2009 Holden Barina 3-Door Hatch Road Test Review

Tony O'Kane | 17 Comments

2009 Holden Barina 3-Door Hatch Road Test Review

HOLDEN'S KOREA-SOURCED BARINA city car has been on sale in Australia in its present TK-chassis form since 2005.

The facelifted MY 2009 model arrived just over a year ago. In that time, despite stiff competition in a crowded segment and lacking some of the dynamic qualities of its competitors, it has done reasonably well for Holden.

It is still outperforming Ford’s fresher and sharper Fiesta, so it must be hitting the spot with at least one group of buyers.

Holden has recently priced the commuter-friendly Barina 3-door hatch at a keen $13,990 drive-away, so we thought we’d take a look at what the smallest member of the Barina family had to offer.


The short, upright stance of the Daewoo-based Barina gives it some cutesy appeal that clearly wins favour with women in particular. It’s not as edgy nor as eye-catching as the Fiesta and Mazda2, nor even the Yaris, but there is a neat understated balance to its lines.


The front end is new for 2009, and was wheeled out in the second half of 2008 to freshen up the Barina’s schnoz. New headlights, new front quarter-panels, and a new bumper distinguish the newer model.

There are milder changes out back, with a new rear bumper and revamped tail-lights added to the Barina’s rump. A new (optional) alloy wheel design rounds out the rest of the exterior changes.


However, while the Barina’s visual update is an improvement over the early TK chassis models, it still looks a bit plain-Jane next to most of its competitors. The Nissan Micra is cuter, the Fiesta more dynamic and the Yaris boasts a more cohesive design.

On the upside, the Barina is cheaper than all of them.


A ‘plain-yet-inoffensive’ theme continues in the Barina’s cabin. The MY 2009 update saw a number of minor style changes to the dash and centre console.

However, there’s an overabundance of hard plastics inside, and, to my thinking, it seems a little low-rent even despite that low entry-level price.

There are also not a lot of storage options in the Barina, but it’s excusable given its small proportions. However, the absence of a covered centre console bin means the glovebox is the only place to keep valuables away from prying eyes.


On the plus side, there’s a sunglasses holder above the driver’s door, two slim door pockets and a pair of fold-out cupholders in the dash.

Ergonomically, there’s little to complain about. By virtue of its narrow width, all audio and ventilation controls are within easy reach and the steering wheel-mounted audio controls offer further utility.

While the driver’s seat is adjustable six ways, its cushions are flat, not especially comfortable and lacking in lateral support. The same applies for the rear bench. All up, it’s not the best interior in the class, but three-point safety belts feature on every seat.


Entry and egress to the rear seats isn’t too difficult thanks to the fold-forward mechanism on the front passenger seat. The mechanism though is a little clunky to use and doesn’t always lock firmly back in place.

Rear legroom isn’t generous, but the rear bench is reasonably comfortable and will accommodate two adults.

There’s 220 litres of cargo volume with the rear seats up, increasing to 980 litres with the 60/40 split seats folded down. With the seats in place there’s enough space for the weekly shop, but small families will likely find the boot a little small for their needs.


It’s also not built to haul flat-pack furniture (so cross that trip to IKEA off the list). When folded, the rear bench doesn’t sit flat and creates a substantial ledge that makes fitting outsize items a challenge.

Equipment and features

At 13,990 drive-away, you’d expect the Barina to be fairly bare-boned. It is a pleasant surprise then that there are a few useful gadgets fitted as standard in its tiny shell.

The audio system, although a basic single-CD AM/FM tuner, boasts an auxillary input for iPods and other music players, as well as the ability to read MP3-loaded CDs. Steering wheel audio controls, as mentioned before, are standard.


The front windows are now electric as standard, as are the (heated!) wing mirrors.

Safety-wise, the Barina is a mixed bag. On one hand, new standard-issue side airbags, front airbags and a more rigid steel safety cell give the Barina a respectable four-star ANCAP crash rating.

