YOU had me at Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Yep, give the first car-buying market the most bang up-to-date mobile phone projection tech, make the car look not half bad and price competitively and it should sell itself.
Enter Holden's all-new Spark, the only micro car to offer both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.
To the uninitiated, that means smartphone mirroring where apps like Spotify and Pandora are displayed and accessed on your dash screen, you can listen to and send texts through voice command, make calls, access your music library and utilise your phone's navigation maps through your dashboard, all without ever touching your phone.
Come to market without it these days and you're lost.
But there's more. Holden's given its Korean-sourced GM global micro model decent shove with a 73kW 1.4-litre engine - strong compared to rivals - and Holden engineers have done admirable work in the Aussie-specific ride and suspension tune to make the new Spark dynamically talented, safe and decent fun too. And if you've a thing for small cars, the design is certainly a triumph over the outgoing Spark.
But there are buts. Micro cars are seriously out of favour in the sales charts (down 32% in 2015), and buyers in the segment are hugely price driven.
Mitsubishi's $12k Mirage was the volume seller in 2015. The micro Spark costs $2k more at $13,990 for the LS manual model, or $15k drive away. So can its desirable tech snare micro shoppers at a price where they could also be considering larger cars?
Like all well-packaged micros, the new Spark feels larger inside than expected. Its tall design means headroom is excellent both front and back, and driver and passenger have ample breathing room in-between.
It's a hard plastic fest inside (not unusual for the segment), but positively the dash centre section is clean and functional in design, with only heater controls not operated through the all-important and dominating 7-inch touchscreen.
The screen houses your ticket to Apple CarPlay/Android Auto heaven, and for many buyers this will be the Spark's dangling carrot. It is a superb system and having access to the bulk of your phone's systems hands-free is cool, practical and so much safer for those whose smartphone is typically glued to their palm or face.
On the road
Holden launched the Spark at its Lang Lang Proving Ground, allowing us to test the car over challenging undulating tarmac and sandy gravel. Brave move for a micro car, but Holden engineers have been involved with this global car from inception stage, and have tailored the steering, suspension and noise, vibration and harshness package to make it relevant for Australian buyers. Their work has been stellar.
The Spark absorbs bumps in a manner a micro car has no right to, yet never rides harshly. While cornering it remains balanced, assured and - key for parents helping with first car shopping - very safe too. Wet roads and even loose gravel at speed rarely upset the Spark, its handling unquestionably class leading and good fun too. Punt it through the city or battle parking spaces and its light steering and titchy size will charm.
Its 1.4-litre has more guts than rival micros; the manual gearbox is light and silky smooth so would be the pick (not least from a financial standpoint), but most shoppers will want an auto. You'll need $15,690 before on-roads for Spark's new CVT auto which is a strong leap forward over old, and robs little from the fun drive experience.
Servicing, replacement tyres and insurance will all keep costs low, but fuel economy at 5.2L/100km isn't as good as other micros, nor a match for a lot of light cars with small turbo engines. For a micro car though, the Spark's relatively large four-cylinder with 73kW is fair compensation.
It's a pretty tall car so rear headroom is very good, and two adults can occupy the back pew well, albeit with limited leg room. Boot space is a mere 185-litres - quite a lot less than its main micro rivals - but the rear seats fold flat to give a useable 985-litres. As you'll rarely have rear passengers, if you need to cart suitcases, larger sports gear or multiple shopping bags, best leave them folded.
What do you get?
For the target market, mobile phone projection is the massive boon in the standard kit: class leading connectivity for this micro class. Also included are a 7-inch screen, Holden MyLink, hill start assist and steering wheel audio controls.
Other littlies on offer are the Suzuki Celerio ($12,990), Nissan Micra ($13,490) and current class leading Mitsubishi Mirage ($11,990). With the Spark being a tad costlier in this price conscious segment, we must also consider rivals from the light class, such as Mazda2 ($14,990), Honda Jazz ($14,990) and Skoda Fabia ($15,990 drive away).
Certainly the new segment leader in terms of specification and dynamic ability, the attractive all-new Spark will deservedly grab sales from other micro cars with its Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, so desirable it is to shoppers.
Holden has done a superb job tailoring the ride for Aussie customers - it's a safe, smart, stable and decent fun steer over good roads and bad.
Sticking point for some may be its price. It's a few grand more than its chief micro car rivals, and costs similar to many quality light cars with more space and similar spec in the segment above. Even so, the new Spark is one for Holden to be proud of.
What matters most
What we liked: Apple CarPlay and Android Auto with good touchscreen as standard, on-road talents belie its small size, decent interior and exterior design, CVT auto an improvement.
What we'd like to see: Pricing is a bit close to some quality cars in the segment above, cabin feels a bit plastic fantastic, fuel economy could be better.
Warranty and servicing: 3 year/100,000km warranty. Lifetime capped price servicing, services are every 15,000km.
Model: 2016 Holden Spark LS and LT.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive micro car.
Engine: 1.4-litre four-cylinder generating maximum power of 73kW@6200rpm and peak torque of 128Nm (CVT auto)/124Nm (manual) @ 4400rpm.
Transmission: CVT (auto) or five-speed manual.
Consumption: 5.2-litres/100km (manual); 5.5-litres/100km (CVT auto).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $13,990 (LS manual); $15,690 (LS auto); $18,990 (LT auto). LS manual is $15,000 drive away.
Driving experience 18/20
Features and equipment 17/20
Functionality and comfort 17/20
Value for money 15/20
Style and design 15/20
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