MY how they’re growing up fast!
The sub-B hatch segment – known as the Micro class in Australia – has seen a trio of new-gen contenders that bring maturity and refinement to the very bottom end of the new-car market.
Note, however, that unlike the sadly-discontinued Volkswagen Up! from 2012, none of the trio offer Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) at all. A black mark in our books.
Here we look at three of the best – the Holden Spark, Kia Picanto, and Suzuki Celerio.
1. HOLDEN SPARK
THE SPARK is surely one of the most improved cars of this year.
For starters, the South Korean-made hatch scores a newfound solidity, with a real Germanic ambience. This is clear from the sensible dashboard, supportive seats, excellent driving position, huge central touchscreen with up-to-date media connectivity and quality fittings.
Better still, the Spark drives like a car from the next class up thanks to considerable chassis tuning input from Holden in Australia, resulting in lively off-the-line performance, safe handling, and a quiet ride.
On the flipside, the big new 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine’s fuel consumption is comparatively high, the (optional) CVT auto can get a bit droney under hard acceleration, the ride on the bigger-wheeled LTZ is too hard, and prices are surprisingly high up the range.
Still, the Spark doesn’t look, feel, or drive bargain basement, rising to the top of the class - and that’s the first time we’ve said that about a baby Holden in years.
Our pick: base LS manual – better value and a better car than the bigger Barina
2. KIA PICANTO SI
NEW to Australia but five years-old elsewhere, the Kia Picanto is widely acknowledged as one of Kia’s best efforts, especially in Europe.
To help achieve similar kudos in Australia, there’s only one variant – the Si 1.2-litre auto, priced at an amazing $14,990 driveaway.
Like the others, the Kia offers Bluetooth, powered windows/mirrors, remote locking and a temporary spare, but then streaks ahead with standard four-wheel disc brakes, rear parking sensors, and a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Impressive!
There’s little to criticise beyond flat seats, an at-times unsettled ride, and no manual availability. The engine’s performance is lusty yet frugal (despite having just four forward speeds), the steering delightfully sharp (this is the most fun to drive out of all the baby autos), and the interior stylishly presented, matching the striking exterior design.
Note an all-new Picanto will arrive sometime next year, so this one is here only to establish the brand among the Micro clan. It deserves success.
Our pick: the Si in a lively colour to match its vibrant persona.
3. SUZUKI CELERIO
THERE’S plenty to the Suzuki Celerio beyond a daft name and spectacularly low pricing.
Look past the tall, boxy, and rather dumpy design (the aim was to be the roomiest Micro available), and you will find intelligent packaging, superb ergonomics, supportive seats, parking-enhancing deep windows, light controls and a lovely ride suppleness. This Suzuki blitzes urban driving challenges.
So it might come as a shock that there’s much to impress the motoring enthusiast too. The tiny 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine punches well above its capacity, providing sparkling performance with exceptional frugality to boot; the Celerio’s handling and road-holding are a hoot, even when pushed hard; and the Celerio is surprisingly adept at open-road cruising.
Who’d have guessed from such a city-slicker!
Minus points? Though incredibly spacious, the rear only seats two. The front headrests intrude too far. There’s plenty of road noise intrusion at higher speeds and the optional CVT auto can become droney and lethargic.
Yet the Celerio’s charm and value are undeniable.
Our pick: the manual – indecently fun at this price point