Holden Barinas come from a variety of backgrounds. From 1989 until April 1994, Barina was a Japanese Suzuki Swift with a different name, though it sold in fewer variants than did the Swift. From April 1994, Barina was built by German car maker Opel.
Then from December 2005, Barina was produced by the South Korean company Daewoo. These days Daewoo, now GM-Korea, has quite a few Australian engineers and designers so there's plenty of local expertise in them.
To further increase confusion, Opel Corsa entered the Australian market for the first time in September 2012 and is the ‘grandson’ of the Barina that used to be built for Holden by Opel.
It’s still early days for the Corsa in Australia, but owners of the German Barinas are paying close attention to them. Not only do Corsas have sportier dynamics than the Korean Barinas, the importer is closely related to Holden in back-office operations.
Holden Barina is a small car that’s generally tough in its build and put together to a good standard in any of the factories just mentioned. It has earned a good reputation for being simple to drive and park.
However, some older models didn’t have power-assisted steering as standard so can be a handful at parking speeds. If you do come across one be sure to road test it at very low speeds to see what you think.
The Barina is sold as a three-door or five-door hatchback, or a four-door sedan, the latter not offered at all times. Occupant space in the front seats is fine. Some drivers complain the pedals are too close together in the German versions, others don’t have a problem.
Rear seat legroom is rather restricted unless the front occupants are prepared to give up some of their space. Hardly unusual in a car in this class. Boot space is marginal in the ‘Suzuki’ Barina, better in the ‘Opel’ and ‘Daewoo’ versions. Naturally the rear-seat backrest can be folded down to increase luggage room when required.
In their Suzuki and Daewoo formats the Barina is mainly aimed at suburban running. The German Opel Barina isn't out of place on country roads provided they are not too rough; corrugated roads can knock them around. They are designed to cruise at 140 to 160 km/h in their home country so dawdling along at 110 km/h in Australia sees them barely raising a sweat.
The current GM-Korea Barina isn’t too bad on the rough stuff, but is still better left to the suburban areas. Handling in the European-sourced Barinas is enjoyable and will appeal to the enthusiast. The Suzuki and Korean models can be on the soft side, though a decent set of tyres can make them reasonably pleasant to drive.
All Barinas have four-cylinder engines. The Suzuki engine is a 1.3-litre unit (three-cylinder engines used in some Suzuki Swifts but were never installed in Barinas). Though the engine is small, performance is reasonably good because of the light weight of the car.
The European-built Opel Barina comes with several different engine sizes. The 1.2-litre engine was sluggish and a poor seller, it was discontinued midway through 1997; the 1.4-litre is the most common engine and provides on-road performance that’s fine for most people.
There's also a hot GSi motor in the Opel versions of the Barina. It had 1.6 litres until the 2001 model, then 1.8 litres (re-tagged as the Barina SRi) made it a genuine hot hatch at a pretty modest price.
Engines in the current Barina, the South Korean one, have a capacity of 1.2 litres in the low-cost Spark model and 1.6 litres in the others. The 1.2 is on the dead side but the 1.6 provides reasonably peppy performance. These days there’s no high-performance option on Barina, but the Opel Corsa OPC, launched early in 2013 is a great little hot hatch.
Five-speed manual gearboxes are probably the best bet unless you are going to be doing a lot of heavy-duty commuting. The automatic in the ‘Suzuki’ Barina is a three-speed unit, that in the German Opel and Korean models a four-speed. The automatic option isn’t offered in all versions of the Opel-based Barina.
From November 1997 until late 2000 some three-door hatches were converted into two-door cabriolets by HSV in Melbourne. They are great fun to cruise in when the weather’s right, but their extra weight makes them sluggish in acceleration and handling suffered because of the removal of the roof.
The cabriolet is even smaller in the back seat than the others, so is really a two-plus-two not a four-seater. Spare parts prices are generally favourable and there are Holden dealers in virtually all areas of Australia. Those in remote country areas are unlikely to stock every Barina part, so you may have to wait for parts to be shipped from a major city.
Barinas are reasonably easy for the amateur mechanic to service and repair, though the underbonnet area is on the crowded side and work can be frustrating at times. Having a workshop manual on hand before you lift the bonnet makes a lot of sense. Insurance charges are generally reasonable, some companies will ask extra for the higher-performance Barina GSi and SRi.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The engine should start reasonably quickly and idle without too much movement. Listen for a rattle when it first kicks over, even if the rattle dies away after a couple of seconds it probably means the engine is badly worn.
After the engine has been idling for a minute or so, hit the accelerator pedal and look for a puff of smoke from the exhaust. This could indicate serious engine wear.
Make some fast gearchanges and listen and feel for a manual gearbox that baulks or crashes. The problem usually shows up in the critical third-to-second downchange before any others.
Automatics that are rough in their changes or which change too frequently, may be due for an overhaul.
Check that the brakes don't pull to one side under hard application. If ABS is fitted, feel for a pulsing through the pedal when you push it very hard.
Look for front tyres that are worn unevenly. This could be caused by something as simple as poor wheel alignment, but it could also mean the body has been twisted in a prang.
Rust is not normally a problem in Suzuki-built Barinas, but if it does get a hold it can make a real mess of the body in a relatively short time. Be wary of this because rust repairs can cost big bucks.
Opel cars are significantly better for rust protection and the only problems we have seen are in cars poorly repaired after a crash. Korean cars look to be well rust proofed and are standing up well.
To be on the safe side, check for rust in all lower areas of the body, doors and hatchback, as well as the surrounds of the front and rear windows and the petrol filler flap.
Budget on paying from $2000 to $5000 for a 2004 Barina 1.3-litre three-door hatch; $5000 to $8000 for a 2006 1.6-litre sedan; $6000 to $10,000 for a 2005 1.8-litre Sri three-door; $7000 to $11,000 for a 2009 1.6-litre five-door or a 2012 1.2-litre Spark; and $10,000 to $15,000 for a 2012 1.6-litre Classic sedan.
CAR BUYING TIP
Small cars with low kilometres on the clock have probably spent most of their lives in heavy-duty traffic with their engines cold. This is not good for longevity of mechanical components.