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Car reviews - Holden - Barina - 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Excellent handling, strong brakes, steering and seat height adjustment
Room for improvement
Too few significant features for five-door version considering the price

Holden logo26 Nov 2001

By TERRY MARTIN

WHY would you? Why would you cough up another couple of thousand for a couple of extra doors?

It's a question people shopping around for a compact hatch are often forced to ask themselves, particularly when a five-door version fails to offer pivotal selling points such as uprated engine performance.

There will be details, of course. Little odds and sods a manufacturer adds to its greater-hinged model to make it seem worth the additional cash.

But departing with $2000 or thereabouts in such a price-sensitive segment deserves close investigation of the claimed benefits.

In the case of Barina, there is no simple answer.

On the one hand, the three-door is littered with basic omissions and interior restrictions that make the five-door a more comfortable proposition.

The former lacks steering wheel and seat height adjustment, requires a huge reach back to the centre pillar to grab the seatbelt and complicates rear seat ingress and egress with the absence of a seat slide function on the front seats.

Furthermore, the five-door model brings with it front maplights, a drawer under the passenger seat and a sunglasses holder for the driver. In the rear, it offers a little more hiproom, bins in the doors, overhead grabhandles, a reading lamp and, as to be expected, problem-free access brought with inclusion of rear doors.

Securing these advantages does, on the other hand, mean sacrificing some front and rear shoulder room and not a small amount of visual appeal with the redesigned hindquarters.

Interested owners also need to determine how much weight should be placed on these five-door benefits in the first place. The rear seat might not be used all that often. The driving position, even without seat or steering wheel adjustment, might still be comfortable.

From our point of view, Barina constitutes excellent value in either three-door or five-door form.

That's quite a statement given air-conditioning is optional, steel wheels and manual windows and mirrors are used, there are no rear head restraints and items such as cruise control, traction control and anti-lock brakes are held exclusively for the sports-oriented SRi model.

But redeeming features are close to the surface.

Consider the inclusion of anti-whiplash front head restraints, remote central locking with two-stage door opening, four-wheel disc brakes, tinted windows, electric headlamp level adjustment, an excellent six-speaker CD stereo with steering wheel-mounted controls, and a screen on the dash showing time, date, outside temperature and audio settings.

The rear seatback contains child seat anchorage points - the ideal position - and can be fixed at two different angles. And, bowing to public pressure, Holden has also replaced the inferior centre-rear lap belt with a three-point restraint.

Now compare these features with its obvious rivals.

Other equipment includes dual airbags, power steering, driver's footrest, luggage cover, rear foglights, programmable intermittent wipers and a full-size spare wheel.

Though softer plastics should have been used, the cockpit has a modern, functional dash presentation. The temperature controls, for example, are a model for others to follow, the stereo is a snack to operate and the essential instruments are well set out.

Models with the optional four-speed automatic fitted also include a gearshift indicator under the tacho arc, should the owner agree to make a further dip into the pocket (in addition to the five-door's price).

Despite the improvements in the rear seat area, the five-door remains a tight fit for adults or children in dedicated restraints. A slide function for the rear bench would help matters here, while the compact cargo area would be better served with more flexible seating arrangements.

As it stands, the floor length can increase from 650mm to 1300mm when a portion of the 60/40-split seatback is folded.

Where Barina makes its most telling impact is in the driving stakes, with acceptable performance from the revised 1.4-litre engine, first-rate stopping power from the quartet of disc brakes and a ride-and-handling combination which is without doubt best in class.

Bearing little resemblance to its predecessor, the engine is smooth, quiet and willing though still lacks response whenever a steep climb is encountered.

A full complement of passengers creates an additional burden for the 1100kg Barina, as does the optional four-speed auto. No surprises there. But we were pleased to find the automatic five-door had little problem shifting two occupants around town.

Gears are swapped with smoothness, ratios are well spaced and response to driver input is excellent. A neutral idle feature helps save fuel around the suburbs, while a sport mode, which locks out fourth gear and operates at higher engine speeds, can be selected when the terrain gets hillier.

Situations such as these also bring the car's dynamic properties to the fore, which are second to none in this segment.

You will appreciate the effort that's gone into making this a confident and well-controlled little car. As we have found with the three-door, the (firm) ride will cope with some shocking examples of Australian road, however, it's the excellent level of front-end grip and communicative, direct and well-weighted steering that impress most.

The tyres send up a fair bit of noise on rough surfaces and freeway speeds prompt some wind noise around the mirrors. But these are minor details.

The big picture with Barina is that it represents great value, now more than ever with the fitment of three-point seatbelts throughout.

Both body styles offer the same assured and involving driving experience, which together with an outstanding number of innovative features makes either worth considering.

The one essential element not guaranteed in the three-door is the steerer's position - and that could be enough to tip the scales toward the fiver.

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