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Car reviews - Holden - Barina - LT

Our Opinion

We like
Body feels strong not tinny, excellent infotainment system, intelligent automatic, agile handling
Room for improvement
Crude low-speed ride quality, 1.6-litre engine coarse and struggles with weight, basic rear seating

Gallery

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Holden logo4 Apr 2017

By DANIEL DeGASPERI

Price and equipment

THE Barina LS starts from a highly competitive $14,990 plus on-road costs with a standard six-speed manual transmission.

Not only does that make the five-door Holden hatchback one of the most affordable models in the segment, but 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights, cruise control, auto on/off headlights and touchscreen audio with reversing camera have been included – and they are not standard on a Mazda2 Neo.

A six-speed automatic adds a hefty $2200 to the price, however, and that transmission is mandatory in the Barina LT tested here and priced from $20,190.

It scores one-size-up 17-inch alloy wheels, leather-look steering wheel, gearshifter and seats with front heating, and keyless auto-entry with push-button start, but that is about it. Despite a blind-spot monitor and forward collision warning being offered on the Holden’s US-specification near-twin Chevrolet Sonic, neither is offered Down Under.

Interior

The biggest area in which the Barina feels superior to its Spark micro hatch sibling is indeed inside. For those who find some light cars tinny, the half-decade-old Holden should surprise and delight.

Although hard plastics have long been the norm at this price point, their interesting texture as well as the solid doors, broad seats and spacious cabin, all give the impression that the LT has been cut from the same cloth as small cars such as the Astra rather than the micro-sized Spark. The 7.0-inch touchscreen is easy to use, complete with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology, but without a digital radio and integrated nav that are rare for the segment anyway.

The South Korean build quality of our test car proved mostly impressive, particularly with the soft damping and tight shut lines of the upper glovebox compartment, and the tactile feel of the Audi A1-esque circular front airvents.

The motorbike-inspired instrument cluster, with lurid green font, has been replaced by a generic but intuitive mix of analogue speedometer and digital trip computer.

For $15,000 the cabin is more than decent, however Holden takes away the chrome doorhandles and leather-wrapped steering wheel for its base grade, which helps lift ambience notably here. At $20K-plus some sheen is lost, particularly moving rearwards where a flat bench and absence of roof lighting, door pockets or cupholders disappoint. The 290-litre boot, though, is decent for the class.

Engine and transmission

Engines and transmissions rely on the vehicles they are installed in to not be overly heavy. The Barina LT is a case in point.

Its 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine makes decent power (85kW at 6000rpm) and torque (155Nm at 4000rpm) while a six-speed auto has enough ratios to be able to deliver smooth, clean progress. However, with a kerb weight of 1248kg, the Barina winds the scales around 25 per cent further than most rivals.

Either way, the General Motors engine does not prove particularly kind to the ear or reveal a willingness to be moved along briskly. The slow-revving unit’s loud and grainy rasp was only made worse by the surprisingly excellent automatic transmission that has been obviously tuned to pick lower gears early, then hold them, aiding driveability but sorely affecting refinement.

This Holden does not perform as poorly as expected given a power-to-weight ratio beaten by the smaller and lighter (990kg) Spark, but nor can it deliver other virtues that even a diverse spectrum of light-car buyers would surely look for, such as enthusiasm or quietude. It is also thirsty around town its on-test 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres is decent, but not considering the lack of prowess.

Ride and handling

The Barina LT might not have a fun drivetrain, but it can be fun to drive through corners. Where some rivals have been hobbled by cheap tyres in the hope that buyers will not notice (or care) what is penned on the sidewalls, both the LS and LT boast Continental ContiPremiumContact footwear.

This Australian-tuned Holden fronts up to bends with fine grip, an impressive lack of bodyroll, immediate steering response and a general sturdiness that felt more German (and Opel) than past South Korean-built models, or Hyundai and Kia rivals from the same country.

There was a major downside for the decent country road control, though, and it arrived back around town in the form of jarring and really rather crude ride quality. The way the Barina jolted and thumped around simply became tiring.

Perhaps the LS on taller-profile 16-inch tyres would make a better urban companion, but that is not the case with the similarly old Trax on chubby rubber. Meanwhile newer Holdens such as the Spark and Astra deliver a demonstrably more refined and cohesive driving experience.

Safety and servicing

Six airbags (including dual front, front-side and full-length curtain protection), ABS and switchable electronic stability control (ESC) and rear parking sensors with rearview camera are all standard.

ANCAP tested the Holden Barina in 2012 and it scored five stars with 35.43 out of 37 points.

Holden’s lifetime capped-price servicing plan costs just $229 for each of the first four annual or 15,000km dealer check-ups.

Verdict

Holden arguably needed to be brave and aggressive with the facelifted Barina, both to win back market share in a highly competitive class and help its aged light car contender gel alongside the impressive Spark micro car and brilliant Astra small car.

However, the deletion of the 1.4-litre turbo engine from the range seems a sizeable mistake. While it never felt at home in the faux-sporty $23,590 Barina RS model grade, it would have provided greater value, and could have offset the kerb weight, installed in this $20,190 Barina LT.

With a solid, roomy cabin, competitive infotainment and fun steering and handling, the decades-old Holden nameplate really deserves a more convincing model and engine line-up to match.

Rivals

Mazda2 Maxx from $19,690 plus on-road costs
Smaller than Barina, but both more fun and comfortable.

Volkswagen Polo 81TSI from $20,990 plus on-road costs
More like a luxury car compared with the jittery Holden.

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