What’s hot: Very well-priced, fun handling, lots of equipment.
What’s not: Poor interior plastics, seats a bit limp.
X-FACTOR: Thrills at the wheel don't get much cheaper, and the five doors will be a plus for some.
Vehicle style: Small hatchback
Engine/trans: 103kW/200Nm 1.4 turbo petrol | 6spd manual/auto
Fuel consumption listed: 6.5l/100km (both) | tested: 8.9l/100km (manual)
The very idea of a Barina RS perhaps raises a chuckle in some. After all, the Barina is hardly a nameplate that conjures images of performance.
So it was with a slightly smug smile that we took to the wheel of the Barina RS for a long drive loop out to Holden's Lang Lang Proving Ground.
For accompaniment, we had the sort of weather that would have made even Noah a little antsy.
So, did that sporty tiddler wipe that grin off our faces or is a Barina RS a step too far?
The RS comes from the same factory as any other Barina: South Korea's Boryeong plant.
The interior fit and finish is quite good with just a few suspect plastics. It is in fact better than we expected and an improvement on earlier Barinas.
Although pretty elementary, the RS scores some piano black finishes and brushed-aluminium surrounds on the instrument pod.
The cabin is trimmed with leather on the seats, steering wheel and gear-shifter. Further clues to its sportier intent are a few RS logos scattered liberally around the cabin, most notably on the (excellent) steering wheel and the seat backrests.
The seats could be a little more supportive, particularly in the twisty stuff, but on the highway cruise, they're more than up to the job.
The rear seats are tight, especially for the over six-footer we hosted in the back seat for part of the drive. You could squeeze three across the back for a short, fun trip.
The RS also comes with heated seats (which were very welcome on launch day), air-con and, of course the excellent MyLink system that debuted on Barina in the first place.
The Holden team supplied a phone equipped with the BringGo sat-nav (and some terrible music) that hooks into MyLink. It worked very well, with just a few late instructions.
The dash plastics are a little hard and flimsy and while the Barina does have the USB slot in the glove box, there's a little gap for the cable to poke out, saving the crimping you'll get in its Trax cousin.
There's plenty room for odds and ends, three cupholders, good sized door pockets in the front and a boot that will fit a modest amount of shopping.
Drop the 60/40 split seats and large suitcases will easily fit in the wide, tall cabin.
ON THE ROAD
The RS's launch day was blighted by some serious precipitation - it was hissing down - and every centimetre of road under the Barina's 17-inch wheels was absolutely sodden.
Our initial impressions of the handling in these conditions were quite good. And, despite good on-road balance, the ride isn't too firm.
Shod with the 205/50 tyres, there's a fair amount of compliance in those hoops compared to the lower profiles found on similar cars.
But, the more we got to know it, the more the RS surprised us with its agility and composure.
Through some fabulous twisty roads, some unsealed, the Barina's torquey engine and good balance meant we could have a quite a lot of fun.
Silly speeds provoke understeer, made worse in the wet, but, as we found in the slalom, with this little hatch you can carry a lot of speed into left-right corners safely without things becoming too messy.
The electronics governing the traction control and slip were subtle enough not to kill the fun, with a good mix of safety and driver involvement.
The Barina RS is also quite good on the highway cruise (but the rain hammering on the roof made it sound like a bit of a tin shed).
This, however, showed up a couple of minor problems in the six-speed manual: the gap between second and third is gulf-like (this is becoming increasingly common among hot hatches) and the shifter feels a bit cheap in the hand.
The clutch though is well-weighted, with a sensible bite-point and just enough feel.
The six-speed automatic is pretty good too. It's quite good at working out what you want and delivering the right gear at the right time.
That said, you probably won't need it, the transmission is smart enough to render the switch pointless.
The 1.4 litre engine hails from GM's Austrian outpost. With a turbo attached it produces 103kW at 4900rpm and 200Nm of torque at a very useful 1800rpm.
While you'd never accuse it of pulling like a train, it's a lot of fun to pedal along if you can ignore the dull noise it makes.
It's quite revvy, and very happy adding to the warm hatch's list of achievements.
The only downside is that it just doesn't have quite the throttle response we'd like, but is certainly smooth and easygoing around town.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
The Barina RS certainly did wipe the smug smirks off our faces.
Holden's engineering team has managed a bit of alchemy here. What is a pretty unexciting hatchback in standard trim is transformed into a competent warm one in the Barina RS.
Its $20,990 price point reflects the hot-hatch price war.
When compared with the Suzuki Swift Sport, the Barina holds up really well, with a more torquey engine, better overall interior equipment and much better price.
The proper auto also plays in the Holden's favour, with the Swift making do with a CVT and the Fiesta the hitherto-unsporty Powershift.
What makes a budget warm-hatch a good one? A perky turbo helps, but the RS team has managed both a good chassis and good steering.
This warm Barina is a pleasant surprise. The buyers it will steal from Suzuki and Ford's Fiesta Sport won't be disappointed.
Pricing (excludes on-road costs)
- Barina RS - manual - $20,990
- Barina RS - auto - $23,190
- Barina CDX - auto - $19,690 (down $800)
- Barina CD - manual $14,990 (down $1000)
- Barina CD - auto - $17,190 (down $800)