Stereo sonics

Even a boggo Spark is a sound investment these days

NATHAN PONCHARD

IT’S really easy to bag technology for bombarding us with crap. Near-constant phone and email access, and an inability to remain calm for any longer than a few moments without fingering a smartphone says that ‘switching off’ should be a matter of sanity, not laziness.

If you’re an audiophile, however, and your life requires a constant backing track, then right now is a damn fine time to be alive. Not only has the youth of today rediscovered the texture and warmth of the vinyl LP, but we have unprecedented access to more music than we know what to do with. And, even in something as basic as our Holden Spark, the facility to enjoy said mountains of music in crisp, clear quality.

I remember thinking the digital-tune, four-speaker tape deck in Mum’s 1990 Mazda 121 was a pretty neat unit for a budget hatch, but here we are more than 25 years later in a micro hatch wearing exactly the same sticker price as the 121 did all those years ago, boasting what would have seemed like the greatest system in the world back then.

In terms of box-ticking audio appeal, the Spark LS is bang up to date. Apple CarPlay, a decently sized colour touchscreen (most people would be reasonably happy with seven inches, I’d imagine) and six unexpectedly gutsy speakers (one each in the lower doors, plus a tweeter at the base of each A-pillar) gives the Spark the multimedia firepower it needs to win over the under-25s. And I still get a kick out of hearing Siri read out scandalous texts, enunciating swear words in her proper accent with utter professionalism.

As for the Spark’s driving experience, it remains a doddle in inner-city Sydney, despite the 1399cc engine’s lack of bottomend muscle. Keen, balanced handling, a pin-sharp turning circle and a robust feel continue to defy the Spark’s demure proportions. When parking the car and walking away, I’m constantly surprised by just how small it is relative to its grown-up ability. The humble Spark is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

But it’s crying out for more torque.

Tractable the atmo 1.4 may be, but there’s precious little urge below 4000rpm, meaning your right foot spends plenty of time attempting to bury the accelerator deep into the floor, to the detriment of economy.

Admittedly, we’ve been commuting in some of the heaviest traffic Sydney can serve up, but – much as I hate to admit this – the five-speed manual doesn’t have the ratio spread of the CVT to plug the engine’s torque holes. And while the 14-inch-wheeled LS rides better than the LT on 15s, its eco-biased 165/65R14 tyres fail to flatter the Spark’s handling and steering the way the sportier 185/55R15 Continentals do.

With a Blue Mountains weekend away looming, as well as a motorway jaunt to Newcastle and back, maybe it’s the breather the Spark needs to deliver fuel economy worthy of a micro car.

Coping with manual labour

Massively improved as it is over previous GM gearshifts, the Spark’s ergonomically shaped manual lever does demand a certain driving style. Not too many revs off the line and quick depression of its light clutch delivers a smooth, welloiled, precisely defined shift feel. But it becomes a bit notchy and gritty if you’re lazy with the clutch. Unusually for this class of car, the manual Spark also features a hill-holder function, which works faultlessly.

OurGarage

HOLDEN SPARK LS

Date acquired: September 2016 Price as tested: $13,990 This month: 228km @ 11.7L/100km Overall: 427km @ 11.7L/100km m WEEK 12 34 44 3 0 0 1 3 8 3 3 URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY