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Car reviews - Holden - Barina Spark - 5-dr hatch range

The Car

17 Dec 2010

HOLDEN’S $12,490 starting price (excluding on-road costs) for the new MJ Barina Spark CD, and $13,990 for the CDX version, means that its next-generation full-sized Barina big brother will be positioned in the upper echelon of the mainstream light-car segment, against the Toyota Yaris, Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz, Suzuki Swift, Nissan Micra and Hyundai i20.

Like this year's Spark and Micra, and next year's Swift, Micra and Yaris, which is expected to arrive here around the same time - shortly after the middle of 2011 - the 'TL' Barina will be all-new.

Based on the MkII Chevrolet Aveo that made its production debut at last month’s Paris motor show, it is expected to begin from about $15,000.

It will be a five-door only proposition and, unlike the manual-only MJ Barina Spark, will offer an automatic transmission option – with (a rarity in the light-car class) a six-speed gearbox.

The Spark will not receive an auto variant until the end of next year at the very earliest.

Holden says the next Barina’s bigger sizing, significantly improved specification levels, more sophisticated chassis (it finally ditches the ancient T platform in favour of GM’s new Gamma II that will also underpin the 2012 Opel Corsa), and vastly better safety levels over the existing Daewoo Kalos-based T250 TK Barina justifies a higher starting price, adding that it will more than match the competition.

But the company is quick to point out that, even for a ‘value’ priced light-car proposition at the bottom end of the new car market, the $12,490 Spark brings a hitherto unknown amount of standard features and style for its pricetag.

These include electronic stability control (ESC) , anti-lock brakes (ABS), six airbags, ‘breakaway’ pedals, a bodykit, power steering, front fog ights, alloy wheels, air-conditioning, front power windows, front powered windows, remote central locking, electric mirrors, four-speaker AM/FM/CD//MP3/USB/AUX input audio with steering wheel-mounted controls, a trip computer, exterior temperature gauge, bottle holders and a 60/40-spilt folding rear seat.

“This is more than what the new Nissan Micra at $12,990 offers and has four instead of three cylinders,” a Holden spokesman said.

For $1500 extra the Spark CDX adds niceties like rear power windows, bigger (15-inch) alloys, a more prominent chin spoiler and extra storage areas, but strangely ditches the CD’s cloth-like seats for perforated vinyl trim it calls Sportec.

Furthermore, while Holden acknowledges that the Spark is a sub-B segment light car in the vein of babies like the Suzuki Alto, Proton S16 and the Hyundai i10 under consideration for Australia, its dimensions put it in the same ballpark as the existing TK Barina.

For the record, the Spark’s length, width, height and wheelbase measurements are (with the now-discontinued three-door version of the TK Barina in brackets) 3595mm (3880mm), 1597mm (1670mm), 1522mm (1495mm) and 2375mm (2480mm) respectively.

But it isn’t only shoulder and boot space (just 170 litres, or 580 with seats folded flat) that fall in the newcomer compared to its outgoing predecessor.

So do power and torque figures – as well as fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

The 1.2-litre Spark is powered by a 1206cc twin-cam, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine delivering 59kW of power at 6400rpm and 107Nm of torque at 4800rpm on standard 91 RON unleaded petrol (TK: 76kW/145Nm). It consumers 5.6 litres per 100 kilometres and emits 128g/km of CO2 (TK: 7.0L/100km, 167g/km) – scoring a five-star rating in the government’s Green Vehicle Guide.

Despite the performance deficit, Holden says the Spark’s overwhelmingly female demographic will not mind as long as it feels lively “… and doesn’t require the air-con to be turned off going up a hill”.

Speaking of the target market, more than 90 per cent will be women, Holden believes, with the 18-30 group making up the vast majority, followed by 40-plus women and empty-nesters who need a runabout.

The company refuses to divulge sales expectations – but one insider admitted to GoAuto that nobody really knows how Australians are going to take to the Spark, as the sub-B market has not really had a big hit yet in this country.

Holden dismisses the lack of an automatic gearbox option as a barrier, saying that 70 per cent of the existing base Barina sales are made up of manual transmission.

“If people want an automatic they can step up to the (TK) Barina five-door,” a spokesman said.

No crash test result has yet been published, but Holden believes the Spark will be globally competitive for its sizing.

Under the skin is a new platform that is distantly related to the T-platform underneath the TK Barina – and not related to the next Barina’s Gamma II as we reported earlier in the month.

Convention rules – the front suspension is by MacPherson struts and coils, while a torsion beam is located out back. Steering is via a hydraulically powered rack-and-pinion set-up, while brakes are discs at the nose and a pair of drums in the tail.

The Spark we see is actually an MY11 update of the Chevrolet Spark that was released earlier this year, featuring improved throttle control and engine management software for smoother and more responsive performance.

A Holden engineer said that the Australian team were involved closely throughout the gestation of the MJ at GM-DAT in South Korea, and helped devise the steering and suspension tuning that is also employed in European-market versions.

GM makes much of the Spark’s design genesis, since it is based on the winning Beat concept out of a trio of finalists as displayed at the 2007 New York International Auto Show.

Vibrant colours, limited personalisation accessories, the standard-issue bodykit, alloys and fog lights, motorcycle-inspired instrumentation pod, multimedia audio interface and hidden rear door handles combined with a rear-sloping roof line to make the Spark look a little more ‘coupe’ like all point to the younger audience General Motors – and Holden – are hoping to snare with its baby runabout.

The Spark was the product of a 27-month development and underwent testing in South Korea, the United Kingdom, Sweden, China, Sweden, the United States and Australia.

From 2012 all Spark production will shift from Bupyong in South Korea to Port Elizabeth in South Africa.

The M300-series Spark is the direct replacement for the M200 Daewoo Matiz and is sold as the Daewoo Matiz Creative in Korea.

Did you know?

For the record, the Spark’s length, width, height and wheelbase measurements are (with the now-discontinued three-door version of the TK Barina in brackets) 3595mm (3880mm), 1597mm (1670mm), 1522mm (1495mm) and 2375mm (2480mm) respectively.

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