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Car reviews - Holden - Barina Spark - range

Our Opinion

We like
Auto Spark’s performance increase, sufficient open-road performance, cleaner nose and instrument presentation, Bluetooth (on auto), affordable pricing, spacious packaging
Room for improvement
No seat height adjuster, unpleasant interior odour, only four forward speeds in the auto

30 Nov 2012

TWO years ago, Holden introduced an entry-level sub-B segment hatch and elected to forgo an automatic version for a rubbery five-speed manual transmission, in a market where up to 70 per cent of buyers would rather have the car change gears for them.

The full-auto Spark available to Holden back in 2010 included a 50kW/93Nm 1.0L engine with a 15-second-plus 0-100km/h “sprint” time and therefore deemed too gutless.

And some people reckon it was right of Holden to hold off for the 59kW/107Nm 1.2-litre/auto combo being developed for US.

But by the company’s own admission, the overwhelmingly female demographic the baby Barina was targeting couldn’t care less about performance as long as it wasn’t a manual.

Then, and by that we mean right now, when an appropriate Spark auto does come along, Holden decides to launch this important development not in crowded city streets or built-up urban terrain, where the auto’s benefits would be most obvious and appreciated, but on sweeping country roads more suited to a two-seater roadster.

Yes, we can’t tell you how the ‘new’ four-speed auto with its neutral idle control tech works in heavy traffic, nor how the 4kW and 6Nm respective power and torque increases in the almost 50cc bigger 1.2-litre four-pot petrol engine that is denied in the continuing horrid five-speed manual model behaves crawling along behind a smelly city taxi.

But the 1.25-litre auto Spark’s rural-road acceleration, mid-range pick-up and overall refinement weren’t disgraceful or even bad at all really, just as the transmission’s apparent lack of forward ratios didn’t seem so limiting as we barrelled along comfortably at or just slightly over the national speed limit.

Indeed, the new electric power steering system seemed well tuned to the inputs asked of it from the driver, for measured and assured handling and roadholding over the truly spectacular roads around Victoria’s Black Spur region.

Really, then, it was an intriguing and beautiful but ultimately not very revealing short drive that we undertook.

Things that we did notice include a slightly less messy frontal treatment, an appealing instrument pod and spacious interior, though the apparent lack of a driver’s seat-height adjuster won’t bode too well for shorter Spark operators.

And the interior stunk like a cheap plastic sex toy.

And at just $500 more than the (for now) manual-only Volkswagen Up, the newest Barina Spark auto seems to represent excellent value for money.

Mind you, the German sub-B segment baby easily redefines segment boundaries for refinement, dynamics, safety, space efficiency and desirability, so maybe learning to use a manual might not be such a bad idea.

Funnily enough, Holden pretty much alluded to exactly the same thing back in 2010 when we questioned the wisdom of offering no Spark auto in Australia …

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