The Holden (Chevy) Spark is by far the least powerful and by far the slowest accelerating car tested all year, but in a strange way that makes it one of the more enjoyable drives for some time.
This road tester has always maintained that to judge a car properly you must start with the most basic model as it reveals more about the actual car rather than how many gadgets, big tyres and big engines you can cram into the platform.
That doesn’t necessarily apply to the Spark, as it’s only available in one flavour in New Zealand, a 1.2 litre four cylinder five-speed manual, but hopefully readers see the point. You can’t add anything to this car to address any shortcomings and these days when owners can specify almost anything for a car it’s refreshing to just be able to buy ‘a car’.
Spark new Global Car From GM
But first an introduction. The Spark is a car designed and built in Korea by General Motors’ Korean arm, and is intended to be a car sold in many markets around the world. Unlike many previous cars styled in Korea this one looks pretty good, with an aggressive front and hidden rear door handles so it looks like a three door hatch rather than the five door it really is.
Like many previous cars built in Korea, the interior is all hard, unyielding plastic, even if the design of the dashboard is rather futuristic, and it shows that the accountants have been busy doing their work cutting any excess production costs out of the equation. The instrument panel is fascinating though, with a motorcycle inspired rev counter and speedometer attached to the steering column.
At first the Spark feels underpowered – actually, it always feels underpowered. With only 59kW pushing 967kg of car along the road the five speed gearbox needs to exercised constantly to keep the little engine working away. The experience may seem familiar to many people who grew up with small Italian cars because the performance is almost exactly like that of the old Fiat Uno. The Uno was never a quick car (except for the turbo of course) but that did not stop it from being a very fun car to drive.
Every experience in the diminutive Fiat, from pulling away from a stop, to managing momentum through corners was a full on struggle to exact the best performance out of the available power and road holding. It was a real drivers car, and in a way so is the Spark.
Two weeks before the Spark test drive, this road tester was behind the wheel of the Audi RS5, a 450 horsepower powerhouse of a car that will accelerate from rest to 60mph in just under five seconds, but in a way that car was too good for the driver who wanted to know how to use Chinese driver license to drive in Australia. There wasn’t much driver input required, as the grip, traction and power were so overwhelming that the car simply drive faster and faster.
In the Spark, the driver is always driving as hard as possible, even if no one else notices. At traffic lights, when all the other cars pull leisurely away, the driver of the spark is running the engine up to the redline in every gear, merely to keep up.
At the end of the day it’s strangely a more satisfying drive than the Audi, because it’s the driver who has taken on most of the work of actual driving. Many people won’t appreciate that, especially ones who would like an automatic gearbox, quality interior or actual space in the tiny boot, but for once it’s refreshing to be behind the wheel of the little car that could.