On the other hand, ABS is a cost option (bundled with 15-inch alloys) and stability and traction control are not available.

Mechanical package

Like the rest of the car, the Barina’s mechanicals are straightforward and simple. This is part of the Barina’s appeal.

Powered by a 1.6 litre DOHC inline four, the Barina’s power output stands at 76kW at 5800rpm, with 145Nm of torque arriving at 3600rpm. That is reasonably respectable for a $13,990 drive-away purchase.

Our tester was fitted with the standard five-speed manual, however a four-speed automatic is available as a cost option.


Fuel economy is a claimed 7.0 l/100km for the manual-equipped three-door. Not bad, but considering the size of the engine and the Barina’s 1135kg kerb weight, we wonder that better economy can’t be eked out. On test - and we were wringing it out a bit - we recorded a best of 8.7 l/100km.

Suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam axle at the rear. All corners are coil-sprung, but only the front receives an anti-roll bar.

Braking is handled by ventilated disc brakes on the front wheels and drums on the rear wheels. As mentioned before, ABS is a cost option and was fitted to our test vehicle.

The Drive

While it’s a competent enough city run-about, and adequately powered for its segment and price point, the Barina doesn’t promise a world of driving thrills.

There are also a few quirks to driving it that can take a bit of getting accustomed to.

The manual shift is a bit notchy and the lever is rubbery. Because it lacks a little smoothness, in stop/start city driving, shifting up and down through the gate can be a bit of a chore.


On our test car, we found that downshifting from third to second required a double-tap of the clutch to slot the shift home smoothly. It may have been just a quirk of this particular car but is unexpected in a modern synchromesh gearbox.

I would think that, for most drivers, forking out for the auto is the more attractive option.

That said, the Barina has no trouble keeping its nose up with the traffic. The 1.6 litre engine is happy to rev, and, with a reasonable 76kW in a light body, traffic light performance is adequate if not class leading.

After a while you learn its quirks and it’s no problem darting around the city and suburbs. On the open road however, the Barina struggles with overtaking and is a little slow getting up to highway speeds.


It also loses momentum on gradients, especially if carrying passengers. You need to work the gearbox to keep things on the boil in a country run.

The Barina’s driving dynamics, while straightforward, are also lacking a little compared to other more modern competitors in the light car segment.

The suspension is soft enough to absorb most bumps and dips on urban streets, and provides a reasonably comfortable ride (it’s a bit of a surprise in such a small car).

However, the low grip offered by the 185/55R15 Hankook tyres (and the absence of ABS or stability control), means curvy roads should not be attacked with vigour.


Most drivers, of course, will not be interested in stretching the Barina’s performance capabilities – after all, it’s designed as a commuter car – but we’d opt for better tyres.

The Fiesta uses a similar suspension layout, but is a far more competent performer along a winding road.

Of course, it comes down to the price point and what the car is designed to do. That said, the Barina could do with a sharper steering response and a little less body roll.

The Verdict

The 2009 Holden Barina lacks the edge, the quality feel and the equipment of many of its competitors, but it’s got one very significant ace in its deck: its price.

It’s difficult to argue with a $13,990 drive-away pricetag and there will be a significant number of small car buyers attracted to the Barina precisely for this reason.


It’s commendable that Holden has improved the Barina’s passive safety to attain a four-star ANCAP rating, but it would be even better to see ABS and traction and stability control added to the car’s standard spec sheet.

Drivetrain refinement aside, the Barina is an adequate performer most at home on city streets, which is undoubtedly where most Barinas will see service.

For buyers on a limited budget looking for a brand new no-frills commuter car, the Holden Barina three-door warrants consideration.

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Filed under: review, Holden, petrol, holden barina, hatch, fwd, lifestyle, light, 3door

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  • Trump says,
    6 years ago
    1 like
    Heated mirrors and yet no traction or stability control?

