The small car competition has never been fiercer. Toyota’s new Yaris has hit the
streets, the Suzuki Swift is selling a storm and Honda’s Jazz has earned a loyal
following. And don’t dismiss the Ford Fiesta, Mitsubishi Colt, Mazda 2 NEO and
Hyundai Getz – there are plenty of great cars in this category.
So where does the new TK-series Holden Barina (nee Daewoo Kalos) fit in, you
At the bottom end of the market with a cheap price.
The five door version of the Korean-built Barina kicks off at a mere
AUD$14,490 but by the time you add ABS and alloy wheels (as tested) you’re
talking AUD$15,680. This brings the Barina roughly inline with the base Suzuki
Swift – and we much prefer the character-packed Suzi.
As part of Holden’s ‘Australian-isation’ of the original Daewoo design, the
TK Barina is fitted with a relatively large 1.6-litre four. This is perhaps the
car’s biggest selling point. With 77kW at 6000 rpm and 145Nm at 3000 rpm, the
1100kg Barina five-door can accelerate to 100 km/h in less than 12 seconds (and
note that our test car was also pretty tight with just 2500km on the odometer).
But the engine is not as flexible as you might imagine – on several occasions we
were forced to down-change to maintain speed up small hills. Engine noise is
also intrusive at high revs and there is an engine management stutter when
applying throttle during times of high manifold vacuum (such as when coasting
down a hill).
Our test car came fitted with the standard 5-speed manual gearbox that uses a
lift-up collar to engage reverse gear. We had no problem finding gears but the
closeness of the pedals caught us out on several occasions – it’s very easy to
squeeze the accelerator pedal while applying the brakes. A 4-speed auto
transmission is available if you cough up an extra AUD$2000.
Fuel economy is pretty much what you’d expect from a small 1.6-litre hatch.
During our test, we averaged about 8.5 litres per 100km over a mixture
of city, urban and country driving. Adaptive knock sensing allows the engine’
9.5:1 compression ratio to survive on normal unleaded fuel without any sign of
Interestingly, our first few minutes driving the Barina caused us some
concern. There was an alarming amount of impact harshness and a loud thumping
over potholes and road joins. It turns out that all four tyres were
over-inflated to 40 psi – the tyre placard recommends 30 psi...
With the appropriate tyre pressure set, that harshness and thumping was
eliminated and the ride became quite comfortable. There’s plenty of travel to
absorb speed humps tackled at high velocity and broken bitumen is effectively
ironed out. Handling is quite well balanced although it does become twitchy when
pushed and the trailing arm torsion beam rear axle can get unsettled over
mid-corner bumps. Chucking the Barina around is also quite an uncomfortable
exercise due to the seats’ lack of lateral support.
The optional ABS brakes of our test car performed well (despite using cheap
drum rear brakes) but the chassis felt slightly unstable during hard braking
manoeuvres. The power-assisted steering gives some unwanted
feedback and kickback when driven enthusiastically over B-grade roads. There is
also tram-lining which, curiously, is more noticeable on country roads than in
urban conditions. The standard wheel diameter is 15 inch and our test car came
with optional alloys wearing 185/55 Hankook tyres. These provide relatively low
outright grip but offer progressive break-away and low noise.
Inside, the Barina feels like it’s years behind its rivals in
terms of styling and sophistication. There are a couple of shiny blanking trims
in the centre of the dash and the forward edge of the front passenger door trim
has a peculiar, large blanking plate. It appears this plate covers the opening for the electric mirror switch in left-hand
Interestingly, the Barina’s switchgear feels better than the more upmarket
Holden Viva but the left-right switch for the power mirrors is miniscule – in
what other car would you find a switch about the same size as a Tic Tac? On the
upside, you get easy to use controls, air conditioning, power windows, remote
locking and front airbags. There’s also a no-name CD/MP3 head unit that provides
better than expected sound quality. The sound system can also be controlled via
steering wheel switches. Holden has added silver plastics to the door pods,
steering wheel spokes and HVAC control surround. These are sure to get scratched
during normal use.
Much to its credit, the five-door Barina offers plenty of space for four
people. The upright design of the body provides good headroom and given the class, there’s ample
floor and knee room. Cabin width is also fine for four
passengers but a fifth person would make for a very uncomfortable squeeze.
Unfortunately, the Barina’s rear passenger space comes at the expense of
cargo area volume. With the back seat upright, the cargo area is quite limited –
enough to fit two or three plastic bags but that’s it. For greater cargo space,
the 60/40 split backrest folds forward without needing to remove the rear head
restraints – but it’s a struggle to avoid tangling the seatbelts in the process.
Unfortunately, the back of the rear seat is also an exposed painted surface that
is sure to be scratched when loading heavy objects. A full-size spare wheel can be
found under the false floor. Paint finish is very poor in this area.
The body is quite basic but the Chilli Red paint and alloy wheels of our test
car give the Barina some visual appeal. There are no side protection mouldings
but a rear spoiler, colour-coded bumpers and mirrors come standard.
With a 3-year/100,000km warranty and recommended service intervals set at
12 months/15,000km, the Barina is likely to be a reliable and cheap to run. But overall, it’s a mediocre package that struggles to
compete against its rivals. Sure, the Holden is
a bit cheaper than most other small hatches – but we don’t reckon that's enough of
an incentive to buy.
The Barina five-door was provided for this test by Holden