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Car reviews - Holden - Barina - Swing 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Styling inside and out, dashboard, seats, spaciousness, post-August '97 SB models
Room for improvement
Lacklustre performance and economy, durability and reliability questions, very uninspiring handling and ride characteristics, pre-August '97 SB models

9 May 2003

THE 1994 Barina represented the start of a new era for Holden with its small car entrant unique on the Australian market.

Since the demise of the Camira in 1989, the General had relied on other manufacturers to supply its small and medium-sized market contenders. The Astra used to be a Nissan, the Nova a Corolla, the previous Barina a Suzuki and the mid-sized Apollo a Camry.

With the introduction of a line of Opel-designed cars, starting with the SB Barina and followed by the TR Astra and the mid-sized JR Vectra, the model range became totally "Generalised".

The 1994-2001 Barina is based on the Opel Corsa and sold to entry level buyers or city commuters looking for economy and ease of parking.

The five-door hatchback Swing, made at Opel's plant in Spain, was joined in the model range by a base model three-door hatch, the City, and a sporty GSi three-door hatch with a larger twin cam engine and an impressive range of standard equipment - at a much higher price.

The Swing is powered by the Opel Family I engine which is a single overhead cam, single-point fuel-injected unit of 1389cc.

The engine is mounted transversely and drives the front wheels through a five-speed manual or optional four-speed electronically-controlled automatic transmission which offers three modes of operation - sport, economy and winter.

Suspension is by MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front, and coil springs and compound torsion beam at the rear, giving an independent effect.

There is power-assisted rack and pinion steering, the brakes are vacuum-assisted ventilated discs at the front and drums at rear, and the wheels are 5x13 with 165/70 R 13 tyres.

Body design is clean and attractive with a low nose, low bonnet line, teardrop-shaped headlamps, steeply raked windscreen and bob-tailed rear. The shape has been designed to minimise wind resistance.

Safety is a major factor in a car this small and light and the European-built Barina is well engineered in this respect.

It has front and rear deformation zones, a passenger survival cell, seatbelt pretensioners and the latest collapsible steering column technology. A driver's airbag was optional until all cars came with dual airbags as standard from 1995.

The interior is unmistakably European with a multi-function display panel showing time, date and outside air temperature in a binnacle in the centre of the dash.

The centre console houses rotary controls for the heating/ventilation system together with a sliding control lever for fresh or recirculated air.

The fully reclining bucket seats with height-adjustable head restraints are well contoured and comfortable. Front doors feature useful storage bins.

The almost vertical rear hatch gives access to a reasonable sized luggage area which can be increased by folding down the rear-seat backs. A 60/40 split feature is provided.

The interior will carry four adults, although rear leg room is restricted.

Economy is a prime reason for buying a car in this class and the Barina, weighing in at only 875kg and with a good aerodynamic shape, should return about 8.0L/100km around town and 5.0L/100km on the highway. The fuel tank holds 46 litres, giving a highway range of about 900km.

Dynamically speaking, the SB Barina is no star, with numb steering, a noticably firm ride and very uninspiring handling. Keen drivers are advised to look elsewhere.

Service intervals for the Barina are every 15,000km which is a worthwhile saving in servicing costs, aiding the economy of operation. Spare parts tend to be expensive too.

In service, the Barina proved only somewhat reliable. Electrical and air-conditioning-related woes were common, along with wheel trims falling off on rough roads and parking damage to the low front bumper/spoiler.

The Barina Swing fulfils its role as a fairly economical, practical car for the commuter or the first new car buyer.

It looks great and has the added attractions of a European heritage and the backing of Holden's vast dealer network.

But there are better baby cars out there, not least the MH Barina from 1991 to 1994. August '97's extensively re-engineered model improved handling, ride and performance. The Swing's engine power rose from 44 to 60kW.

This is the one to get, or save up for the subsequently much-improved XC model from early 2001.

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