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Holden Barina Spark CD

 

For a micro-car the Spark is well-built and well-equipped. Having a proper transmission (rather than the more efficient CVT favoured by many makers) is no bad thing either.

Base price: $18,490

Powertrain and performance: 1.2-litre petrol four, 63kW/113Nm, 4-speed automatic, front-drive, Combined economy 5.8 litres per 100km.

Vital statistics: 3595mm long, 1522mm high, 2375mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 170/568 litres, fuel tank 35 litres.

We like: Well equipped, easy to drive, practical.

We don’t like: Nervous throttle at low speeds, firm ride.

How it rates: 7/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW?

The Barina Spark city car was missing something fairly crucial when it was launched in 2010: an automatic gearbox option, which ruled it out for 99 percent of potential purchasers. Quite what the thought process was there we’ll never know, but it doesn’t matter now.

Spark is back in facelifted form, with the choice of a two-pedal transmission. The engine has gained a few kilowatts and the car features a different grille, redesigned lights and a new style of alloy wheel.  Inside, Spark has gained Bluetooth and steering wheel-mounted controls for the phone and audio.

Before we continue: the Barina Spark city car is not to be confused with the much larger Barina supermini.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?

What you’d expect of a car with a 63kW, a four-speed automatic gearbox and 14-inch wheels. But quite competent all the same and the steering (now electrically assisted) is surprisingly sharp.

However, it seems Holden/GM Korea has done a couple of things to try and make the Barina feel a bit sporty. Perhaps conscious of the fact that the automatic version might feel lethargic in comparison to the manual, the first few degrees of throttle response has been made quite abrupt. All that’s required is a little tickle on the pedal and the car sprints out of the blocks. It grates after a while and you end up simply planting your foot to the floor to avoid it.

The other issue is ride, which can be quite fussy on urban roads. It’s got a lot to do with the Spark’s short wheelbase, but my feeling is that the suspension is also firmer than it needs to be for a car of this type.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH?

Couldn’t be easier, if you do is drive around town. Because the cabin is so high you simply step into the car rather than bending over, visibility is excellent and the odd styling proportions mean a lot of interior space given the exterior size.

The instruments are a bit gimmicky to be honest: the main cluster is mounted atop the steering column and is said to be inspired by the world of motorcycling, but it’s fussy and flimsy and really the novelty has worn off. Might amuse the first-timers and students who buy cars like this overseas, but in New Zealand the market is more towards bowling club than beach. Some of the graphics are quite hard to read and I had to resort to the handbook to work out which combination of teeny-tiny buttons you had to push to reset the tripmeter.

Still, Spark is very well-equipped, especially now that it has Bluetooth. You can also plug a USB stick or iPod into the stereo system and choose your music through the head unit. There’s a blast from the past in the back, with wind-up windows. Nothing wrong with that though; my children were certainly fascinated with the technology.

As is often the case with cars of this ilk, the minuscule Spark is incredibly useful for carrying bulky things. The rear seats fold completely flat and although there’s only 580 litres of load-space, it’s configured in such a tall, boxy way that you’ll be staggered by what you can fit in there.

SHOULD I BUY ONE?

On an ‘it is what it is’ basis, no reason why not. For a micro-car the Spark is well-built and well-equipped. Having a proper transmission (rather than the more efficient CVT favoured by many makers) is no bad thing either.

Super-short, incredibly tall cars on tiny wheels: funny, aren’t they? Vehicles of this type are designed for congested inner-city driving where traffic is gridlocked and parking is almost impossible: In Europe, for example, Spark is a common sight wearing a Chevrolet badge. City cars are designed to be cheap appliances for limited application; nothing wrong with that.

But we’re not quite at that point in New Zealand’s urban centres, so cars like Spark are compromised if you want to use them for a wider range of motoring needs. It’s $6500 to step up to the Barina CD supermini, which is a much more grown-up – and much less compromised – machine.

Granted, that’s a lot at this price level, but a Barina is a whole lot more car. Buy a year-old one, perhaps?

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

Air conditioning: Manual

Audio: Single CD, iPod integration

Automatic lights/wipers: No/no

Bluetooth: Yes

Cruise control: No

Parking radar: No

Remote audio controls: Yes

Satellite navigation: No

Seat height adjustment: Squab tilts

Split/folding rear seats: 60/40

Steering reach adjustment: No


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