Holden Barina VS Holden Spark
- LT looks cool
- Good headroom
- Decent boot
- Not fun to drive
- Underwhelming engine
- Feeling its age
- A cut above from behind the wheel
- Plenty of cool tech
- Not cheap for its segment
- Lacks niceties for backseat passengers
The Holden Barina is a nameplate that is arguably better known than many of the others in the company’s line-up. It has been around longer than Trax, Equinox, Colorado, Trailblazer, Spark… in fact, longer than everything but Astra and Commodore.
The current-generation Barina itself has been around for a while, too: it launched way back in 2012, and it’s fair to say the market has moved on a long way since then. But so has the Barina, following a refresh late in 2016 - and it remains one of the roomier offerings in the segment, and one of the keener-priced cars, too.
In fact, it managed to run eighth in terms of sales in the declining light-car segment in 2017… and yet, with nearly 4000 cars sold, there are still plenty of people interested in the Barina model.
So, does it still stack up?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the updated Holden Spark LT with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
The micro-car segment in Australia has driven off a cliff. We are shunning our smallest cars in a way we never have before, and nobody seems to be entirely sure why.
The strength of the second-hand market is one suspected culprit, while another is the tempting price point of vehicles that are one size bigger, with city-car shoppers able to upsize for relative peanuts.
Whatever the reason, the segment is stuck in neutral and halfway along Struggle Street. It needs a spark. And Holden's hoping theirs is just the ticket.
Now you might recognise it as a Barina, but Holden dropped that part of the moniker when this new model launched in March. It is now simply known as the Holden Spark, tested here in top-spec LT guise and wearing a sticker price of $18,990. It sits above only the entry-level, bargain-basement LS ($13,990 manual, $15,690 automatic) in the two-model Spark range.
Designed and built in Korea, the Spark seems to have little to do with our unique marketplace, but Holden promises us this new model couldn't be more dinky-di if it ran on vegemite. Australia had crucial input into its design in Korea, while Holden's Aussie engineers put the new model though its paces on the company's proving ground, tweaking the suspension and steering for Australia's road surfaces.
So the question now is, is the Spark bright enough to lure buyers back to the micro-car segment?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Would I recommend you buy a 2018 Holden Barina? In a word, no. There are better light cars out there for close to the money - cars that are more modern, more sophisticated, more refined, more efficient and better equipped.
At this point in time the Barina still has its place - if you just need a cheap set of wheels, I guarantee you will be able to score a good deal. But if it were me, and it was my money - but I had to buy a Holden - I’d be checking out the slightly smaller Spark (and saving a few bucks in the meantime) or trying to stretch the budget to the larger Astra.
Is the Barina due for replacement? Let us know in the comments section below.
The marvels of local engineering strike again: the Spark LT definitely feels a cut above some of its budget competition from behind the wheel. It is well-equipped, too, and packed with connectivity and technology features. In short, it could be just the spark Australia's city-car segment needs.
Would you consider a small city-car like the Spark? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
The Barina isn’t the most intriguing or attractive offering in the segment - that mostly has to do with the fact cars it competes against have changed quite a bit in the six years since the current-gen Holden launched.
There are more attractive rivals, but I think the update in late 2016 was definitely worthwhile. And in high-spec LT guise as you see here - with those stylish 17-inch alloy wheels standing out against the boxy silhouette of the Barina - it’s quite handsome. In fact, the LT for me is an 8/10, and the LS is a 6/10, so I’ve taken the average here.
The changes included new enclosed headlights with LED daytime running lights (DRLs) rather than the old ring-type headlights, a new grille, new front and rear bumpers, and revised tail-lights.
The interior isn’t quite as nice too look at, with loads of hard plastics of varying textures and qualities, while the ‘leather’ on the seats is unconvincing. It is pretty spacious, though..
There's only so much that can be done with a car in this bracket (there's hardly an abundance of surface metal to play with), but Holden's Korean design team have done an admirable job of inserting some excitement into what is traditionally a fairly bland category.
A powerful front end, with two fog lights sitting below the headlights, is dominated by a vaguely Kia-esque grille. And when viewed side on, the Spark looks to be sitting low, courtesy of standard 15-inch alloys that fill the wheel arches and tarmac-kissing side skirting that runs front to back. Two fairly heavy body creases also break up the metal monotony, running along the front and rear doors.
It's an energetic-looking package, and even more youth appeal arrives courtesy of a huge array of personalisation options, with Holden promising 33 different changes a buyer can make, including the wheel inserts, wing mirror caps and roof rails.
Inside, the focus is more on connectivity than luxury, so you can expect fake leather, hard plastics and fairly ordinary seat cushioning, but it's all nicely put together, and the basic feel is broken up by some well-placed style elements, like the coloured insert that runs the length of the dash.
