It wasn’t too many years ago that it seemed nearly every Kiwi family owned a large six or eight cylinder sedan.
Commodores and Falcons were commonplace in suburban driveways when I was growing up but it wasn’t until my teens that smaller, more fuel-efficient models began to make an appearance.
With the shift to both parents joining the workforce the need for a cost-efficient second car became a necessity; and these days seeing two small-sized hatchbacks parked in the garage of my friends and family is pretty normal.
The Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2008 and the associated fuel price increases exceeding $2 per litre saw the demand for smaller cars skyrocket, creating what is now the most crowded and competitive segment in the NZ car market.
Ebbett Holden Tauranga’s dealer principal Julian Clements says their latest offering in the small car segment, the Holden Spark, has a significant amount more to offer “above our competitors who trade mainly on price” starting with its trump card – technology.
Wired for sound
The Spark is the only model in this segment to offer Apple CarPlay and the Android Auto equivalent. The system is not just confined to the top-spec LT variants either, it is offered range-wide as standard.
With younger drivers increasingly more concerned with the convenience a car offers, rather than driving enjoyment or status, Holden is targeting a new generation of owners with its smartphone support features.
Simply connect your phone with the cable and all of your phone features are accessible through the seven inch colour touchscreen – another segment first. The system is as simple and intuitive as using your own phone, which means Holden’s target market will be able to operate it in their sleep.
To put Holden’s theory to the test we shot over to see a friend of mine, Rodelle Payne, wh is director of Sisters and Co at Mount Maunganui.
Now for those of you who know Rodie, you will also know she probably isn’t the target market Holden had in mind for the Spark – although she was quite taken with it when we pulled up.
The pair we really wanted to talk to were a couple of her team members, Sarah Williams and Jess Smith. The two 20-somethings weren’t backwards in coming forward and didn’t have the reaction we expected on first glance. “Oh, it only has two doors,” said Sarah. “I prefer black cars,” said Jess. Talk about picky!
After I demonstrated the rear doors which have been stylishly disguised by the designers at Holden to appear as if they aren’t even there, and showed them the seven colour options including black, they seemed to take a bit more interest and were blown away with how cool the Apple CarPlay feature was. And they were even more ecstatic when I told them they could take the new Spark for a spin around the Mount.
The interior of the Spark has heaps of flair with leather seats and some playful dashboard trims that really brighten things up. On the outside, the Spark has a cheeky presence with bold light clusters and high sides that break up the large panel expanses.
We think the aesthetics work well but if the look isn’t quite right for the individual buyer, a series of optional extras can be selected to add red, green or gloss black highlights to the grille surround, mirror caps, wheels and a roof spoiler in the case
of LT Spark.
Small but mighty
The Spark is a real treat to drive and its 1.4-litre 73kW naturally-aspirated four-cylinder engine really sets it apart from some cheaper options.
The added grunt is a genuine advantage when trying to get somewhere in a hurry or when piling a few friends and a whole lot of bags into its funky interior after a shopping binge.
Holden has put in a lot of hard work to hone the operation of the CVT auto transmission as well – and it has paid off.
At low speed the power is fed in smoothly with a constant engine speed. But at higher road and engine speeds, the CVT pretends to be a normal automatic with revs that rise with speed and convincing steps as if a gear is being swapped. (Spark is also available in manual).
Engineered in Australia, the Spark’s chassis is pretty awesome too. Holden acknowledges the Spark is not supposed to be a sports car but a level of driving enjoyment is a must – and here the car doesn’t disappoint.
Careful chassis tuning has resulted in a car that is light on its feet and a joy to throw around, but safe in inexperienced hands.
To that end Holden is fairly and squarely aiming for both the younger end of the driving market and their parents. A rewarding driving experience awaits the experienced motorist.
Mum and Dad can be safe in the knowledge that the Holden Spark offers an enviable safety package, while the kids get to sit down, belt up, plug in and drive.
So a light and nimble car with a light and nimble price, a heavy set safety pack and one of the most intuitive infotainment packages on a vehicle of this size.
The Spark really is the vehicle for Generation X, Y and Z.
See Ebbett Holden Tauranga at 123 Cameron Rd, Tauranga. Ph: 07 578 2843
Stability and traction control
Apple CarPlay & Android Auto
7 inch colour touchscreen
Front, side and curtain airbags
1.4 litre DOHC Ecotech petrol
with CVT auto.
RRP: From $16,490