The evaluation of a vehicle and, as a consequence, motoring journalism, is not an exact science. While we greatly rely on technical expertise and test data, much of what is required to accurately assess a car boils down to experience and, for the lack of a better term, gut feeling. But for this test we decided to don our imaginary white lab coats and conduct an experiment (of sorts). With clipboards in hand, we gathered three of the fresher entrants in the increasingly popular A-segment in a place where people make a habit of scientific things and where, fortuitously, these three entrylevel cars’ target market resides: a university campus.
As marketing students will tell you, competing in the entry segment is of great importance to any volume manufacturer. The baby class is booming; it has seen significant growth over the last few years, both as a result of financial pressures on consumers who are looking for cheaper alternatives to B- and C-segment cars but also as a result of the significant improvement in the performance, packaging, size and quality of A-segment cars. The logic for a manufacturer is simple: here you have a single product that can be marketed to students, young professionals, families, retirees and empty-nesters. But, with this immense scope come immense challenges because these cars also need to be trendy to appeal to students, sophisticated to speak to professionals, safe for families and practical for empty-nesters. And they must be affordable.
In previous tests of the Chevrolet Spark, Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto, we were quick to point out how these A-segment competitors now offer B-segment levels of comfort, convenience, cabin space, perceived build quality and standard specification. But, stacked side by side, which one ticks the right boxes?
DESIGN AND PACKAGING
Parked outside a trendy campus café, none of the three looked out of place. The Spark is the oldest car here but arguably offers the trendiest design, with an aggressively styled nose incorporating oversized headlamps that stretch back from the grille to the base of the A-pillars, flared wheel arches and hidden rear door handles to give it a three-door-hatch look. The cabin is neat, with a decidedly sporty design thanks to the housing of the driver’s instrumentation in a pod with a digital readout for the rev counter and instrumentation backlit in blue.
Of course, a fine arts student will be quick to point out that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, while offering a very fresh look, trendy design often ages quickly.
Curiously, despite being marketed at the same price level as the Kia, the Spark does not offer any height adjustment on the driver’s seat or any form of adjustment of the steering wheel. None of its windows operate electrically, the boot cannot be remotely opened from the outside and the rearview mirror doesn’t have a clip to operate the dim function. Its audio system doesn’t have Bluetoothfunctionality and it doesn’t offer satellite controls for the audio system on the steering wheel. Both the Kia and Hyundai have most of the above (in fact, the Kia has a trip computer and auto headlamps) along with contemporary designs – perhaps leaving the Spark dead in the water.
The i10 and Picanto are based on the same platform but couldn’t look more dissimilar. The i10’s pug-like front end is in stark contrast with the Picanto’s Eurocentric design, including large headlamps and Kia’s now-familiar tiger-nose grille. The materials used inside the latter feel of a very high quality and the cabin has an upmarket look. The i10 has a similar feel of quality to its cabin, but lighter-coloured plastics detract from this. That said, all three make use of hard plastics without cloth inserts on the doors.
Compared with the Kia, the Hyundai’s driver position is higher and less cosseting, but we did like the high positioning on the facia of the i10’s gearlever, which falls easily to hand. All three cars offer loads of cabin space and impressive levels of comfort considering their compact exterior dimensions.
In this company, the i10 offers the best front headroom (despite those high seats), but loses out in the rear where the Spark and Picanto have slightly better head-and legroom. While the Picanto wins the contest in the rear, it has a very small boot as well as the smallest utility space. What the i10 lacks in rear space, it makes up for by offering the largest boot with utility space on par with the Picanto. The Spark is there or thereabouts with most of our measurements and offers the biggest utility space when the rear seats are folded flat. All three have 60:40-split rear seatbacks and luggage covers to hide valuables.
ON THE ROAD
With coffee now warming our bellies and the bill paid, it was time to visit the engineering faculty. The cars’ compact dimensions and light steering make them easy to manoeuvre in town. None of the testers complained about outward visibility. On the topic of steering, many team members commented on the disappointing levels of feedback and artifi cial feel of the Kia’s electrically assisted power steering. The Hyundai’s system is nicely weighted but lacks sufficient self-centring, which required some getting used to. The Spark utilises a hydraulic system and offered a weighty feel and direct action, even under acceleration.
