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Car reviews - Holden - Barina - CDX

Our Opinion

We like
Spacious cabin, MyLink infotainment, cheap running costs, well-sorted ride, light but quick steering
Room for improvement
Average engine, fussy automatic transmission, cheap cabin plastics, tyre noise, flat seats

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Holden logo24 May 2013

By MIKE COSTELLO

Price and equipment

TESTED here is the top-spec CDX automatic variant which, at $20,490 plus on-road costs, will set you back a little more than a (manual) base variant from a larger class of vehicle: say, for instance, a Corolla, Pulsar or Holden’s own Cruze stablemate.

Note, the base CD starts at $15,990 plus ORC.

Because of its lofty position in the humble Barina range, the CDX comes fairly well kitted-out, with features including heated faux leather seats (Holden calls it Sportec), rear parking sensors, climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, a trip computer and chrome highlights.

It also comes with a rather excellent infotainment system Holden calls MyLink – essentially the same unit used in the Cruze and the new VF Commodore.

It is comprised of a seven-inch colour touchscreen that supports numerous mobile apps including navigation and online music streaming (Pandora and Stitcher), although updates require a dealer visit.

We’ve never seen a better system in a light-car such as this, and it’s a real ace in the hole for the little Holden. We suspect some buyers will be swayed to the Lion brand on this feature alone.

Interior

LOOK, but don’t touch. The Barina’s cabin design has a lot of funk, with cool motorbike-inspired instruments behind the multi-function steering wheel (replete with a digital speedo and trip computer), modern blue lighting and spot-on ergonomics.

That large central screen is bright and high-resolution, and more importantly responsive and free of the lag many more expensive rivals fall prey to. It’s nearly as good as a smartphone, although it doesn’t swipe like a Golf’s.

There are also plenty of useful hidey holes on each side of the fascia, on top of the dash and above the glovebox, plus a nifty sunglasses holder.

However, the tactility of the plastics is still well short of the class leaders, with mismatching tones and a cheap and hard feel. Furthermore, the quality of the fit-and-finish was short of the mark in some areas, with the cover of the gearshifter coming off shortly after we took hold of the car.

GM has sexed up a dour design with the aforementioned dials and screen, rather than design a cabin around them holistically.

The ‘leather’ seats (more like vinyl) are heated – big tick in winter – but flat and short in the base. Some contact points, notably the gear lever and indicator stalk, feel very low rent. This is a car built to a price, but this CDX is priced against some larger models with nicer materials.

GM’s tall and boxy design helps practicality. Rear leg and headroom is better than average, while the decent 290 litre cargo area expands to a useful 653 litres with the rear seats folded flat. We stuffed a two-metre long rug and a flat-pack table in the back, no dramas.

Engine and transmission

WITH outputs of 85kW at 6000rpm and 155Nm at 4000rpm, the double overhead cam 1.6-litre engine under the snub nose of the Barina looks – on paper – strong for the class.

But in reality, we’d call this ageing engine a battler – a rough and raucous little unit that tries hard but lacks the polish of a Polo’s 1.2 turbo, or even the Kia Rio’s snappy 1.6.

Typical for a small atmo engine, the Barina’s loves a good rev, and once the tacho heads north of 3000rpm progress becomes spirited, although this need for revs has an adverse affect of fuel economy.

Holden’s claim of 6.3 litres per 100km is already average for the class, and even that figure seems ambitious. We rarely saw south of 9.0L/100km, and we weren’t giving it any sort of thrashing.

It uses cheaper 91 RON fuel, at least, unlike some of its more demanding (European) rivals.

The engine is matched, in CDX guise, exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission. As part of a facelift last year, Holden claimed to have tweaked the DIY shifter in response to criticism.

It used to be fussier than a vegan at Sizzler, with a propensity to hunt around for the perfect ratio, surfing the narrow torque curve uneasily. The new version is a little more settled.

But as we said, the shifter itself is coated in cheap plastic, and the button on the side that changes gears in ‘manual’ mode – in place of a dedicated gate, or paddles – is rather ludicrous.

Ride and handling

HOLDEN took advantage of last year’s facelift to tweak the top-line Barina’s ride, handling and steering to local tastes and conditions.

As part of the update, the CDX received a fuel-conserving electric power steering system (the CD persists with the old hydraulic setup). Holden had input on the calibration. The new 17-inch wheel and tyre combination also came in for local treatment, with Holden tweaking the suspension tune.

We were surprised with how good the steering felt, in comparison to its turgid predecessor. The tiller is light and still has a little dead spot from centre, but the little Barina leaps into corners with enthusiasm, and feels nimble.

In fact, this level of ‘chuckability’, shared with the similarly low-tech Suzuki Swift, makes the Holden feel a bit like a throwback, full of charm if lacking the panache of a Polo or Fiesta.

No complaints about the ride either. The front MacPherson-style independent struts and space-saving (and cheap) rear torsion beam do an acceptable job of soaking up the bumps, with a minimum of corrugations entering the cabin, and few vibrations kicking back through the column.

There is a fair degree of road noise transmitted from the low-profile tyres. Those 17s may look fantastic, but they’re enormous for a car of this size. The Barina sets no benchmarks for refinement.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP gave the Barina five stars. Safety equipment on both grades includes six airbags (dual-front, thorax and curtain), plus Brake Assist with electronic brakeforce distribution, traction control (naturally, with ESC) and three child seat restraints.

Holden provides capped price servicing for the first three years and 60,000km of ownership. Each trip to the dealer will cost $185.

Verdict

THE perky little Barina grew on us over the course of a week. It’s a fun and funky little device with lots of showroom appeal and commendable connectivity – that MyLink system is ace.

But it lacks the polish of a Polo or dynamism of a Fiesta, and it’s to one of those two models where our money would go. At $20,490, the flagship CDX tested here is also priced close to its larger, albeit less well-equipped Cruze stablemate – which competes in an entirely different segment.

But it’s a worthy effort nonetheless, and one we suspect will find a lot of love from buyers thanks to its badge, cheap running costs and oh-so modern cabin tech.

Rivals

FORD Fiesta Zetec. From $20,490.
Getting on, but still a ripping drive, and thanks to last year’s price cuts, now genuinely sharp value. Due for a facelift towards the end of this year, with a sparkling new 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo engine to join (albeit in manual-only form).

Volkswagen Polo 1.2 TSI Comfortline. From $18,990.
No light-car is more refined, and no rival can match the VW’s sparkling 1.2 turbo engine. The DSG automatic is still edgy around town, options are pricey, and it’s not the cheapest to service, but golly it’s a sharp little number.

Holden Cruze Equipe. From $19,490.
An enemy within the ranks. Recent price cuts make the larger Cruze sharper value than ever, and while buyers will have to endure the dour base 1.8 engine at this price, they still get MyLink, as well acres of rear seat room.

Data

MODEL: Holden Barina CDX
, ENGINE: 1.6-litre DOHC
, LAYOUT: Front-wheel drive, front engine
, OUTPUTS: 85kW at 6000rpm, 155Nm at 4000rpm
, CONSUMPTION: Claimed combined 6.3L/100km
, TRANSMISSION: Six-speed torque converter automatic
, STEERING: Electric-assisted
, SUSPENSION: MacPherson front, torsion beam rear
, DIMENSIONS (l/w/h/wb): 4039mm/1735mm/1517mm/2525mm
, SAFETY: ANCAP five-star
, PRICE: $20,490 plus on-road costs

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