9 Holden Barina

4.5 /10

92 wheelsmag.com.au DESPITE having had more lives than Kerri-Anne Kennerley, you can’t help but want to like Holden’s Barina. It’s been a Suzuki, an Opel, an exhumed Daewoo, and latterly a product of GM’s Korean arm with a sizeable dose of Down Under, yet somehow the 30-year-old nameplate is part of the fabric. Say ‘Barina’ and everyone knows what car you’re talking about.

Styled by Holden designer Ondrej Koromhaz while on secondment in Korea and tuned at Lang Lang for suspension, engine and transmission calibration, the TM Barina is almost eligible for Australian citizenship. Indeed, on a cross-country thrash, the Barina is in its element, tackling challenging roads with enthusiasm and maturity, while exposing Toyota’s big-selling Yaris as a city car desperately out of its depth in the same environment.

Riding with firmly damped composure and cornering with neatly balanced keenness, Barina ably displays the driver appeal that is at the core of Holden’s dynamic DNA.

Unfortunately, most Barinas are destined to see out their days plying city streets, and it’s here that GM’s light car trips on its shoelaces. For that, you can blame its drivetrain.

Dating back decades, the Barina’s 1.6-litre ‘Generation 3’ Ecotec four whirrs like an industrial fan under moderate throttle, sending vibrations through every interface the driver touches. Push the Barina hard and, surprisingly, its engine sounds less offensive… until you reach 6000rpm, at which point even Helen Keller would be wincing at its exceedingly buzzy and strained nature.

Not helping matters is a six-speed auto that, while blessed with a surfeit of ratios and some of the lowest gearing ever employed on a small car, can be dim-witted and slovenly. With cruise control activated, Barina’s transmission is reluctant to grab a lower gear on inclines until way too much speed has been washed off. It’s also fairly ignorant of a sudden stab of the right pedal. By the time Barina’s auto finally realises it needs to muster every emaciated pony it has, there simply aren’t enough horses in the stable to overcome its portly 1256kg kerb weight. It’s no wonder Barina’s fuel economy is poor.

Squandered opportunities continue inside the cabin. Like its quirky exterior, the design of Barina’s two-tone dashboard and motorcycle-inspired instrument pack polarises people, but at least it dares to be different. Unfortunately, it smells cheap – like someone burning plastic with a lighter in woodwork class – and while it appears solidly put together, there’s no doubting Barina’s ‘budget’ positioning.

If you don’t mind its non-premium feel, Barina has room on its side. Plenty of space up front and a theatre-ish rear bench with good leg and foot room and lots of headroom make Barina a shoe-in for leggy teens. But its seats are very firm – too firm for some over long distances – and its flat rear cushion offers minimal under-thigh support, which is disappointing. Likewise the tinny audio quality of its stereo and Bluetooth phone connection.

Barina’s price is $600 off this test’s value king (the $16,990 Jazz VTi), though you do get quality Continental rubber, a fullsize spare (with a cheaper Hankook tyre), cruise, Bluetooth audio streaming and 12 month/15,000km service intervals.

Barina also feels strong as an ox, with a five-star crash-test rating, but the downside here is weight – far too much of it – and that nail of an engine.

For a company with such vast engineering resources at its disposal, it’s damning that the Barina (and its Chevrolet Aveo twin) is so mediocre. If it were blessed with a competitive drivetrain, things would be different, but as it stands, the Barina only argues a decent case for itself as a country car destined to cover big distances over challenging terrain.

Otherwise, even Toyota’s Yaris is a better bet in a big city. – NP

Triple-treat coming

THE engine is the heart of a car’s personality, and the core of the Barina CD’s problems, so there’s little salvation for the threeyear- old TM-series at this late stage. But GM is rolling out an all-new family of small-capacity engines other models. Opel’s heavily revamped Corsa, which debuted at the Paris show in October, scores a tiny 998cc turbo-triple with 85kW (the same as Barina’s 1.6) and a chubby 170Nm from 1800-4500rpm. Just don’t expect to see any of them in Australia before 2016, probably in a new Corsa-based Barina, and potentially in GM’s new low-cost Opel Karl (the Spark/Agila replacement) also to be built in Korea.

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Barina tackles challenging roads with enthusiasm and maturity, but its engine is a nail and fuel economy is woeful

HOLDEN BARINA CD

$18,140* Engine 1598cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v Power 85kW @ 6000rpm Torque 155Nm @ 4000rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 4039/1735/1517/2525mm Weight 1256kg Cargo capacity 290 litres Tyres Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 195/65R15 91H Economy 9.1L/100km 0-60km/h 5.3sec 0-100km/h 12.4sec 0-400m 18.6sec @ 120.0km/h 80-120km/h 9.8sec 100km/h-0 40.0m 3yr resale 58% . Dynamics, solidity, space . Engine, economy, seats * Includes prestige paint ($550)