  • Matt J says,
    6 years ago
    Don't forget this is a Daewoo - with 1-2 Star Safety Rating..... and no Traction or Stability control.... and Rear Drum Breaks?! (Correct me if I'm wrong)

    No wonder why GM Daewoo-Holden are out selling the Fiesta with this low end car..... people don't see that the Mazda 2 and Fiesta are of much better quality and should fork out another 4-5-6k that will hold it's value longer, better built and a better car over all.

    Out of 7 Holden cars in the range:

    1 is Australian built (This includes the Commodore Sedan Range, Sports Wagon, Statesman and Caprice)
    4 are KOREAN
    1 is a Isuzu
    1 is European (Barina Combo Van - if not built in South America)

    Also Holden owned by the Americans.

    Pretty Australian I say.
  • Godspeed says,
    6 years ago
    Holden are owned by GM but for the most part their management and operating structure are very Australian.

    Having said that I just don't get how a senior executive can get away with saying "Safety is not important for our customers in this segment" when probed about the 2 star rating of the Korean Kalos/Barina when it first appeared in '05.

    Manufacturers have an obligation not only to keep their customers and occupants of their vehicles safe, but also pedestrians and other road users. It is a fact that many people in this segment will opt to spend their hard-earned on a better stereo or alloys instead of ABS or additional airbags; but manufacturers should offer a decent minimum. Not having ABS in 2009 is a friggin joke.
  • Daniel says,
    6 years ago
    1 like
    ABS is an option!
    If you are only paying $13,990 DRIVE AWAY what do you expect?
    So so cheap....
  • Godspeed says,
    6 years ago
    I know - cheap and therefore popular with first-car buyers who have higher priorities like Bluetooth and MP3 compatibility and alloy wheels and a perkier engine. But I remember being on my Ps with my first car that didn't have ABS - it was a good learning experience, sure, but during certain conditions it was bloody dangerous.

    I reckon ABS is a critical active safety feature (i.e. preventing a crash from occurring in the first place). Barina doesn't have to have knee airbags or active head restraints or even ESP/DSC at that price point. I just think cutting on ABS is a bit tight but Holden isn't alone there - Hyundai only offers ABS+ESP+TCS+EBD (as a package) on 1.6 models not 1.4
  • Captain Nemo says,
    6 years ago
    Nice little bit of cherry picking of info there Matt J
    most light cars have rear drums you can spend $21K+ on a Fiesta or Jazz and you still get drums yet you only seem to of noticed the Barina.
    And did you actually read the story Barina is 4stars ANCAP.

    BTW only 1 Ford in their range is locally made Falcon/Territory
    Fiesta & Mondeo=Europe

    Ford is also American owned

    Pretty un-Australian i say
  • Matt J says,
    6 years ago
    Captain Nemo - Nice work!

    But I believe that after the ABS is optioned in it's 4 star rated....

    But who knows!

  • Ron says,
    6 years ago
    Pretty Un-Australian? We're talkin' about the company who had invented and started producing the most australian thing ever (the ute) 15 years before GM-Holden even got going. And the in-line 6 engine is an all-aussie affair; still designed, engineered and built right here in australia; rather than a wheezy line-up of global V6's.

    And when you buy any Ford model in the range (no matter where it's built) you know you're buying a FORD; which is usually best-in-class or very close. Not a rebadged Daewoo, Suzuki or Isuzu tin can.

    Oh and scratch Isuzu; since the 'colorado' update, Isuzu has taken their business (and their Rodeo name) AWAY from the basket-case that is GM.
  • Captain Nemo says,
    6 years ago
    @ Devil's Advocate

    Your making out like Holden is the only car company that don't mention where their cars are built.
    I'm sure if you went to buy a Hilux the word "Thailand" would not get a mention same with a Focus "german engineering" would be mentioned but not made in Africa.
    Much the same if you buy overpriced eurotrash like a Skoda its German heritage will get mentioned several times and the Numpty about to shell out $100K+ for an Audi Q7 wil never hear the word "SLOVAKIA" during the course of the sale.
  • Captain Nemo says,
    6 years ago
    @ Ron
    Sorry to burst your Ford fanboy bubble but both Ranger & Escape are Mazdas the Escape in particular a fairly out of date one.

