One-litre wonder, encore

After being wow-ed by Spark's bold styling and futuristic dashboard, it's a bit of deju vu when one looks under the bonnet. The 16-valve 4-cylinder 1.0-litre S-TEC unit is more or less the same powerplant as the last Spark, but upgraded with an increase in output of 5bhp, from 63bhp to 68bhp. While this in itself is quite fair for a 1.0-litre engine, matching performance figures for the yet-to-be-released new Kia Picanto, the Spark's main rival, the fact that the only transmission available is a conventional 4-speed automatic transmission doesn't do much to help matters.

On the other hand, through some quirk in the production process, the last Spark automatic had an 850cc engine, while the 1.0-litre came with the 5-speed manual, so this new model is actually more powerful than before!

What's really needed for tiny super-economical sub-1.0-litre cars like the Spark is some innovation in transmission technology, especially as conventional torque-convertors sap so much power. The best example of this would be the similarly sized and equipped Peugeot 107 - its engine was the same size and had the same output, but because it had the 2-tronic 5-speed ‘clutchless' manual gearbox, the car actually felt quite lively and rev-happy, even if it wasn't really going that fast. Either that, or let the customer have the choice of a standard 5-speed manual gearbox.

This powertrain limits the Spark to being a city car, especially as the new model's body weighs about 150kg more than the outgoing model. Also, at highway speeds, the din from the engine and road noise starts to become intrusive. As the Beat showcar that made the rounds of the international motorshows, the prototype Spark had a turbocharged 1.2-litre engine under its bonnet - perhaps this is the engine that we should wait for to power the Spark.


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