Farewell to the jungle, baby

Just because you’re a tiddler doesn’t mean you can’t be in for the long haul

NATHAN PONCHARD

WHOEVER said small cars couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do big distances was talking out of their clacker. Remember the original Volkswagen Beetle? That air-cooled marvel could once be found in just about every corner of the country, able to drive for hours at its claimed “maximum and cruising speed” of 115-120km/h and renowned for being able to withstand the torture Australia threw at it.

Those goat tracks of the past would be far too rough for a Holden Spark, but a modernday challenge of Sydney to Melbourne and back in searing summer heat is as good a test as any for a city-biased microcar.

Two weeks prior, the Spark tackled a weekend blat to Newcastle and impressed with its highway grunt and overall maturity.

Solid in crosswinds, supportive of seat and absorbent of suspension, it’s a baby hatch that comfortably feels at home on the M1.

As a slower car moved to the left on the Mooney Bridge hill, I dropped the Spark back to third and flattened it. Its rev-happy 1.4

effortlessly wound out towards the tacho’s 6500rpm redline, leaving lazier cars fading in its wake. As expected, revs and open road are clearly this engine’s erogenous zone.

The trip to Melbourne was slightly different. On a dual-carriageway road that bypasses every town for 850km, less traffic and longer hills meant ample opportunity for testing the Spark’s cross-country calm.

And not once did I have to disengage cruise control by dropping it down to fourth.

Just under 120km/h on the speedo sees the engine humming pleasantly at just over 3000rpm, though given the Spark’s favoured working environment resides beyond threefive, a 130km/h gallop would’ve been even more effortless. And appropriate. And safe!

On a few steep climbs, the Spark slowed to just above 110km/h as its efficient air-con transformed furnacelike heat into fresh air, though turning A/C off gave it the required shot in the arm. This stuff, however, I already knew. What I wasn’t so sure of was the Spark’s eight-hour toleration index.

Turns out a day’s worth of driving isn’t something to be feared. Besides some moderate wind rush at freeway speeds and a fair amount of tyre roar on coarse-chip surfaces, the Spark is remarkably polished.

Admirable front seat comfort (despite widely spaced positions on its lever-adjust backrest), plenty of space to put your feet, terrific vision and an impressively welldamped ride give this little Korean-built, Aussie-tuned Holden the fatigue-reducing capability to tackle any (sealed) road you can throw at it.

It’s no Golf VII when it comes to ride plushness, but given the size of its wheelbase (shorter than an original Beetle’s) and the cost efficiencies that a boggo hatch demands, the Spark is a fine all-rounder whose abilities extend far beyond its lowly station in life.

Gauging interest

Harping about the Spark’s fuel thirst in stop-start gridlock has dissipated now it has proved what it’s capable of. A 350km round trip to Newcastle saw the trip computer’s total fuel average drop from 11.3 to 9.8L/100km, while an 850km stint to Melbourne reduced that to 8.2. Indeed, this month’s fuel consumption average (which included all of the above, plus some regular commuting and suburban trips) achieved an excellent 6.17L/100km. With such low overall mileage, maybe it’s the ‘run’ the Spark needed.

HOLDEN SPARK LS

Date acquired: September 2016 Price as tested: $13,990 This month: 1313km @ 6.2L/100km Overall: 2017km @ 8.1L/100km m WEEK 20 34 44 3 0 0 2 9 7 3 3 URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY