When Holden says it wants you to explore the full reaches of its new Spark micro hatchback, it isn’t kidding.
“This is an absolute ‘no excuses’ car for us,” Holden’s director of communications Sean Poppitt tells assembled media at the Spark’s Australasian launch.
Holden is transitioning, physically and emotionally, from manufacturing to distribution over the next 18 months, so the Spark is a car the company has to get right to cement its market share as the next chapter in the company’s long history begins, and to appeal to next-gen Holden buyers who neither know nor care what an HJ Monaro GTS is.
Rather than a short sprint down the motorway, it’s straight to Lang Lang we go.
Lang Lang? It’s Holden’s high-security test facility about an hour outside Melbourne in the Victorian hinterland. It’s a sort of Area 51 of Aussie vehicle development, where cellphone camera lenses are taped over and car boots are checked on entry and exit.
Lang Lang was also where the company spent hundreds of hours (and thousands of kilometres) calibrating the suspension, ride and handling for Australasia.
It’s within this huge site with its 44km of test roads that we put the Spark through its paces. Holden is keen for us to experience the dynamic abilities of the wee machine in differing scenarios, including — no joke — a high-speed gravel slalom course.
We drive the Spark like few buyers probably will, feeling the electronic stability control reining in the dirt track daredevilry.
At these extremes, as well as on a similarly high-speed jaunt across Lang Lang’s hillside handling course, the Spark morphs from a cute wee car boasting value-for-money to a budget hatchback that is fun to drive.
It features a lot of kit, even in base LS trim. And with the added benefits of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility — which mirrors on screen what’s on your mobile; maps, contacts, music and all — over and above Holden’s already-very-good MyLink infotainment system, the Spark becomes a social media platform on wheels.
Safety might not be something the Millennials this car is aimed at will give much thought to, but their parents will.
Safety specs include six airbags, ESC, EBD, Hillstart Assist and a reversing camera on the LT grade.
More than this though, the Spark’s narrow power band and humble dimensions gain it the most purposeful parental points of all: it’s a hands-on car that will provide an excellent way for teenagers and 20-somethings to learn the art of driving.
That it’s safe, well-appointed and cheap are significant bonuses.