
Bluetooth phone and audo Yes Yes
Aux-in and USB Yes Yes
Air conditioning Analogue Digital
Push-button start Yes Yes
Cruise control Yes Yes
Reversing camera Yes Yes
Parking sensors Rear Yes
Steering wheel buttons for phone and audio Yes Yes
Trip computer Yes Yes
Seats Artificial leather with height adjust Fabric with height adjust
Wheels 15-inch alloys with steel temporary spare 16-inch alloys with steel temporary spare
Daytime running lights Yes, halogen Yes, LED
Keyless entry Yes Yes
Airbags Six Six
ISOFIX Yes Yes

Podcast

Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the comparison of the 2017 Suzuki Ignis and Holden Spark below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.

 

Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser 

MORE: 2016 Holden Spark Review
MORE: 2017 Suzuki Ignis review



SUZUKI IGNIS BREAKDOWN

2017 Holden Spark LT v Suzuki Ignis GLX comparison
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HOLDEN SPARK BREAKDOWN

2017 Holden Spark LT v Suzuki Ignis GLX comparison
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