2017 Holden Spark LS manual quick review

By Tony O’Kane, 20 Jun 2017 Car Reviews

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2017 Holden Spark LS manual quick review

Holden’s baby hatch is at its most enjoyable with a DIY gearbox

The Holden Spark may be the cheapest car from the Red Lion, but in its most affordable manual-equipped form it still has plenty to offer keen drivers – not just bargain hunters attracted to its $13,990 retail price.

TELL ME ABOUT THIS CAR

Launched last year, Holden’s Spark micro-hatch has proved only modestly successful in the cost-driven sub-compact segment. While the Kia Picanto has romped home with a significant sales lead, the Spark trails behind in third place behind the segment-leading Kia and the aging Mitsubishi Mirage.

But don’t take the sales numbers as an indication of quality. The Spark has plenty of joy to give owners, and in entry-level LS manual guise is particularly fun to drive.

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STRENGTHS

Powered by a plucky 73kW 1.4-litre engine, the Spark LS may not be the most powerful hatchback around, but it is a revvy engine that doesn’t mind working hard. There’s a small hole in the power delivery lower in the rev range, but it’s otherwise a fairly perky device.

The CVT gearbox that’s cost-optional in the base-grade Spark LS delivers a dull drive, but opting for the standard-issue five-speed manual transforms the car. With a surprisingly precise shift lever and user-friendly clutch, it’s easy to come to grips with the Spark’s manual transmission. Not only that, it’s actually fun to row through each of its five gears – though we will admit the CVT might be a better choice for dealing with congested urban roads.

Air conditioning, six-speaker stereo, reversing camera, cruise control, height-adjustable driver’s seat and a seven-inch colour touchscreen display are all standard, meaning the basics are well covered in the Spark.

Smartphone mirroring via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto allows drivers to plug in their phone and enjoy added infotainment features through the seven-inch display, like internet music streaming and satellite navigation

A fairly roomy cabin layout means most will be comfortable behind the wheel. Even with a clutch pedal added to its driver’s footwell, the Holden Spark still has plenty of legroom up front. In the back, there’s enough space to easily accommodate a pair of adults on short journeys.

Ride quality is excellent for such a small car. Local suspension tuning means the Spark’s suspension handles Australian roads well, and it feels more stable and secure than others in the segment.

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WEAKNESSES

Power windows only on the front – rear passengers will need to wind their glass manually. Traditionally not a deal-breaker, but with an increasing number of similarly-priced rivals offering power windows all-around, manual winders are starting to stand out for the wrong reasons.

No steering wheel reach adjustment. It’s a rare feature to find in the microcar class, but some drivers may view the lack of steering column adjustability to be an ergonomic bugbear.

Plastic-heavy interiors are the norm for the micro-car segment, but even so Holden could benefit from some more interesting interior design to lift the Spark’s visual appeal. The door cards are big slabs of black plastic, and the Spark’s interior décor is, on the whole, fairly drab.

High road noise, especially from the back seat, may irk some people. Not so much of an issue for city-dwellers, but if you spend a lot of time driving at highway speeds the abundant tyre roar may be an irritation.

ANY RIVALS I SHOULD CONSIDER?

The Kia Picanto is a solid choice for value-focused shoppers, but like the Spark it also has commendable driving dynamics too. Substance and value are present in equal measure.

Suzuki’s Celerio is a decent sub-compact offering as well, though can’t match the Spark or Picanto for infotainment fit-out. The Mitsubishi Mirage is even cheaper, but isn’t up to the same standard as the others.