    The IL6 is a very dirty motor struggles just to make euro3 emissions and will need almost a full rebuild to meet euro4 why do you think Ford have no export markets for this so called "world class" motor even the Yanks the land of big motors don't want such a dirty motor.
  • Captain Nemo says,
    6 years ago
    Devil's Advocate

    Actually i'am the very unhappy owner of a eurotrash Skoda.

    Assumptions are the mother of all F***-ups
    to use a rather cliched internet meme OWNED!
  • Andrew says,
    6 years ago
    $12,990 SRP Drive Away Hyundai Getz - better in almost every respect.

    And I disagree very strongly about class-leading traffic light performance. I've driven both and the Mazda2 smashes it.
  • Andrew says,
    6 years ago
    Captain Nemo, I disagree the Ford I6 is a very dirty engine. While it may not be as efficient as some smaller capacity sixes, I think it can be attributed to the monster torque and flexibility. Last car I rented was an FG Falcon and I could not have been more impressed with it's performance or efficiency.

    And although it will be a decent job to meet Euro IV, it won't be as much of a job as the original Barra 182 project. Ford have a very solid base to work on, and perhaps the reason Ford don't use it overseas is they do not have an appropriate application for an inline six, or they already have older designs which have been tooled for and have written off investment costs.
  • Ron says,
    6 years ago
    Captain Nemo,
    The Ford Ranger and Ford Escape are both FORD vehicles which were designed, engineered and built by FORD in various places around the world to the same manufacturing standards. While it matters to a certain extent where the vehicle is built the point is that both those cars as well as the rest of the ford range are all FORD's. The FORD Escape SHARES it's platform with the Mazda Tribute just like the FORD Ranger SHARES it's platform with the Mazda BT-50; Just like the Fiesta and the 2 and the Focus/VolvoS40/Mazda3. Once your done with the platform they're totally different vehicles from there with different engines/transmissions/ancillaries the whole lot.

    The point in all this is that Holden has been getting away with these horrible re-badge efforts for years and there would be thousands of people out there who bought the '05 and onwards Daewoo Barina (as an example) and have no idea they're driving a pathetic daewoo kalos; and they're downright lethal in a crash too....brrr.

    This still hasn't been rectified; while it's true that holden has some engineering input with the newer generation Daewoo imports; they're still crap, and it's obvious that the daewoo move has just positioned holden as a budget plastic-car company making throwaway crap; a huge backwards step from the Barina being easily best-in-class in 2001 and winning WCOTY.
  • richard says,
    6 years ago
    1 like
    just bought a 09 barina for the wife . 4 star rating 12.900 drive away 6 year warranty cant go wrong.
  • Bodger says,
    5 years ago
    It seems that Ron is suffering a bit and has forgotten to take his tablets!!

    I have just bought a Feista ECOnetic for my wife and it is brilliant

    I have just bought a Barina 3 door for my daughter, $13990 drive away with ABS and alloys, and 6 years warranty, and as richard says, "can't go wrong".

    You get what you pay for, the Barina isw 4 star and good value. You look at the Getz, and it is also ho-hum, and then you progress up through RIo's Micras, etc and costs go up and so does quality.

    Evryone understands where it is built, and the juztaposition of car companies, models and production plants.

    Take the pills and calm down!
  • Tom says,
    5 years ago
    richard, though I agree, wait until you start having to pay for Holdens 'fixed' price servicings. You'll find the value for money aspect disappears quite quickly. And if you don't get it serviced at Holden, wave goodbye to the warranty.
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