Tony O'Kane | Oct 13, 2009 | 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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