The Barina has one of the larger interiors of the segment, thanks in large part to its high roofline. It measures a close-to-its-peers 4039mm long and 1735mm wide, but at 1517mm tall, it isn’t far off compact SUVs.
There is really good headroom front and rear, and the driver’s seat has height adjustment - meaning taller drivers can lower themselves in pretty nicely, but the passenger front seat doesn’t have height adjust, and it sits quite high.
The media system is a 7.0-inch touchscreen with two USB ports (one to connect, one to charge - both located in the top glovebox) and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming - and you get that system in both variants. The screen is supposed to have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but when I connected my iPhone it wouldn’t show up the mirroring screen… which was annoying, because there’s no sat nav.
The driver-info display may be a monochrome thing, but it is super handy to have a digital speed readout, and you can keep an eye on other key bits of info, like fuel use.
Back-seat legroom is adequate, but not exceptional - behind my own driving position (I’m 183cm tall) my knees were hard-up against the seat. You could fit two adults in the back pretty comfortably, but three would be hard work. If you tend to transport younger passengers, the dual ISOFIX and three top-tether child-seat anchors will come in handy.
Storage in the back is poor - there is no rear door storage at all, only one map pocket and no fold-down armrest. There’s just a single cup holder in front of the middle seat.
Up front there are two cupholders between the seats, and there are large pockets in the doors but they aren’t formed to hold bottles, so your fizzy might go flat from shifting around. The dashboard console is quite small, and there’s no covered armrest between the seats - but the driver gets a van-style armrest.
The biggest issue I have with the cabin is that the steering wheel is huge - like, it’s the same one used in the old Commodore, and it’s way too large for the Barina’s cabin - and the gear-shifter is oversized, too. Smaller features would make for a more spacious cockpit, and it’s a bit too easy to accidentally put it all the way down into M for manual mode, rather than D.
The boot of the Barina is fairly good for its size at 290 litres (VDA), and that expands to 653L with the back seats folded down in 60/40 formation - it’s a good cargo hold, albeit with a large, deep load lip, and there’s a space-saver spare under the floor.
There are some other little things that are good: the fact the electric windows have auto-down (and auto-up on the fronts). And some things that aren’t: the masses of hard, cheap-feeling plastics; the knobs and dials that don’t feel great to turn; and the seats are pretty uncomfortable.
Nope. This is a pocket-sized car, namely because it has the same cargo capacity as your pocket.
Holden has stretched the space between the wheels to maximise passenger space, and as a result there's actually plenty of room in either row. But to add space somewhere, you need to take it from somewhere else, and that somewhere else is the boot, where you'll find a mere 185-litres of luggage space. The situation is improved by dropping the 60:40 split rear seats, but you'll be forever choosing between passengers and luggage.
Front seat passengers share a pair of cupholders, but rear seat passengers get none. They don't get room for bottles in their door pockets. Or door pockets at all, for that matter. The backseat does, however, get two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat.
Price and features
The entry-level LS Barina has a list price of $14,990 plus on-road costs for the manual, or $17,190 plus on-roads for the automatic. But realistically, you should be able to bargain and pay $15k drive-away for the manual and $17k drive-away for the auto - or maybe less: I’ve seen dealers listing LS autos at $15k drive-away. And Holden is also promoting a free servicing plan for three years.
The same can be said of the LT automatic tested here, which has a list price of $20,390 plus on-road costs. I wouldn’t expect to shell out more than $19k on the road for this spec, because sales are hard to come by in this part of the market - especially when you can potentially get a bigger and better Astra for similar cash.
Let’s look at what each version of the Barina has in terms of standard specifications.
The LS has 16-inch alloy wheels, auto halogen headlights with LED daytime running lights, a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (supposedly!), plus a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
The LT model trades up to 17-inch alloy wheels, plus it adds keyless entry and push-button start, a leather-lined steering wheel, 'Sportec' fake leather trim and heated front seats.
There are six different hues to choose from, and only 'Summit White' is included at no cost. The other options - 'Nitrate Silver', 'Boracay Blue', 'Absolute Red', 'Son of a Gun Grey' and 'Mineral Black' - will cost you an additional $550.
While the cheap and cheerful entry-level Spark, the $13,990 LS, plays smack-bang in the middle of the micro-car segment, the top-spec LT has bigger, and considerably more expensive, shoes to fill. At $18,990, the LT sails perilously close to its bigger and equally well-equipped competition.
For that money, the Spark needs to arrive wanting for little, and in most respects it does exactly that. For a start, a CVT automatic is standard, and is joined by some stand-out features in this segment, like cruise control, keyless entry with proximity unlocking, push-button start and a fake leather trim that Holden calls Sportec.
