DESPITE feeling like an Australia Post employee for much of the last five months, hammering about town at delivery-boy speeds in my hubcap-free Spark LS, it’s
been something of a revelation learning to live with one of the cheapest cars on sale in Australia.
And that’s because it doesn’t feel cheap.
There’s a grown-up maturity to the Spark that defies its diminutive size, though admittedly it’s no Volkswagen Up. From the expansive feel seated behind its perfectly sized plastic steering wheel to its surprisingly comfortable seats and well-sorted ergonomics, the Spark has been welcomed into our family like a fluffy new puppy.
I even like the way it looks, and get defensive if anyone starts to take the mickey, as any doting parent should. But it’s time to move on, and I’m looking forward to re-discovering the joys of something with torque.
Off the back of the burbling, boisterous twin-turbo AMG V8 that preceded the Spark, probably the hardest thing to live with has been the all-aluminium 1.4’s absence of bottom-end. And its lack of sporting noise. Even when driving the C63 S at walking pace, its wonderfully antisocial exhaust rumble was enough to take the stress out of almost any traffic snarl.
The Spark’s encouraging personality and wieldy size has seen my patience disappear faster than my dignity after a skin-full, forcing a conscious effort to not drive the Spark flat out everywhere. This is reflected in its improved fuel consumption and a newfound respect for its tractability (on flat roads, at least).
The Spark will pull in any gear from around 1200rpm, which is deeply admirable for a microcar. And yet it’s equally as effortless covering ground at 130km/h (where permitting), the tacho settling neatly in its 3500rpm-plus power band.
While this new-gen Spark leaves its repellent Barina Spark predecessor for dead in absolutely everything it does, it isn’t quite a straight-A student. GM’s Korean cabin plastics continue to be scratch-prone, and after 50,000km of abuse, I reckon the Spark’s door trims, ignition-key surround and boot edges would look pretty shabby.
My hatred of inadequate lever backrest adjustment was compounded by the compromised position I had to accept in the Spark (though at least it has a proper seat-height crank mechanism), and the base LS’s eco-biased Continental tyres weren’t much chop in the wet. They also lacked the outright grip to properly flatter the Spark’s fine chassis and pointy steering.
I don’t understand the anti-democratic decision by Holden to offer 16-inch alloy wheels as an option only on the $19K LT auto, when a manual LS in a funky colour (like the French racing-esque Splash Blue) with grey 16s could look really cool. And the overly shiny wheelcovers clipped to the LS’s steel 14s are among the most unfortunate pieces of tat I’ve ever seen.
The Spark really does deserve better.
Perhaps a deliberate decision was made to keep the larger (and likely more profitable) Barina relevant, seeing the Spark offers superior seat comfort, an engine that doesn’t grumble like an industrial fan, better open-road performance, a more attractive dashboard, and a more sophisticated feel than its ageing sibling.
Unfortunately, the ultimate Spark spec doesn’t really exist – LS model (so you get hard-wearing, well-stitched cloth seats, not the LT’s putrid vinyl), a leather steering-wheel rim (sadly, LT only) and Continental Premium Contact tyres (again, sadly, exclusive to LT) – but there’s a chance that planets may align in the future, finally realising the Spark’s true potential as a pint-sized ball of unexpected goodness.
Originally published in the April 2017 issue of Wheels Magazine.
Read part four of our Holden Spark long-term review here!