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Barina's broad horizon

No surprises: Holden's all-new Barina is clearly identifiable as a successor to the outgoing model.

Holden is throwing down the gauntlet to the likes of the Hyundai Accent with its all-new Barina

26 Feb 2001

HOLDEN will attempt to broaden the appeal of its "beep beep" Barina beyond young women and middle-aged mums when the all-new mini-car goes on sale from April.

Remaining compact and cute on the outside, the new-generation hatch will offer more interior space, significant mechanical improvements, and safety and convenience features rarely seen at this end of the market.

It is a combination Holden expects will give the car a wider demographic appeal in both age and gender, growing its average monthly sales volume from 450 to well over 600.

Powered by a revised version of the existing 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine, the new Barina will incur only a modest price rise to start from $13,990 for the three-door model and $15,990 for the five-door.

Air-conditioning (improved for Australian conditions) will add another $1870 and automatic transmission $1950.

The City and Swing monikers will disappear now that the pair is to adopt a similar level of equipment which includes power steering, dual airbags, four-wheel disc brakes, six-speaker CD stereo, variable intermittent wipers, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, tinted windows and rear fog lamps.

Holden will also introduce a number of innovations to the bottom-feeder class such as steering wheel-mounted audio controls, remote central locking with two-stage opening and deadlocks, a large multi-function display as seen on the Astra and Vectra and "active" front head restraints designed to reduce the risk of whiplash injury.

The five-door will add steering wheel and seat height adjustment, rear grabhandles, a storage box beneath the front passenger seat, front and rear maplights and colour-coded interior trim.

However, neither model is to offer electrics for the windows or external mirrors, rear headrests, a centre-rear lap-sash belt nor the option of anti-lock brakes.

Rather than dramatically raise the overall height and the level of seating and loading versatility like some of its Asian rivals, Barina's European (Opel) designers have concentrated their efforts on improving front and rear passenger comfort and interior presentation.

The result is a noticeably longer but similarly proportioned car distinguished by its flared wheel arches and pillar-mounted tail lamps, and which provides a good deal more shoulder room (up to 80mm) and headroom (up to 15mm) inside.

The revised 1.4-litre engine now has four valves per cylinder and develops 66kW at 6000rpm and 120Nm at 4000rpm.

Fuel consumption and exhaust emissions are claimed be lower with the introduction of "drive by wire" electronic throttle control, a close-coupled catalytic converter and an improved engine management system.

Other mechanical reforms centre on the manual and automatic transmissions, steering system, crash performance and handling characteristics, the latter enhanced by a stiffer body construction, wider front and rear track and extensive revisions to the MacPherson strut/torsion beam suspension.

There's no cabrio version on the horizon, but a "hot" SRi model priced around $20,000 and powered by a 92 kilowatt version of the Astra's 1.8-litre is set for release in July.

Barina SRi will be adorned with a bodykit, 15-inch alloy wheels, sports seats, leather steering wheel, chrome gearknob, metallic-look dash insert and white-faced instrument gauges. It is also expected to have anti-lock brakes fitted standard.

Drive impressions: The current Barina is well liked for its European cache, modern interior design and firm, supportive front seats - and nothing has changed with the new generation on that score.

But the outgoing car was never designed for right-hand drive production and, as a result, Australian drivers have been forced to put up with a number of annoyances including awkward pedal placement in a narrow footwell.

The new model addresses that problem, and also eliminates the feeling one gets when four people climb into a two-man tent.

Despite the increased cabin space, excellent dash presentation, improved storage facilities and welcome stereo controls on the sporty three-spoke steering wheel, there's really nothing of a material nature to savour in the new Barina.

There's still a swathe of plastic surrounding the passengers, a lack of seating gymnastics, no gain in cargo volume when the seats are upright and, in the three-door, no steering wheel or seat height adjustment to help with driver comfort and no slide function on either front seat to assist access to the rear.

Where the car really shines is in its driving experience and a brief session in a three-door revealed relatively good engine performance and a neat pairing with the smooth and responsive four-speed automatic transmission.

Ride and handling remain highlights of the package, the car feeling secure and controlled at all times while providing superb ride comfort across every surface inner-city Sydney could throw at it.

The electric (as opposed to hydraulic) power steering feels a bit vague at higher speeds but makes for easy manoeuvring around tight streets and carparks.

All up, Barina is set to remain one of the best compact drives on the market.

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