$12,490 – $14,490
Good: Concept-car-like ‘look at me’ exterior styling; decent amounts of interior space; steering feel; high levels of standard safety features.
Not so Good: Cheap cabin plastics; small boot space; engine is noisy at high revs.
Design and Engineering
Good : Arriving Down Under in October 2010 the Barina Spark is a boldly styled Supermini that has thankfully retained much of the drama of the dramatic Beat concept car unveiled at the New York Motor Show a few years ago. The Spark is an interesting design (definitely more dramatic than the competing Suzuki Alto or the half size larger Nissan Micra). We like the extra oversized headlight clusters which amazingly go from the front bumper all the way back to the bottom of the windscreen. The rear door handles are neatly integrated into the c-pillar to help give the practical 5-door only bodystyle a hint of 3-door sportiness and at the back the exhaust housings are integrated into the lower rear bumper – very cool.
Not so good : The Barina Spark is narrower than the average Supermini at just under 1.6m wide (however this equates to a plus when negotiating narrow lanes and parking in tight spots). Not everyone ‘gets’ the slightly wild styling, one of our testers thinks the Spark is an overly busy design and the entry level CD grade comes with 14 inch wheels (the CDX gets 15’s) which look at least one size too small against the relatively tall 1.5m body.
Interior and Styling
Good : The adventurous styling continues inside with a dual cockpit cabin design, a motorcycle-inspired driver’s instrument pad with ice-blue illumination and colour coded dash and door panels. The driving position gets the thumbs up thanks to the nicely shaped steering wheel which adjusts for rake (up and down), but not reach (in and out), and comfortably roomy front seats.
Considering the tiny exterior footprint the amount of room inside is most impressive and storage space is also well catered for thanks to a glovebox, a funky shaped storage tray on the dash and even an underseat storage tray (CDX grade only). The rear seat can fit three adults (but of course it’s a big squeeze for shoulder room) and is noticeably more roomy than the similar sized Suzuki Alto.
Not so good : Upfront the dash is made from cheap plastics and the rev counter in the driver’s binnacle could be clearer to view; the high-set rear side doors reduces second row passengers (especially small children) view outwards; with the rear seats up the boot is a tiny 170 litres (thankfully the rear seats can split fold flat in the usual 60/40 configuration for a much more useable 570 litres of cargo space); as with a number of cars at this price the Barina Spark does without an external boot release handle (the key must be inserted to open).
Good : The Barina Spark’s 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine produces 59kW of power and 107Nm of torque. Thanks to a low vehicle weight and the smooth shifting five-speed gearbox it feels sufficiently zippy in a city environment (but only as long as you’re happy to give it a few revs). Fuel economy is low at 5.6 litres per 100kms (official combined figure).
Not so good : The engine sounds coarse and overly loud at times (extra sound insulation adds weight which goes against the principles of a little city car). The maximum torque figure arrives almost at the engines rev limit so maximum ‘oomph’ requires frequent gear changing (especially in hilly areas).
Ride and Handling
Good : The steering has a natural feel (thanks in part to the traditional hydraulic setup rather than the newer electric systems) yet at the same time it is nice and light – so parking is never an arm wrestle. This is an easy car to drive; it rides over urban corrugations and potholes impressively and yet isn’t afraid of highway usage – staying composed at freeway speeds.
Not so good : The relatively simple suspension doesn’t like corrugations taken at higher speeds (but this is not really what a City car is all about!) and bodyroll is more evident than some – driving enthusiasts will have more fun punting the competing Suzuki Alto along (but again, this is surely not one of the more important attributes for an inexpensive Supermini).
Buying and Owning
Good : Excellent levels of safety features with both CD and CDX grades coming standard with six airbags – dual front, front side and full length curtain, electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, traction control and electronic brake distribution. Both grades also come with steering wheel-mounted audio controls, air-conditioning, remote central locking, a body kit and a rear spoiler.
The CDX grade adds bigger (and slighter wider) 15-inch alloy wheels and a larger rear spoiler to the exterior, and rear power windows, the under-seat storage tray and ‘Sportec’ synthetic seat and steering-wheel finishing inside. As well as the typical accessories (i.e. carpet mats) owners can further personalize their Spark with side ‘tattoo’ and patterned stripe decals.
Not so good : At this stage the Barina Spark is only available with a manual gearbox, however an automatic transmission is expected to join the range later in 2011.