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Holden Barina 2011 review

The charge of the light car brigade has picked up pace with Holden's new Barina hatch. It leads the charge with a five-star safety rating, a host of standard features and keen pricing.

Holden spokesman John Elsworth says it will change people's perceptions of their light cars. When it arrives in November it will come in one trim level only to make it easier and simpler for Holden, dealers and customers, Elsworth says.

The new TM Barina is built in South Korea, but is part of a global GM platform that included Australian design and testing input. The car will be sold under various names such as Chevrolet Aveo in more than 60 countries. A sedan version arrives here early next year.

Value

While the Barina Spark will continue to be sold as a bargain basement model, the new Barina hatch is targeting the over-$15,000 light car segment where buyers expect a little bit more. So Holden has thrown a lot of standard features at its one-trim hatch including Bluetooth with audio streaming, cruise control, rear spoiler, USB/iPod connector, follow-me-home lighting, and 15-inch alloy wheels. An obvious omission, though, is parking sensors.

The five-speed manual transmission is listed at $15,990 and at launch will sell for $16,990 drive away. The six-speed auto adds $2000 to the price. Marketing manager Emma Pinwill says motorists would have to buy the second or third trim level in other models to match the Barina's feature package.

"There are more than 30 brands in this segment - it's one of the most competitive in the world - and consumers demand more advanced value-packed products," she says.

Technology

Holden lead development engineer Adam Shaw says their engineers have injected Holden DNA into the Barina hatch. By that he means the car was tested on our roads and in our weather conditions to calibrate the transmission, ride and handling to suit Australian customer standards for noise and vibration, as well as local standards for fuel economy and emissions.

It is powered by a 85kW 1.6-litre petrol engine. While a diesel engine is available in other markets, Holden is adopting a wait-and-see approach. The automatic transmission has Active Select adaptive shift controls, with a wide ratio spread featuring a long first gear for rapid acceleration and a tall top gear for highway cruising with low fuel consumption. Shaw says it has 11 per cent more power than the TK Barina and 7 per cent more torque.

Yet fuel economy has improved from 7.2 litres per 100km for the manual TK Barina (7.6 auto) to 6.8 (man) and 7.3 (auto). Likewise, CO2 emissions have been reduced from 171g/km (182 auto) to 162/174. Despite the use of lightweight materials and suspension components, the car uses thicker and heavier glass to reduce noise.

Design

Holden designer Richard Ferlazzo says their designer, Ondrej Koromhaz, was sent to South Korea a few years ago to lead the exterior design project for the Barina. "It's a truly global car and we're proud to say that Ondrej is one of our designers," he says. "The objective we gave him was to design a serious small car with a fun spirit."

While most of the cars in the light segment are cute, Feralzzo says the Barina is a bit more "masculine and robust", featuring motorcycle inspiration in the headlights and instruments. "Most small cars have a cheap and cheerful happy look," he says. "This has a little bit of a frown and assertiveness. For a small car it's tough and nuggety."

The cabin features more than 12 storage spaces in the front passenger compartment, including cubby holes above and beside the centre stack, on top of the dashboard, in the doors and centre console, and a two-part glovebox. It comes in seven exterior colours with metallic paint costing an extra $500.

Pinwill says accessories include "lots of bling" such as chrome light surrounds and alloy pedals. "This is a style-conscious market," she says. "It's no secret that this segment is skewed to females, but the sporting orientation gives us the chance to market at males as well."

Safety

The Barina has scored a maximum five stars in the latest ANCAP safety ratings. Shaw says this is due to the structural integrity of the body and chassis which includes high-strength steel, crumple zones, tubular door beams, a protected fuel tank and reinforced A and B pillars. There are also five seatbelts with pretensioners in the front, six airbags, collapsible pedals and pedestrian protection in the bonnet and bumpers. It also has stability and traction control, plus a suite of braking safety technology.

Driving

The photos show a wide-legged, muscular hatch, but the wide-angle lens shots accentuate the features. It's not that macho in the flesh/metal. However, it is a tidy design with an aggressive set of "teeth and eyes".

Inside, the plastic trim looks a lot softer than it actually is, but it's still good quality with a lot of handy receptacles to store mobile phones, iPods, wallets, coins, etc. The iPod connector plugs are conveniently located in the upper glovebox. Fit and finish is every bit as good as its Japanese and Korean colleagues.

However, the levels of wind and road noise are much better. This feels a refined and civilised car to drive in the city and no less harsh on the open road.  It hits potholes without fuss and feels solid and unshaken. The five-speed manual is a slick gearbox with a light clutch that is easy to use in heavy traffic.

The auto tends to flare and hunt around a bit too much, especially under acceleration or up hills. Steering is light enough for carpark situations with an assured feeling on the highway. The brake pedal feels firm and the stoppers are responsive even though it has drums on the rear like many of its kinfolk.

It may only be a small car, but it feels big inside. The outer limits of the body are difficult to see, so parking sensors would be handy. The front seats have plenty of adjustment and the steering wheel is adjustable for reach and height, so it is easy to get a suitable position for any driver. Rear leg and head room is ok for adults, but boot space is tight. The rear seats fold down and have a 60-40 split for cargo flexibility.

Verdict

This is a much more civlised and refined model than the TK Barina. Put this on your grocery list if you're looking for a safe, light car with a lot of features.       

Pricing Guides

$6,990
Based on 125 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$2,000
Highest Price
$11,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
(base) 1.6L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $4,990 – 9,999 2011 Holden Barina 2011 (base) Pricing and Specs
Classic 1.6L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $5,000 – 6,990 2011 Holden Barina 2011 Classic Pricing and Specs
(base) 1.6L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $4,990 – 9,999 2011 Holden Barina 2011 (base) Pricing and Specs
Classic 1.6L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $4,499 – 5,495 2011 Holden Barina 2011 Classic Pricing and Specs