The Spark also impressed with its ride quality and dynamics. All the cars make use of MacPherson struts up front, a torsion beam at the rear and ride on 14-inch wheels (alloys in the case of the Kia), but the Spark somehow manages to offer a more refined and compliant ride, soaks up im perfections well and, when pushing on, exhibits little body roll. Despite its questionable steering, the Kia also manages to impress with good handling, offering decent levels of grip, but the i10 trumps it for its level of comfort and compliance – the trade-off being a small amount of body roll when cornering.
All the cars come standard with ABS with EBD and make use of vented discs up front and drums at the rear, but it was again the Spark that impressed with an average stopping time of 3,0 seconds and a worst stopping time (3,16 seconds) that was better than the averages of both the i10 and Picanto. All but the i10 came to a steady and composed stop, with the Hyundai unexpectedly requiring steering input during two of the 10 emergency-braking procedures. We have never come across this on any other car and we could not replicate it, either.
Speaking of safety, all the cars come standard with two airbags and all, except for the Hyundai, have Isofix anchorages as standard fitment on the rear benches.
All three make use of 1,2-litre petrol engines (the Kia and Hyundai actually have 1,25-litre units with variable valve timing) mated with five-speed manual transmissions. Both the i10 and Picanto impressed with slick shift actions and easy-to-operate clutches, but again the Spark managed to offer the best feeling in this department, with a smooth and secure operation.
As expected, the Spark develops the least power and torque here and, as a result, loses the inner-city traffic-light-to-traffic-light race. Some good news is that the Chev doesn’t feel slow and the engine is always on the boil.
Of more interest was the fact that the Hyundai was more than a second faster than the Picanto to 100 km/h despite having nearidentical drivetrains and weighing almost the same. Despite sprinting to 100 km/h in 12,78 seconds, which is impressive, the Picanto felt lethargic at times. The Hyundai was the liveliest of the bunch and its engine racy and willing. It felt light on its feet, something that neither the Spark nor Picanto could match.
The greenies at the natural sciences department will be quite happy with the Hyundai and Kia’s frugal nature. Both make use of variable-valve control and returned 5,7 litres/100 km on our fuel run. The Picanto managed a fuel-index figure of 6,0 litres/100 km, which allows for a range of 585 km on the 35-litre fuel tank, while the i10 achieved 5,64 litres/100 km and is good for a range of 621 km. Both cars weigh in with CO2 figures below the 120 g/km-mark. The Spark’s smaller engine works harder than those of the others and, while its fuel consumption was impressive, a fuel-index figure of 6,48 litres/100 km (with a range of 540 km) and fuel-run figure of 6,2 litres/100 km made it the loser in the eco-stakes.
All three cars are very strong contenders in the highly competitive A-segment.
Dynamically, the Spark impressed with its handling and the quality of its mechanicals. It comes standard with a fiveyear/ 150 000 km warranty but lacks the standard comfort and convenience features of both the Hyundai and Kia, making it a very difficult car to recommend in this company.
The Picanto offers visual excitement as well as a long list of standard features. Its steering action will require some getting used to, but otherwise there is very little with which to find fault. That said, it is the most expensive in this group and, at R109 900, the Hyundai trumps it for value for money. If you require Isofix anchorages and perhaps can’t live with the i10’s less-than-exciting appearance, then we recommend the Kia, but otherwise the Hyundai i10’s compliant ride, frugal engine coupled with lively performance, and good cabin space make this an easy decision.
|Price||0-100 km/h||Power/Torque||Top speed||CAR fuel index||Taxable CO2 rating|
|Chevrolet Spark L||R115 495||13,4 secs||60 kW/108 N.m||164 km/h||6,48 L/100 km||129 g/km|
|Hyundai i10 1,25 GLS||R109 900||11,7 secs||64 kW/119 N.m||169 km/h||5,64 L/100 km||113 g/km|
|Kia Picanto 1,2 EX||R115 995||12,78 secs||65 kW/120 N.m||169 km/h||6,0 L/100 km||119 g/km|
|Ride and comfort||Packaging||Performance||Dynamics||Fuel efficiency||Value for money||Total|
|Chevrolet Spark L||19/25||15/20||6/10||7/10||14/20||9/15||70/100|
|Hyundai i10 1,25 GLS||19/25||15/20||8/10||7/10||16/20||12/15||77/100|
|Kia Picanto 1,2 EX||19/25||16/20||7/10||6/10||15/20||11/15||74/100|
Road test score