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Drive Life : December 3rd 2010
1HERSA1 F012 DriveLIFE road test The local maker's smallest model is cute and comfortable but not big on fun or refinement, writes Jez Spinks. HOLDEN BARINA SPARK J You could say the Barina Spark was a car chosen by the people for the people. It's the production version of the 2007 Chevrolet Beat show car that was chosen from three General Motors city car concepts by the majority of 1.9 million voters in an online poll. The model that is the replacement for the Daewoo Matiz sits on GM's all-new small-car platform but is still built in South Korea. Holden is aiming the Spark at female buyers and positioning it as a light car, though technically -- because of its diminutive 3.6-metre length -- it is what is known in Europe as a microcar. While the model is called the Spark in its other 150-odd markets around the world, Holden has added the Barina nameplate to give the car more recognition among local buyers. WHAT DO YOU GET? Drive-away pricing is all- important in the city car market and the Spark isn't as affordable as its eye-catching $12,490 price tag suggests. The base (CD) model we tested jumps to $14,490 once on-road costs and dealer charges are added. There are a couple of surprises in the line-up of standard gear, however. Both the CD and $13,990 CDX come with a sports body kit that improves the Spark's exterior design by visually lowering its ride height and adding 14-inch alloy wheels and foglights. The inclusion of iPod/iPhone/ MP3/USB connectivity is right on the money for the Spark's target market, while other features are front electric windows, steering- wheel-mounted audio controls, keyless entry and trip computer. Bluetooth is a $400 option. Six airbags and stability control are safety ticks, but are matched by both the new Nissan Micra and Suzuki Alto. Opting for the CDX brings 15-inch alloy wheels, larger rear spoiler, under-seat storage tray, rear power windows and sportier seat and steering-wheel trim. WHAT'S INSIDE? The Spark feels and looks as if it has been built to its price. Every plastic is hard to the touch and some of the switches -- such as the airconditioning dials -- feel cheap. The steering wheel adjusts for height not reach and the doors lack comfortable armrests. The cabin looks less drab than the rival Alto's, though, with some silver plastic highlights helping to brighten the interior. The CDX model goes a step further with better-quality upholstery, red trim highlights and red (pictured above) or silver seat inserts. The audio stack is presented smartly enough, too. A decent-sized glovebox, moulded bottleholders, cupholders and various trays provide storage options for front occupants, though there's nothing much for rear passengers. The Spark's 3.6-metre length means there is sufficient legroom only for people of average adult height. Headroom and footspace are more generous. The small boot -- covered by a flimsy cargo floor -- will take plenty of shopping bags or a couple of compact weekender holdalls, and the seatbacks will fold if more cargo space is needed. Baby seat harness points are in the boot, though, meaning luggage space will be cruelled if Spark owners have toddlers. UNDER THE BONNET General Motors says the Spark's instrument cluster is inspired by a motorcycle dash, which is appropriate because you have to rev the bejesus out of it to get any semblance of meaningful acceleration. There's little joy in revving the engine, either. As the bars of the digital rev counter head north, refinement goes south as the engine becomes noisy and coarse. The 1.2-litre four-cylinder can sustain sufficient speed in traffic without being excessively noisy but the Spark is no zippy city car despite weighing only 967 kilograms. It's less of a chore once on the move. The clutch pedal is well weighted and the tall gear lever is reasonably precise. Expect to use it a lot. ON THE ROAD The Spark feels quite at home in the urban sprawl. It rides surprisingly well despite its basic underpinnings, soaking up potholes, drain covers and other common city street surface blemishes. The hydraulic steering is linear, well weighted and free of the artificial feel that is the curse of many electric rack set-ups. There's unpleasant kickback through the steering, though, when the Spark encounters mid- corner bumps. And, dynamically, there's little to get excited about. The front wheels will easily push wide in corners if you get enthusiastic with the throttle pedal. The Spark leans noticeably on its outside wheels and there's little desire for quick direction changes. On the freeway the Spark feels stable enough, even if its light weight means there's inevitable buffeting in crosswinds. You'll have to contend with plenty of engine, tyre and wind noise, too. The lack of a left footrest and the short cushions of the front seats also place a question mark against long-distance comfort. VERDICT Holden's smallest vehicle is big on charm with its funky exterior styling, thoughtfully designed dash and good urban manners. The Spark's appeal will be severely dented, however, until an automatic gearbox becomes available in about 12 months. The engine is lacking in refinement and responsiveness. For the same money, we'd be tempted by a used Mazda2 or Ford Fiesta, which are far better all- rounders and more fun to drive. 12 Friday, December 3, 2010 The Sydney Morning Herald NISSAN MICRA ST Price From $12,990 Engine 1.2-litre 3-cyl, 56kW/100Nm, 5-sp manual, FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 5.9L/100km and 138g/km Pros Optional auto; Bluetooth. Cons Engine struggles on slightest gradient; notchy gearshift; fuel economy not remarkable; hard plastics. Our score Not yet rated PROTON SAVVY Price From $12,990 Engine 1.1-litre 4-cyl, 55kW/105Nm, 5-sp manual, FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 5.7L/100km and 134g/km Pros Reasonably well equipped; good visibility; respectable handling. Cons Sluggish performance; heavy gearshift; road noise; premium unleaded. Our score Not yet rated SUZUKI ALTO GL Price From $11,790 Engine 1.0-litre 3-cyl, 50kW/90Nm, 5-sp manual or 4-sp auto, FWD Fuel use/CO2 emissions 4.7L/100km and 110g/km Pros Price; engine has character; optional auto; drives well; fuel economy. Cons Engine lacks torque; tight back seat; premium unleaded; dreary cabin. Our score II THE COMPETITORS THE DETAILS Price from $12,490 (plus on-road costs) Origin South Korea Engine 1.2-litre 4-cyl Power 59kW at 6400rpm Torque 107Nm at 4800rpm Transmission 5-sp manual Weight 967kg-981kg Consumption and emissions 5.6L/100km and 128g/km Safety Front, side and curtain airbags; stability control. Pros Good steering; comfortable ride; funky exterior design with alloy wheels; good visibility; reasonable rear legroom. Cons Noisy and gutless engine; no auto; average dynamics; steering kickback; hard plastics dominate cabin; no rear-seat storage; modest boot. THE REAL WORLD Paint For $390, buyers can choose to decorate their Spark with stripes or graphic patterns called ''splash'' and ''tribal''. Auto A self-shifting transmission won't be available until late 2011, Holden says. Shopping Poorly placed child-seat anchors mean that restraint straps run across rear load area.
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