It was time to face up to the fact that the Holden Barina has not been a light hatch hit, but now for 2017 the five-door-only model range has been grafted a fresh face.
Particularly in this flagship LT trim, the latest version of the South Korean-built Barina could be seen as one of the most successful mid-life facelifts in the industry, and the handsome new façade is all the work of Australian designers.
This current model arrived locally in 2011, however, and beyond the exterior changes the only other differences centre around the addition of a new 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone projection technology plus a fresh speedometer and tachometer cluster with a larger trip computer display.
Holden claims that the redesign and new technology provides the Barina with a fresh injection of energy for the new year. But with nothing else altered, is it really enough?
Vehicle Style: Light hatchback
Price: $20,190 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 85kW/155Nm 1.6 petrol four-cylinder | six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.7 l/100km | Tested: 8.9 l/100km
Gone are the CD, CDX and RS nameplates in the Barina range, replaced by the LS and LT utilising the same 1.6-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine as before. The flagship 1.4-litre turbo model has been ditched altogether due to low sales.
Pricing starts at $14,990 plus on-road costs for the manual, or $17,190 (plus orc) for the auto, while the LT seen here is a $20,190 (plus orc) auto-only proposition.
A highly competitive standard equipment list includes 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights, reverse-view camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control and auto on/off headlights. For only $200 less, a $16,990 (plus orc) Mazda2 Neo lacks all of the above features.
The top-spec Holden light car, however, only further adds larger 17-inch alloys, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, ‘Sportec’ leatherette seats with front heating and keyless auto-entry, all for its sizeable $3000 surcharge.
- Standard Equipment: keyless auto-entry, power windows and mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, multi-function trip computer, manual air-conditioning, leatherette trim, heated front seats and cruise control.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone projection.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 290 litres.
Immediately the Barina feels like a larger light hatchback compared with some of its five-door competitors.
A broad dashboard, thick forward pillars and generally comfy seats all endow it with a ‘big car’ feel to rival that of the Hyundai Accent. Meanwhile a Mazda2 or Toyota Yaris each feel smaller and frankly a bit tinny by comparison.
Despite being on sale for six years, the dashboard design is ageing well.
A pleasant new piano-black fascia surrounds the easy-to-use touchscreen display that also houses a clear reverse-view camera picture and links effortlessly to a smartphone either via Bluetooth or the USB port hidden in the upper glovebox lid.
The upper-dashboard trim itself is of a hard but nicely textured finish, with the lighter grey pad sweeping between each front door in order to avoid the dreary grey look typically found in some rivals.
Thankfully, the old (and cheap looking) motorbike-inspired driver display cluster also gives way to a more traditional set of instruments, with the new monochromatic trip computer display also showing a digital speedo to complement the analogue unit.
Although the LT further lifts the cabin ambience with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and chrome door handles, this cabin feels more like a $17,000 model grade rather than a $20,000 one. After all, a Suzuki Swift GL – which came out in 2011 like this model – offers both of the above items as standard for $17,990 (plus orc).
The Barina also lacks cloth trim covering the doors (standard on the Suzi) and some aspects of its fit and finish are lacking, notably the brittle plastic edge underscoring the grab handles of both front doors.
While the boot is a sizeable 290 litres – beaten only by the 300L Renault Clio, 354L Honda Jazz and 370L Accent – the rear accommodation of this Holden is a major disappointment, especially for a top-spec model.
The flat rear bench is at least perched high and legroom is decent, but there’s no overhead map lights and storage space is virtually non-existent – no fold-down armrest, no door pockets, no cupholders (leaving rear riders to share the front trio) and only a single map pocket.
For over $20,000 – or $24,173 driveaway according to Holden’s website – the lack of climate controls or forward collision and lane-departure warnings (both available overseas on the Barina’s US-spec Chevrolet Sonic twin) are other let-downs.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 85kW/155Nm 1.6 4cyl petrol
- Transmission: six-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and torsion bar rear
- Brake: ventilated front and rear drum brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
Even a struggling Inspector Clouseau could figure out how the Barina can feel so strong and sturdy relative to some rivals. Although its body is a comparable 4039mm long, the kerb weight of the LT is an extraordinarily high 1248kg.
The Holden’s body is 30mm shorter than a Mazda2, yet it’s 203kg heavier.
Where the pre-facelift model was available in $23,590 (plus orc) RS specification with a strong 103kW/200Nm 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, this engine is now unvailable. Disappointingly, only the 1.6-litre non-turbo engine is retained with an average 85kW of power at 6000rpm and 155Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
Such figures produced high in the rev range, all in a portly hatchback, create on-paper concerns that quickly come to light on the road. The six-speed automatic transmission gets awarded full marks for its smart calibration, however, while the coarse and gravelly engine does its best to take every shiny little gold star away.
The auto is so finely tuned that it downchanges aggressively when braking and holds gears meticulously on hills until the engine is revving hard, all in a mostly successful attempt to retain driveability without frustrating the driver.
Although it means the throttle never needs to be prodded to ensure a set speed is kept, it’s also a crude effort from a refinement and driving enjoyment perspective. Fuel economy is okay by class standards, but below average considering the lack of performance.
Perhaps surprisingly, the Barina is most enjoyable on a sweeping country road where its locally tuned suspension provides terrific control over bumpy bitumen, the Continental tyres grip tenaciously and the steering proves consistent and accurate.
Around town, however, the ride quality quickly turns brittle and abrupt, and the steering is loose and disconnected on the centre position. The LT simply lacks any of the fun and flair found in the best light hatchbacks.
The Barina was tested by ANCAP in 2012 and it scored 35.43 out of 37 points.
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, rear parking sensors and reverse-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Capped-price servicing program includes annual/15,000km checks at an extremely affordable cost of $229 for each of the first four dealer visits until four years or 60,000km.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Accent is roomy and cheap, the Mazda2 fun and cheap but small. The Yaris is as dour as the high-quality and smooth Swift is impressive, while the Fabia and Polo absolutely rule this class for driveability, dynamics, refinement and overall polish.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Holden needed to do much more with the mid-life facelift of its venerable light hatchback, but instead it has left the Barina vulnerable to attacks by newer rivals.
The LS appears good value in terms of space, solidity, standard kit and superbly low servicing costs, but this LT loses the entry model’s up-front advantage.
Making the 1.4-litre turbo standard on at least this top model would have been inspiring, partially to offset the heavy kerb weight. But is isn’t to be. Likewise, the forward collision and lane departure warning systems available overseas are nowhere to be seen here.
While decent in terms of infotainment and handling response, it feels as though papier-mâché has been used to cover the considerable cracks forming with the engine and chassis. More than a pretty new face is ultimately required.
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