HOLDEN BARINA REVIEW
Vehicle style: Small car
Price: $20,990 (plus on-roads)
Fuel consumption listed: 6.3L/100km | tested: 7.2L/100km
Car-making is littered with poor decisions.
Take Subaru’s first Tribeca. It struggled with a lacklustre engine and looks that bordered on goofy. It only took Subaru twelve months to get a new and wholly more palatable version onto the market.
Now, Holden didn’t exactly make a mistake with the current version of its Barina small car, but even it admits it could have done better.
That’s why a new version of the strong-selling sedan and hatchback is now on sale only 11 months after making its debut here. And the new model comes with a far better six-speed auto and improved fuel savings.
According to Scott Doughty, Holden's vehicle performance manager, the first generation of the gearbox “had its issues", prompting the switch to the new one.
Those issues included a relatively high fuel use – in fact, the top-spec version of the larger, heavier Barina chewed through more fuel than the model it replaced.
But as of late last month, things have changed. The Barina now includes a smarter six-speed automatic transmission, electric steering for the first time, new rubber, and a fresh attitude.
We won’t spend time on what’s happening inside (see previous Barina reviews here), because it’s what’s happened outside and under the bonnet that’s the important focus of these running changes.
There’s still the surety of six airbags and a top five-star ANCAP crash test rating, and in the top-level CDX tested here, heated front seats, leather trim steering wheel and gear shift, trip computer and a hidden storage tray under the front passenger seat.
The interior is 'quirky-modern', and may not be to everyone's taste, but is well put-together if somewhat dominated by dark plastic surfaces.
The one big change inside, though, is the addition of a new seven-inch colour touchscreen, which introduces the MyLink entertainment system to Holden.
MyLink will really appeal to tech-savvy buyers. It's a clever smartphone interface that pushes phone-based apps to the in-car screen. Users can then manipulate their phone using the Barina’s touchscreen.
Holden is initially limiting the service to internet-streamed radio stations and podcasts, although it also plans to add a turn-by-turn navigation service called BringGo, which will cost users a one-off fee of less than $100.
The catch is that the car’s service will piggyback off the phone’s mobile data connection, with Holden saying it will recommend users subscribe to at least a 2GB data plan.
Holden says more apps will be added over time, but owners will need to visit a Holden service centre to update them.
Early next year, Pandora (internet music radio) will be among the apps joining the MyLink entertainment list.
Users can also listen to music via a USB stick, and can even push video to the screen if the car is stopped.
Unlike Holden’s iQ system developed for the Commodore, Barina’s MyLink system does not have a hard-disk for storing music.
ON THE ROAD
This is the bit we’re most interested in.
The updated Barina introduces a raft of fuel-saving measures that bring the CDX’s fuel-burn rate down to a respectable 6.3 l/100km for the sedan (6.4 l/100km for the hatch), a saving of 10 percent over the old range-topper.
It now gets the second generation of the six-speed gearbox introduced with the car last year, as well as an electrically-assisted steering box that replaces the former car’s hydraulic unit.
The combination is standard fit-out in the top-specification Barina CDX, which costs from $20,490 in hatch form and stretches to an extra $500 if you’re more in tune with a boot.
But specify the six-speed auto for the $15,990 base-model CD, and it will add an extra $2000 to that sticker price.
Holden prided itself on the work it did on tuning the first-generation gearbox to Australian tastes, but all the feedback it received suggested it was still wide of the mark. Something has changed.
Gone is the indecisiveness of the old gearbox, which struggled to find a sweet spot with the 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine’s 85kW of power and 155Nm of torque.
Instead, the new gearbox will hold gears longer, and even flick down a gear while coasting downhill to reduce the braking effort.
Meanwhile, the feel from behind the steering wheel is nice and crisp, although light, at low speeds, and weights up nicely as speed rises.
For an urban commuter car, there are no complaints about steering or ease of manoeuvrability.
The new 17-inch alloys are clad in better Continental rubber, addressing what Holden says was feedback that drivers were not entirely happy with the grip of the previous low rolling-resistance versions.
Unfortunately, a carry-over from the previous model is a ride that, while good at low speeds, becomes a bit choppy and disconnected a speeds rise. At times you’re left wondering if the front and rear ends belong to the same car.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The Barina has been dragged into the multimedia age with a clever touchscreen system that will eventually roll out across Holden’s mix of models.
It’s early days yet, but it could spell the end to digital radio if Holden gets the mix right.
Of more importance though are the running changes underneath: this is a better Barina.
Fuel savings with the better transmission and steering are only marginal for the base-model CD, so the extra $2000 spend for the six-speed auto is a little difficult to justify on paper.
However, for the top-spec CDX, it’s an automatic choice.