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Driven: Holden Spark strikes a pose

Micro management: Holden has cut the Spark after just two years on sale in its current guise.

Spark ignites more Holden development projects for global markets


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10 Mar 2016

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 five years.

“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 segments.

“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 going on.” 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 proving ground.

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 supplier.

“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 approach.

“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 control.

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.

2016 Holden Spark pricing*
LS $13,990
LS (a) $15,690
LT (a) $18,990
*Excludes on-road costs

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