Thursday, May 24, 2012
While the new Barina is a major step forward in Holden small car design, it is worth pointing out that the model it replaces was not exactly a “Mover and shaker” in our mini hatch market.
It is fair to say this latest Barina hardly has had a hard act to follow. However, it does have some big names to chase down if it is going to make any sort of impact in a mini hatch market currently bristling with strong contenders such as the Suzuki Swift, Ford Fiesta and VW Polo.
The Barina has at best had a chequered career spanning over 25 years, starting out as a clone of the original Suzuki Swift launched in 1985. In the mid 1990’s the decision was made to sell the Barina as a rebadged version of European sourced Opel Corsa. Going Euro did little to raise the cars profile or sales performance although Holden plugged away with European connection until 2005. By this stage it made more economic sense to supply the Barina from Holden’s parent company General Motors Korean division.
This latest version of the Barina launched in the final quarter of 2011 will be sold in over 60 countries as the Chevrolet Aveo and Sonic. Like the Barina’s that have gone before it this one also represent good value for money and is loaded with a surprising amount of kit and safety equipment for it modest asking price.
Visual the new generation Barina is more appealing than the previous model with its clean fluid lines that have are clearing geared for the global market. I am not sure that the concealed rear door handles are. While they provide a point-of-difference over the competition, I did not find them particularly functional. These types of door handles date back to the 1990’s and a bit like pop-up head lights that were also a hit around at that time they are best left as a 1990’s automotive fads. The wheels on the new Barina are shunted out to all four corners, a move that helps give the car a more squat and aggressive on-road stance, something that is further reinforced by ten-spoke 16” alloy wheels and an integrated, body-coloured rear spoiler.
There has been a major refresh of the cabin architecture. The instrument cluster features a large, round analogue tachometer set within an asymmetrical LCD readout alongside an easy-to-read digital speedometer. Unique pockets have been created on either side of the centre stack and upper instrument panel for smaller items like wallets and personal devices. The bi-level glove box has two concealed storage areas complete with USB and auxiliary outlets with a recessed channel to accommodate an MP3 player cable.
Just one well-appointed five-door hatch variant is offered, with the 5-speed manual retailing for $22,995. The optional six-speed automatic borrowed from the larger Holden Cruze adds another $2,000 to the asking price. Recently I have driven the Barina in automatic and manual forms and it became quickly apparent that they will attract buyers by offering real value for money and lots of load and passenger space, not because they are strong on refinement or driving dynamics.
A nippy 85kW 1.6-litre engine is one of the lustier offerings in the mini hatch segment and the product of a major upgrade of the motor used in the previous model. This engine has done time in a variety of Holden and General Motors models around the automotive globe over the last 20 years and must in line for long service award. With so many years on the clock its days are numbered and I would not be surprised to see it replaced with a version of the technically superior 1.4 turbo petrol used in the Holden Cruze. Until then, most buyers will be happy enough with what is a rather harsh, but hard working engine that is hard to fault for endeavour and honesty. It is lively in the low to mid rev range, but above 4500rpm starts to lose its composure. Plenty of low speed torque means the motor is well suited to the efficient six-speed automatic. It does such a convincing job the smart money is on this transmission to easily out sell the crunchy shifting five-speed manual.
Longer and wider than before this Barina offers the driver and passengers more space than they perhaps have a right to expect in a car of this size. A 60/40 split fold rear seats folds flat to provide a roomy and flexible 290 litre cargo cavity with the rear seats in use and 653 litres when they are not.
Holden’s engineering team have modified the suspension so it is more in tune with our road conditions and more demanding drivers. Like most cars of this size with their shorter wheel bases and reduced suspension travel, ride comfort is a bit patchy. Under 70km/h over road surfaces that are not marble bench top smooth, suspension noise is never to far away. Both test cars nipped through the corners confidently but were at times rather ponderous to react to unexpected changes in the road surface at higher speeds.
What is the verdict? A big improvement over the model it replaces and great value for money, but lacks the polish and refinement to threatening the leaders in the mini hatch class.