Holden Barina Spark 2010-2016 used car review

The Holden Barina Spark is a very small car best kept in the city where it performs well.

Richard Edwards
Richard Edwards
Expert Reviewer | Auto Media Group

The Holden Barina Spark is a very small car best kept in the city where it performs well. It isn't great on the open road.

Exterior , 2.5 out of 5 Drive , 2 out of 5 Safety , 4 out of 5 Value , 3.5 out of 5 Interior , 3.5 out of 5

Overall score , 3.1 out of 5

The good
  • Easy to park with a tiny turning circle
  • Youthful, fun design
The not-so-good
  • Not particularly fuel efficient for a small car
  • Tiny boot struggles with luggage

The Holden Barina Spark was developed initially as the next generation Daewoo Matiz (rather than a Holden). It carries the Barina badge, but that's mostly for marketing reasons - the cars share little mechanically. The next generation of the model dropped the Barina badge and became just the Spark.

Inside and out

The Barina Spark has a short bonnet, straight sides and a tall roof to balance as much interior space as possible with a small footprint on the road. The short front features a large, chrome-fringed grille with the Holden lion badge.

The headlights are large and angular. The front window is large, with a low leading edge but the others taper up and narrow towards the back. The rear door handle is set vertically in the window trim and can be awkward to open, particularly for small children. The rear door features separate light pods like those at the front and a little spoiler.

The Spark's interior is youthful and arguably stylish. Panels of the vehicle's outside colour can be found on the doors and across the dash - in this case, a bright yellow-green. The doors have large pockets and a storage shelf sits in front of the passenger.

The instruments are housed in a unit attached to the top of the steering wheel and they move up and down with it. There is a speedometer, but all other details are provided by a small digital screen. The centre console features the CD player stereo with Bluetooth functionality and the manual air-conditioning. Front windows are electric and those in the back are manual.

The seats in the Spark are not great for long journeys, with little side or under-thigh support. The base is high which makes it easy to get into the car and improves legroom. Rear legroom is better than expected for a small car although the seat only has room for two adults, despite having headrests for three. The seats are part faux-leather and feature highlights of the vehicle's exterior colour.

The Spark's boot is a better size for shopping bags than for luggage - at 170 litres it is likely to only hold three small cases. The rear seat folds forward for additional load capacity.

On the road

Two engines are available in the Barina Spark, though both are badged as 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol. The difference is a slight rise in capacity for the version sold from late 2012 with the four-speed automatic option. The engine produces just 63kW and 112Nm and needs to be worked hard to get any performance and gets loud in the process. The four-speed automatic works okay, although it is not very smooth.

The Spark is not a sporty car to drive. It under steers - losing front-end grip - easily when pushed too hard into a corner and it feels tall with some body roll. The ride is a little firm and the car can bounce around a bit on bumpy roads. The steering is quick and light.

Tight city streets and car parks are where the Spark excels.

It is narrow and tall with a tiny 9.9-metre turning circle. Visibility forward and to the side is excellent, thanks to the large windows and low, short bonnet. No reversing camera or sensors were fitted as standard and they are not needed. You can easily see to the rear of the car, either through the mirrors or with a turn of your head.

Holden did not provide a tow rating for the Spark, nor could we find an aftermarket tow bar. We think there are better choices out there if you wish to tow.

Safety

The Barina Spark carries a four-star ANCAP rating (2010-onwards). Chest and leg protection was marginal in the frontal crash test, though protection from a side impact is good. Safety equipment levels are high with front, side and curtain airbags standard, along with electronic stability control and emergency brake force distribution.

All three rear seatbelts are the full shoulder-type, which offers more protection than a lap-only belt. ISOFIX child seat mounts can be found in the rear seat window positions.

Reliability

We searched hard and found few major issues that were not covered by recalls. That means it is important to call your local dealer with the number plate and confirm these have been undertaken. The engine uses a timing chain which will not require regular replacement.

Make sure you check on the key issues that triggered the recalls; failure of a bolt that joined the suspension to the front wheel hub, a failure of a gearbox cross member, and an issue with the clutch pedal that could cause it to fail. All three could cause safety issues with control of the vehicle.

The Spark is a city car and often driven by younger, less experienced drivers so check for body damage and paint condition.

Cost of ownership

The Spark should be serviced every 12 months or at 15,000km, whichever comes first. As the little engine works very hard, it is sensitive to oil quality, so make sure service schedules are kept to. We were given quotes of between $300 and $400, based on the mileage travelled.

The Spark's fuel use is quite high for such a small car, particularly in the automatic version. RightCar estimates that over 14,000km of driving a year, you will spend $1,620 on fuel. The 30-litre fuel tank will cost $60 to fill at $2 a litre and will potentially take you 515km before the fuel light comes on.

A vehicle licence for the Spark costs $76.92 a year, with the car in the cheapest ACC levy group.

Trade Me Insurance estimates insurance for a car valued at $8,320 will cost $43.77* per month. This is $3 more than a Suzuki Alto.

Buyers' guide

The Barina Spark is available on Trade Me priced from $6,000 to $12,000. Search under both the Barina and Spark names.

Variants

  • CD - Features alloy wheels, CD player steering wheel, electric front windows, remote central locking and Bluetooth connectivity.
  • CDX - Adds leather steering wheel, fog lights, faux-leather seats and rear electric windows.
  • The two models were merged in 2013 into one CD specification, with the addition of the part faux-leather seats from the CDX.

Timeline

  • 2010 Launched in New Zealand
  • 2012 Given minor facelift, automatic option added and CDX model dropped
  • 2015 Replaced by new model

Details

Review vehicle

2013 Holden Barina hatch CDX

Price

$6,500 to $10,000 for models which have travelled 70,000 to 120,000km

Engine

1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol, 63kW/112Nm (claimed)

Transmission

Four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive

Safety rating

Four-star ANCAP rating

Servicing

15,000km or 12 months

Spare wheel

Space saver

Fuel economy

5.8-litres per 100km (claimed)

Fuel type

Regular

Length

3675mm

Width

1597mm

Height

1549mm

Towing capacity

Unrated

Turning circle

9.9m

This review covers the Holden Barina for model years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Review vehicle supplied by Turners Cars.

*Our insurance estimates are based on a 35-year-old male with no accidents in the last two years, garaging the car in Mission Bay, Auckland. The car is not used for business and will cover 10,000km to 20,000km a year. We estimate with no option add-ons and $500 excess. Customise your estimate at Trade Me Insurance.

Image gallery


Richard Edwards
Richard Edwards
Expert Reviewer | Auto Media Group

I've been writing about the automotive industry for 16 years, and lead a range of publications through Auto Media Group. I play with my 1984 Toyota MR2 and travel in my downtime.

Opinions are my own and not those of Trade Me.