Holden's light car offers good kit at a good price
- 2010 Holden Barina Spark CD; 1.2 litre, four cylinder, petrol; five speed manual; five door hatchback: $12,490*
Holden's Barina Spark is aimed at young women. That's what the advertising suggests, anyway. When the TV commercial states that this car is "short skirtable", you know that Holden's marketing department is not targeting thirty-year-old tradies.
The design, for a start, is a dead give-away. Funky with sharp crease-lines and overstyled arches, cute with its gigantic headlights and tiny wheels; this car is about as masculine as a pink mini-skirt. Thing is, it's not a bad looking car. Certainly, the girls look at it while it drives past. Perhaps the bright green helps here.
The other giveaway is the colour range. Moroccan Blue, Cocktail Green and Luscious Kiss Pink certainly are tailored for the female gender. The car we had on test was Cocktail Green, and in base CD trim, it does look okay. Thing is, based on looks alone, Holden's prospective customers (read: those who this car is aimed at) would probably buy it.
Inside, it's a similar story. The comfortable seats have a modern swirled pattern, and there's plenty of room up front. The rear legroom is a little tight, in keeping with this segment, but there's more room than expected, and certainly getting in and out is easy enough. Despite having a centre seatbelt, the Holden Barina Spark could really be classified as a four seater - good luck trying to fit three across. The rear seats get window winders (how quaint) however the fronts receive powered glass.
The boot is quite small, however three cartons can be stacked side by side, or it will take an armful of shopping bags, depending on your priorities.
The instruments consist of a large speedo and a small rectangular LCD display which includes the rev counter, clock, distance-to-empty and outside temperature. While in promotional photos it doesn't look too bad, in real life with its circular warning-light surround and single colour LCD, it looks rather dated; a regular instrument binnacle would have looked so much nicer. For someone who likes their music, the stereo is a big disappointment, though it is iPod compatible.
There are lots of storage spaces, including recesses in the dashboard which will fit phones, keys, and other essentials. Plenty of cupholders, too. So it's mostly practical. But is it any good out on the road? Yes and no.
Yes, because it exhibits faithful, direct steering. It gives you plenty of feedback, something missing from a lot of light cars. It turns in rather well, and is very easy to park. The suspension also deserves a tick, giving a good compromise between reasonable handling and an excellent ride.
No, because the drivetrain is uninspiring. It's a 1.2-litre, four cylinder that makes 59kW and 107Nm. If that doesn't sound like a lot, that's because it's not. Going up hills, the Spark struggles. You'll find yourself changing down a gear or two to keep your momentum up.
The engine also flattens out around 3500rpm and doesn't give much again until around 5000rpm, meaning you're either changing early and often or thrashing it to go anywhere. Thankfully it's not too coarse in the upper reaches of the rev range.
By comparison, the Barina Spark’s closest competitor, the Suzuki Alto, makes less from its 1.0 litre, three-cylinder engine. With 50kW and 90Nm, you’d think that the Alto’s lower kerb weight would help, but in fact the Spark has a better power-to-weight ratio, and has more torque, making ferrying passengers a bit easier.
The gearbox is notchy, and the clutch has a very narrow takeup, so changing gears takes a bit to get used to. It also wouldn't go into reverse on a few occasions, until either the car rolled back a little, or you let out the clutch a fraction. There's no automatic, which will hurt sales, so here's hoping Holden pushes GM in South Korea (where the Spark is manufactured) to bring one soon.
It is economical, though. It only uses 5.6-litres/100km, and with its tiny 35 litre tank, you can expect a range of just over 600km. That means, on average, a fill in a week or two which will only cost you around $45, which will help with the weekly budget.
The Barina Spark is also safe, which for a young girl, is an important consideration. Six airbags are standard, as is Electronic Stability Control (ESC), even on this base model. Even when tested in the wet, the Barina Spark still showed it has miles of grip, and unless the clutch was dumped from a standstill, the stability control doesn't cut in. ANCAP testing is rated at four stars, though this doesn’t tell the whole story.
In the Spark’s side impact testing, it scored 16 out of 16, as well as top marks for a pole test – only a small margin prevented the Spark from receiving a full five stars.
But at $12,490 the Barina Spark is actually pretty good value, especially in view of its safety features and its fuel economy. But with Nissan's Micra being such a capable package (and now looking much more palatable) and Suzuki's Alto offering similar features, it's going to be a bit of a battle for the Barina Spark, especially when its competitors offer an automatic.
For some, a lack of auto will be the deal-breaker. But if you're a young woman and you don't mind a manual, then definitely give the Holden Barina Spark careful consideration.
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*Pricing is a guide as recommended to us by the manufacturer and does not include dealer delivery, on-road or statutory charges.