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Car reviews - Holden - Barina - RS

Our Opinion

We like
Sharp pricing, decent all-weather handling, five-door practicality
Room for improvement
Dour automatic transmission, lack of engine note


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14 Nov 2013

Other than a very look-at-me Orange Rock paint option, not much has changed on the outside of the little Holden, but the effect of a mild front and rear bumper redesign, and 17-inch alloy-wheels combined with a lower ride-height, give the RS an edgy look.

Stepping inside reveals more subtle but not over-the-top sporty additions from classy piano-black dash trims, through red highlight stitching on the leather appointed seats, to the fat sport steering-wheel.

Sadly the beige roof-lining and pillar trims are a clear remnant of the lesser CD and CDX variants, and we felt that colouring these items black to match the rest of the dark interior could have been a low-cost but very effective modification.

The dash dominating seven-inch touchscreen was a great standard addition to the Barina’s equipment and served as a high-quality centre-piece to the uncluttered dash.

The impressive levels of embedded applications and entertainment systems were only slightly let down by a connectivity issue, which caused the navigation system to periodically re-boot.

Another carry-over to the sporty Barina was the motorbike style gauge-cluster which houses a combination of digital read-outs and analogue tachometer. While the unit may have looked a little try-hard in the standard Barina, in more sporty surroundings the futuristic pod looks great trimmed with RS badge.

Finding a good seating position wasn’t hard and the leather manually adjustable seats provided a very comfortable place to be if a little guilty of being sat on rather than in. Perching on heated leather on a typical Melbourne spring morning was a pleasant surprise particularly considering the asking price.

Once rolling, the little Barina began to show the differences lying under its skin.

A 10mm lowered ride height, 15 per cent stiffer springs, uprated dampers and additional chassis bracing has resulted in a very tight chassis arrangement capable of negotiating technical roads with ease but the lack of bodyroll has not translated to a harsh ride.

On the contrary – the Barina’s ride was comfortable, absorbed vibrations and imperfections without too much complaint and the cabin was surprisingly serene for a car of this size running on low profile (205/50) 17-inch tyres.

The steering remained light and perhaps a little vague around dead-ahead but loaded up nicely as soon as the road became twisty pertaining to the special attention it received to tune for the Australian market.

The quick steering-rack (faster than standard Barina) was welcome during enthusiastic driving but a large-ish turning circle of 10 metres was a pain when maneuvering.

With a low weight of around 1200kg, the Barina doesn’t have a huge mass to defy when cornering hard and even deliberate attempts to get the traction control to intervene didn’t always result in a slap on the wrist from the traction-control.

Even when the conditions turned from miserable to downright monsoonal, the little Holden kept on powering through corners with little complaint and the short wheelbase of just 2525mm made quick work of very tight turns.

This is partly due to a relatively modest power-output matching the chassis perfectly.

Rather than turning on the power taps to full and then letting the DSC deal with it, the Barina RS’ chassis tune dealt with even the most ham-fisted instructions mechanically and only intervened with electronics as a last resort.

We are pleased power-output from the 1.4-litre four-cylinder was capped at 103kW/200Nm rather than upping the turbo-boost to dizzying heights and spoiling the front-wheel drive experience.

Thanks to a relatively small turbo, the little four-pot suffered from virtually no turbo-lag and peak power lay at a point mercifully low in the rev-range.

We found a sweet-spot between 4000rpm and 5000rpm and stayed there all day.

Unfortunately the automatic transmission was not the best device for achieving this.

With wide ratios and an unwillingness to kick-down, progress in the six-speed automatic RS (bereft of paddles) was frustrating and an eventual down-shift tended to cause the engine to rev up to the red-line - away from the useful torque.

A much better proposition was the six-speed manual variant, which – while not the slickest manual out there – did allow speedy cog-swaps and full enjoyment of the lively motor.

Holden’s foray in to the sporty light-car segment has produced a respectable warm-hatchback, which is rewarding to drive, offers five-door practicality, excellent fuel-economy and is a good example of real-world value.

By sharing a boot badge with hyperbolic cars such as the Porsche GT3 RS, Ford Focus RS and Audi’s RS range to name a few, the Barina may raise performance expectations a little higher than it can deliver, but that doesn’t stop it being a fun package.

It has all the attributes to worry its rivals from Suzuki and Ford (and its Fiesta Sport, not ST). Whether it can win over a more masculine buyer remains to be seen. If you are keen, save yourself $2200 and go for the manual at the least.

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