Holden versus Ford, the oldest battle in automotive Australia continues - isn’t that good! This time around it’s the tiddlers that are facing off to one another with Holden releasing a new model, the Barina RS, to take on Ford’s Fiesta Sport. These aren’t ultra-expensive machines competing in the hot-hatch field. Rather they can be classified as ‘warm hatches’.
Those looking for a bit more punch from the engine and better handling dynamics, but who are on a tight budget, can pick up a Barina RS for just $20,990 (auto $23,190). Ford’s Fiesta Sport comes in at $20,525. Whereas the hotter version, the Fiesta ST costs around 20 per cent more, at $25,990. Suzuki Swift Sport is also in the mix, but with a tag of $22,990 it may struggle in comparison.
Explore the 2014 Holden Barina Range
Barina RS is powered by a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine producing 103 kilowatts of power and 200 Nm of torque, the latter at only 1850 rpm, meaning it provides maximum grunt virtually all the time. The Ford and Suzuki engines have power outputs 92 and 100 kilowatts, respectively.
Transmissions have six forward ratios in either manual or conventional automatic format. The auto doesn’t have paddle shifters, though there are manual overrides on the gear lever, these involve a somewhat awkward thumb-button operation.
Our preference is, predictably, the full manual gearbox, but if the auto had proper paddles we could take advantage of the very fast shifts it provides. Not to mention the little throttle blips it gives on downchanges. Barina’s engine has a nice exhaust note thanks to a specially designed system.
Holden Barina in standard format is a chunky looking machine that takes its own direction in styling - and we admire the designers for that. To further improve the looks, Barina RS has lowered suspension, big wheels and revamped front and rear styling to give it a sporty appearance. Add to that a strong orange colour that’s not offered on the rest of the range and this hot little Holden really looks the part. The interior has also gained a sporty look based around fashionable piano-black inserts.
GM’s advanced MyLink infotainment system is naturally a feature of the Barina RS. It lets you control various functions using your own smartphone as the intervening device. MyLink uses a seven-inch colour touchscreen to access embedded apps, including Pandora, Stitcher, TuneIn Radio and the BringGo satellite navigation system.
Though built by GM-Korea, considerable design input was made in the Barina by many GM people worldwide including Australian engineers who played a strong part, particularly in sorting the suspension and steering. A great deal of road testing was done downunder, both at Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground and on public roads. The RS body has been lowered by 10 millimetres and additional bracing added to give the suspension a stronger platform on which to operate. The suspension has been firmed up and the steering has a faster ratio. Wheels are 17 inches in diameter.
We spent a most enjoyable day at Lang Lang really putting the Barina RS through its paces. We also did extensive testing on the road. Not to forget driving in boring traffic to check it out the real world conditions. It rained without pause for the whole eight hours we spent driving. On the face of it this was a negative, but in actual fact it proved a positive. So well have the dynamics engineers done their work that the Barina RS always felt in control of the situation.
Handling of the sporty Barina RS is nicely balanced. Steering is sharp and positive, with good feedback and the nimble nature of small cars further expands the driving pleasure. OK, a Barina RS is not as quick as an HSV in a straight line, or in corners, but the nimbleness lets you enjoy Barina RS at normal speeds in day-to-day driving. Turbo lag is minimal as the small capacity, lightweight engine doesn’t take a lot to spin it up to full torque. Disc brakes are fitted to the rear as well as the front to match the added engine performance.