Steve Lawson Reviews the Holden Barina Spark CDX. The Holden Barina Spark CDX has a 59kW naturally-aspirated 1.2 litre motor and 5 speed manual transmission.
Let me say straight up – I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this one. When you have a Ford Boss 335 in the driveway and a Barina Spark, I thought Rob would take pity on me, but oh no, I coped the Spark (funny that) as our Gen ‘Y’ driver is an auto only girl. Can the Spark punch above its weight in the same ring as the competition, from Suzuki Alto, Proton S16 and the VW Polo?
I was open-minded if not a little embarrassed to be running around in a girls car, yes Holden make it quite clear as to the market they are after, this car is to be marketed to the young females of Australia.
So I set about looking for fatures in this car that the others don’t have, to try and find some reason to recommend it over the competition.
And slowly but surely the Spark won me over.
Behind the wheel
Holden has attempted to inject some youthful style into the cabin of the Spark and it has worked up to a point. The main focus for the driver is the square instrument cluster, which is apparently based on a motorcycle instrument pod. It includes a large analogue speedo and a digital rev counter (which doesn’t always seem 100 per cent accurate) along with a trip computer on top models that includes average speed.
The centre console is neat too with an easy to use stereo along with controls, which glow a pleasing blue at night while top CDX models come with a coloured interior trim, which can be chosen to match the exterior colour. However, cheaper models don’t feel as good inside with a dominance of drab plastic replacing the brighter colours. Some of the plastic feels a little cheap too and the finish in certain areas is below par.
One petrol engine is available across the range, which is the Spark’s biggest shortcoming. With just 59kW and 107Nm, the little naturally aspirated 1.2 litre has trouble moving the Spark up hills in anything above third gear, and acceleration is never swift. So, it’s not very quick on paper or on the road, as the engine needs to be revved as max torque comes in at a relatively high 4800rpm but it feels fast enough in everyday town driving and is nippy away from the lights. It’s happy to be revved without sounding course, plus it can return an average of 5.6 l/100km. CO2 emissions of 128 g/km mean it’s green too. Both models come with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard (there’s no automatic available), which is fairly positive, but not particularly slick when shifting especially from fourth to fifth gear.
With easy steering and a light clutch, the Spark is ideal for urban driving, helped by good forward visibility and a tight turning circle. It’s not quite as easy to park, as you’d imagine though, the thick rear pillars make parallel spaces quite tricky to gauge. But the engine has more than enough poke to make nipping around town easy and enjoyable, helped by responsive steering. There’s not too much body roll either and on more open roads the Spark is fairly composed, due to the front MacPherson struts and rear torsion beam axles, although it’s not as fun to drive as some other small cars. However, it’s impressive at higher speeds and feels stable and reassuring on the motorway, albeit somewhat noisy.
Thanks to five seats and five doors, the Spark has enough room to carry four adults in relative comfort, although as with all cars of this size, if you have a tall driver and front passenger, space in the back is severely restricted. But there’s good headroom in the rear, even for those over six-foot tall. The ride quality is impressive for a small car and is only caught out by deep potholes, while noise levels are acceptable, although the engine can be intrusive at high revs. All models, come with air conditioning, and the CDX also has power windows, front and rear.
Despite being only slightly longer than 3.5 metres, the Spark has impressive room for passengers as well as a reasonable boot. With the seats up there’s 170 litres of space and 580 litres with the rear seats folded. The tailgate opening is wide but there’s a pronounced load lip. Worse is the finish inside – look closely and there are exposed cables that you’d expect would be covered safely away. On the plus side the rear seats split and fold down flat (with the seat bases flipping up) to allow you to carry larger loads while in the front there is a useful cubby located underneath the ventilation controls plus a double cup holder next to the gear lever.
The entry-level Spark is the CD, which is cheap but doesn’t get much in the way of creature comforts aside from a CD stereo. However, like all models it does have six airbags and air conditioning, electric front windows, central locking and a USB compatible stereo, while the most popular CDX adds remote central locking, a sunglasses holder, body-coloured door handles and mirrors, a chrome-effect grille surround, front fog lights and a rear spoiler. The CDX comes with alloy wheels, electric rear windows, a trip computer, electrically adjustable door mirrors, and steering wheel stereo controls.
Let’s look in more detail:
Spark CD – 14-inch alloy wheels, sports body kit, front fog lamps, rear spoiler, Body coloured, heated, power adjustable exterior mirrors, Dual front, side and curtain airbags, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, breakaway pedals, Electronic Stability Control, Air conditioning, Power steering and steering mounted audio controls, Front power windows, Four-way adjustable driver and front passenger seats, Four-speaker AM/FM audio system, with CD player, iPod/iPhone® AUX input and a USB input for MP3 players, Trip computer – includes distance to empty, outside temperature, Headlamps on warning buzzer, Remote keyless entry operates doors and rear tailgate; remote central locking, Security immobiliser
Spark CDX – (All the above plus), 15-inch alloy wheels, Larger rear body coloured spoiler, Front and rear power windows, Sportec perforated seat trim, Sportec wrap multifunction steering wheel and under seat storage tray
The Spark was awarded four stars out of five in official Euro NCAP crash tests, which is a decent score; although some other small cars have achieved the maximum rating. However, all models come with six airbags as standard along with seatbelt pretensioners and a pedal retraction system, which pulls the pedals away from occupants in the event of a frontal collision, reducing the risk of lower leg injuries.
Also: Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Traction Control System (TCS), Brake Assist, Driver and front passenger seatbelt reminder, Three-point seatbelts in all five seating positions, Child seat latching system at rear seating positions
The funky-looking Barina Spark is the replacement for the discontinued Barina three-door in Holden’s line-up. It’s a huge step forward in terms of comfort and quality. Like the car it replaces, it’s a five-door that’s designed to carry four adults and is ideal for city and town driving with light steering. But there are few other similarities with the old Barina. For starters, the Spark is very distinctive and bold, while inside it has a neatly styled cabin, which although not especially sophisticated, is a big improvement in terms of comfort and refinement. It has responsive steering and feels happy at motorway speeds too, while the engine in the range is economical. There’s even good space for passengers in the back. But what really sells the Spark is its value for money ($14,490 drive away for the CD) and low running costs, making it an ideal town runabout.
What is good and not so good?
What is good?
· Good value for money,
· Comfortable and easy to drive
· Ample rear passenger space
· Cheap to run
What’s not so good?
· Some cheap feeling interior plastics
· Entry-level model is sparsely equipped
· Needs more power
· Manual-only drivetrain