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Holden Spark to fly Down Under

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Holden Spark to fly Down Under

Words - Joshua Dowling

New Korean-sourced light car due in local showrooms soon

Holden will soon have a new small-car champion to sell alongside its baby Barina.

Holden dealers have been told that the replacement to the Daewoo Matiz, the Chevrolet Spark, will be available in Australia wearing a Holden badge in the first half of 2010.

The Carsales Network understands that the price leader of the Holden range will be available in one model only -- a five-door body powered by a tiny 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a five-speed manual transmission. Although an automatic is available in Korea it won't be available initially at its Australian launch.

Pricing is yet to be confirmed but we're guessing somewhere around $14,990 drive-away, which would put it on par with the starting price of the Indian-made Suzuki Alto.

Despite persisting with a base model Holden Barina that does not even come with anti-lock brakes (you have to pay a premium to get this basic safety feature that's been in common use for 30 years) Holden has apparently changed its tune on the safety front.

Holden told dealers it is waiting for stability control to be developed on the Spark before the model is introduced -- so that the tiny hatch can hopefully attain a five-star ANCAP safety rating. The Australasian independent crash test authority only issues five-star ratings to cars that provide a high level of occupant protection in a crash -- and have an effective stability control system.

So the Spark will come standard with six airbags -- a rarity in the Light Car class, matched so far only by the Suzuki Alto.

However, it is unclear how the Spark will achieve a five-star safety rating if crash tests by the European NCAP division are a guide. Euro NCAP awarded the car a four star rating.

The Euro NCAP report published on December 9 said the passenger compartment "remained stable in the frontal impact" and that dummy readings indicated "good protection of the head and neck".

However, the report said, "deflection of the chest indicated marginal protection for the chest of both driver and passenger". It went on to say: "Structures in the dashboard posed a risk of injury to the knees and femurs of both the driver and the passenger".

The Spark went on to score maximum points in the side barrier impact, and in the more severe side pole test protection of the chest was "adequate" and that of other body regions was "good". However, "marginal" protection was provided against whiplash injuries in the event of rear impact.

Some media have already driven the Spark. British journalist Paul Horrell reported for the US magazine Motor Trend that the 1.2-litre engine in the Spark "revs sweetly" but overall it was "a noisy little car".

"Engine hum and tyre roar battle to upstage each other depending on how coarse the road surface is or how hard you are on the throttle," he wrote for the magazine.

He said the car felt "agile" to drive but the tyres had "comically little grip".

Nevertheless the arrival of the Spark will give Holden a much needed boost in the Light Car class.

The Korean Barina was beginning to show its age not long after Holden swapped the Daewoo badge for a Holden badge in 2005.

Up to that point, the car had been sold as a Daewoo Kalos. The Kalos was introduced in 2003 but it was a new body on old underpinnings that dated back to the forgettable Daewoo Lanos. So the current Barina is effectively at least a decade-old car.

To help keep the Barina fresh and improve its safety, GM gave the Barina a significant overhaul in November 2008.

Front and rear styling changes marked the arrival of some structural changes under the skin and the addition of seat-mounted side airbags (to create a total of four airbags).

This was enough to give the Barina a four star ANCAP safety rating even though the base model does not get anti-lock brakes. The other cars in this class that lack ABS standard are the Hyundai Getz and Kia Rio. As with the Barina, the basic safety feature is an optional extra on these models.



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