Engine & trans
Powering the Barina is a 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, which produces 85kW of power and 155Nm of torque. There’s the choice of a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic, and the Barina is front-wheel drive.
The outputs of the engine are decent for the class, but the weight of the Barina - a porky 1248kg - means it doesn’t feel as sprightly as some competitors, many of which are below 1100kg.
There is no high-performance model - the Barina RS that came out in 2013 lasted a few years, but was axed in 2016.
Because the Barina doesn’t have a downsized turbo engine like some rivals, it is claimed to use a relatively high 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres for the manual model (LS only), while the auto version (in LS and LT guise) is said use even more, at 7.5L/100km.
At the very least the fact the Barina can run on regular unleaded (91RON) means filling up will be a little cheaper.
Spring for the LT, and that's paired with a CVT automatic transmission, with Holden promising that combination will sip a claimed/combined 5.5L/100km (though we recorded a less impressive 8.0 litres on our test).
There are elements of the drive experience in the Barina that are fine, but not one part of it sets a benchmark for the segment. And in a class where almost every car is at least a little bit fun to drive - think the Mazda 2, Skoda Fabia, Volkswagen Polo, Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Peugeot 208, Suzuki Swift... I could keep going, but I'd prefer to drive any of those every day. Heck, even a Toyota Yaris or Hyundai Accent excites me more than this.
If all you do is potter from home to work, or home to the train station, there’s a good chance this will be fine as your means of conveyance. But if you’re the sort of person who wants a car they can enjoy, the Barina mightn’t be for you.
The LT model with its larger wheels may look pretty good, but the ride is fouled by those rims. And while the grip from the Continental ContiPremiumContact 2 tyres is genuinely good, the steering can be slow and heavy at times, and there’s a lot of road noise on coarse-chip surfaces.
Those wheels are nice and might be acceptable in a sporty hatch, but the performance doesn’t match up - the 1.6-litre engine is a little bit gutless at times, with its lack of torque meaning the six-speed automatic transmission is quite busy shuffling through the gears. That’s not unusual in this class, but the engine isn’t very refined, and can get trashy at high revs.
The transmission is not only busy, but it can be clunky when shifting, too - I noticed a few times when it was going between second and third gears.
Holden's Aussie engineering team say they were able to get their hands all over the new Spark pre-launch, launching lap after lap of the company's proving ground as they tweaked the steering and suspension tune to better suit local conditions. And the results are very good.
The 1.4-litre engine doesn't generate a huge amount of power (though it is good for its class), but it's delivered in a way that makes the Spark feel like it's punching well above its weight, rarely feeling underpowered in everyday situations.
The Aussie magic sprinkled over the suspension and steering transforms the way the Spark LT drives, both in the city and further afield. The ride nudges the firm side of the spectrum (but not enough to bother you over inner-city ruts and bumps) which translates to a low, flat feeling through corners.
All in all, the little Spark more than holds its own on more challenging roads. The steering, too, helps the Spark outshine the regular city commuters, with a naturally engaging set-up that always feels connected to the road below.
There is a certain skittishness to the way it drives at times, though, with the gearbox wanting to continue lurching forward for a split-second after you take your foot off the accelerator, which takes some getting used to.
The fact the Barina is still marked with a five-star ANCAP stamp is potentially a bit misleading - the car was tested way back in 2011 for 2012 models onwards, and the strictness of testing has changed markedly over that period.
As a result, the Barina range still features the must-have inclusions you would expect - a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, and six airbags.
But in a world where auto emergency braking (AEB) can be had in cars from just $14,190 (the Kia Picanto), the Barina lacks that latest tech. No Barina can be had with AEB, even as an option, and you can forget lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring or any of those other nice technologies that could prove life-saving. It’s a ‘no’ for front sensors as well.
Standard safety fare comes courtesy of six airbags, along with hill-hold assist, ABS and ESC, but it does miss out on more advanced technologies like autonomous brakes.
Springing for the LT will add rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and cruise control as standard fare, though the lot can be added to the entry-level LS as part of Holden's Driver Assistance Pack.
The Spark range scored the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested early this year.
Holden has rolled back that limited-time seven-year warranty, with the standard old three-year/100,000km plan in place once more. There is the option of extended warranty, with up to six years/175,000km available.
Holden requires the Barina to be serviced every nine months or 15,000km, which is reasonably lenient - some competitors require maintenance visits every six months/10,000km.
The costs are covered by Holden’s 'Know Your Cost Servicing' plan, with the first and second services priced at $249, the third and fourth at $349, while the fifth drops back to $249. No matter which way you look at it, it’s more affordable than a lot of competitors.
The Spark range is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty and requires servicing every 15,000kms. The Spark range falls under Holden's lifetime capped price servicing scheme, with trips to the dealership capped at $1,145 total for the first five services.