GM HOLDEN’S smallest model may have diminutive proportions, but the arrival of
the 2016 Spark baby hatch is showcasing both what the Australian development
team is capable of, and what Holden fans can look forward to.
Since Holden announced it would close its Melbourne- and Adelaide-based
production facilities in 2017, the company has been adamant that its operations
will live on in the form of development projects for both Australian-spec and
global models, a trend landmarked by the Spark.
Speaking at the media launch of the 2016 Spark micro car, Holden vehicle
development manager Jeremy Tassone told GoAuto that, as the first model to
arrive on the new global platform, the Spark carries a torch for the company.
“This is a big program, because for me, this is about showing you the first of
our global product programmes under a new regime,” he said.
“Post-announcement of losing production, this is the first time we are
releasing an all-new car. This is indicative of what we can do. We are involved
early and this is what we can deliver.”
Mr Tassone explained that the local branch of General Motors is already working
on vehicles in numerous segments that will roll out over the next five years.
“This is the first one you’ve seen but we are working on a heap of programs in
the background. We’ve got a team working on cars that you’ll see in the next
“Take this entry in the micro segment, but what can we do in the small segment?
What can we do in the large car segment? What can we do in all the segments?
And as the time comes, you’ll be driving cars from all these different
“That’s why I’m excited. I’m excited because this car is great but it’s the
bigger picture that I’m more excited about.”
Holden has the capacity to develop vehicles for any region of the world and
while Mr Tassone would not elaborate on specific regional demand he did reveal
a majority of work would be for Australian market cars.
“I’m focused on Holden vehicles; cars that will be sold here, but that doesn’t
mean that our work won’t be taken by other regions. Even this vehicle, there
are some other smaller regions that will be taking this chassis tune.
“For future programs we will have more and more of that sort of sharing work
Engineers were closely involved from the start of the Spark project with teams
spending time in South Korea (where the car is built) to select powertrain
combinations, before taking up latter stages of chassis, steering and
continuously variable transmission (CVT) tuning at the company’s Lang Lang
Holden vehicle dynamics engineer and Nurburgring commercial vehicle lap record
holder Rob Trubiani explained the three main engineering tasks carried out by
the local engineering teams.
“Key to Spark’s unmistakable Holden DNA is its Australian-specific suspension
tune, developed after hundreds of hours and thousands of kilometres at Lang
Lang,” said Mr Trubiani.
“We have introduced alternative dampers and tuned them specifically to improve
road holding and increase body control. This gives the driver an improved ride
balance especially over some of the more challenging road surfaces we see
outside the cities.”
Steering was also a key part of the vehicle’s local fine tuning and the work
was completed at the proving ground while working in conjunction with the
“The steering calibration required extensive drive testing and numerous setting
modifications to provide the feel we understand our customers need; zippy and
nimble in the city whilst being engaging to drive on country roads.”
But Mr Trubiani explained that unlike projects where outright sporty
performance was required, such as the Commodore SS-V Redline that Mr Trubiani
piloted on Germany’s Green Hell, vehicles such as the Spark require a different
“We know customers aren’t chasing racing performance but this improved steering
will provide more on-centre feel, crisper response and a linear effort
build-up, which will give control and confidence to all drivers.”
In addition to the steering and suspension, chassis control electronics were
also fettled in local testing, with Bosch engineers working alongside Mr
Trubiani’s team to hone ESC and traction control for Australian conditions
“whilst still being fun to drive on both bitumen and gravel”.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard in entry-level LS variants or an
optional CVT, which also received Australian development resulting in a 16 per
cent increase in power and 20 per cent torque.
The final result is 73kW at 6200 rpm and 128Nm at 4000 rpm, or 124Nm when
paired with the manual self-serve gearbox. All variants share the same
all-alloy 1.4-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine.
Fuel consumption is rated at 5.2 litres per 100km when fitted with the manual
gearbox, or 5.5L/100km for the CVT.
While the Spark received extensive engineering work from Holden’s more
experienced staff, the car also underwent a more unorthodox “captive test
fleet” process, which involved 29 young Holden employees and interns
continuously testing a pair of cars over a three-month period.
Handling and dynamics were developed largely through feedback from the more
conventional engineers, but the younger “target audience team” focused more on
the Spark’s connectivity and convenience features.
That technology consists of a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen and Holden’s MyLink
infotainment system, which is used to access Apple CarPlay or the equivalent
Android Auto system.
Both LS and LT trim specifications have the connectivity equipment as standard,
including Siri Eyes Free and voice-recognition systems.
The LS kicks off with the five-speed gearbox from $13,990 before on-road costs,
with standard 14-inch steel wheels, electric power steering, 60:40 split
folding second-row seats, steering wheel audio system controls and a USB port.
Despite the affordable asking price, safety has not been skimped on, with front
and side airbags for both front occupants as well as curtain bags for all on
board, Isofix child seat anchors for two kids, hill start assistance and ESC
and traction control.
Opting for the two-stage automatic bumps the price to $15,690 with identical
equipment and specification.
Range-topping LT Sparks get the CVT as standard, an inch larger set of wheels
in alloy, keyless entry and start, a leather steering wheel, Sportec synthetic
leather seats, white highlights for the interior, a reversing camera with
parking assistance and cruise control.
From June, customers will be able to add an optional Driver Assistance pack to
LS variants, which adds the reversing camera, parking assistance and cruise
Brakes are 256mm discs at the front end and cost-saving 200mm drums at the
back. The locally tuned suspension is MacPherson strut up front and torsion
beam at the rear.
The Spark’s boot can swallow 185 litres of things with all five seats in place,
or 985 litres when the second row is folded.
On the outside, the new Spark measures 3595 long, 1595mm wide and 1476mm tall.
Holden says the Spark is one of its most customisable vehicles to date with a
range of seven exterior paint colours and a list of optional extras to appeal
to a younger audience.
Wheel diameter can be upgraded to 15- and 16-inches, the “ground effects”
package adds sportier body parts, while sill plates, foglights and skid plates
are all available to complete the look.
As is typical for the Australian car-maker, Holden has not released performance
data, but the new Spark weighs-in between 969kg and 1004kg so a zero to 100km/h
time of between nine and ten seconds is expected.