Hyundai i20 VS Holden Barina
- Cracking exhaust
- Fun rather than ferocious
- A hoot on a track or (we expect) a winding road
- Too soon to properly judge it
- Manual only will deter shoppers
- Lacks the out-and-out punch of bigger hatches
- LT looks cool
- Good headroom
- Decent boot
- Not fun to drive
- Underwhelming engine
- Feeling its age
After we spent what felt like an eternity with the Hyundai i30 N being an only child in Australia, the lauded hot hatch is finally getting a smaller sibling, with the Korean brand confirming the i20 N will debut in Australia next year, likely in the first six months of 2021.
On paper, at least, the city-sized hot hatch promises to deliver the performance thrills of the N brand to a whole new demographic, given its utterly family-proof dimensions and what will obviously be a more affordable price point.
But is it truly worthy of the N badge? We put an early prototype version to the test on the track to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
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|
We'll reserve full judgement until we've lived with a production version of the i20 N, but after our short, track-based taste test? We like it a lot.
Fun rather than ferocious, it's the kind of hot hatch you can have an absolute blast in without feeling like you're going to kill yourself or your licence, and you can't help but climb out smiling..
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.
Again, this more an arbitrary score here, as the only i20 N we've seen to date was dropped in camouflage inside and out.
That said, you can tell from its silhouette that this a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches and 18-inch blacked-out alloys, a domed bonnet, and little roof spoiler jutting out from above the rear windscreen.
Hyundai tells us the i20 N will also serve up a new air intake on front bumper, unique side sills, a new radiator grille, and a new rear bumper with a diffuser, as well as new rear lights. You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue that's become the signature of the brand.
Inside, Hyundai says you'll find a "high-performance driving space" (whatever that means) with a host of N stuff, like a sports steering wheel and shifter, metal pedals, sport seats up front and blue highlights throughout the interior trimmings.
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..
Not particularly practical, to be fair. While Hyundai is yet to confirm the specification details of the i20 N, it is based on the brand's existing city car, so expect similar dimensions here.
It does, though, have four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition, and means climbing into the backseat isn't as hard as it could be. Once there, though, you won't be spoiled for space.
For reference, the regular i20 serves up twin cupholders up front, and bottle storage in each of the doors.
That car also stretches some 4035mm in length, 1734mm in width and 1474mm in height. That's enough to squeeze 326 litres (VDA) into the boot, or 1042 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded flat.
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.
Price and features
This is a tough one to answer, without yet knowing the pricing details. But Hyundai has told us that it will be priced on or around the money for the segment, which should see it land around the early $30k mark.
In terms of exactly what you get for that money, well, that remains to be seen. But here's what we know so far.
Expect 18-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber, a digital driver's display and a second, central touchscreen that will deliver both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remote unlocking with push-button start, power windows, and...
Well, that's about all we could glean from our very camouflaged car. But you will also get a whole heap of performance kit, which we'll touch on under the Engine and Transmission section.
For everything else, though, you'll just have to watch this space.
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.
Engine & trans
I like the engine. A lot. Not the most powerful in the class, sure, but not underpowered in my opinion, either.
That's enough grunt, Hyundai says, to deliver a "class-leading" power to weight ratio of 126kW per tonne.
So how does it stack up? It puts the i20 N about a touch under segment standard, power-wise, with cars like the Polo GTI making 147kW and 320Nm, while the Fiesta ST makes 147 and 290kW. Unsurprisingly, it’s also comprehensively shaded by the Toyota GR Yaris, which makes a whopping 200kW and 370Nm.
We have managed to extract some other key details surrounding Hyundai’s newest hot hatch, too. We know, for example, that there’s torsion-beam rear suspension, a mechanical LSD, Sachs dampers, dual-mode exhaust and, like it’s i30 N big brother, the i20 N should get Pirelli rubber wrapped around its 18-inch wheels. It also weights just 1250kg.
More? Well there's rev matching for the manual gearbox, launch control and the brand's N Grin Control System which allows you to dial through Normal, Eco, Sport, N and N Custom drive modes.
The chassis and suspension have been overhauled, too, and there's bigger performance brakes fitted.
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.
That I can't tell you, at least not yet. We were driving pre-production cars exclusively on a race track, and so taking an computer reading would have been grossly unfair, and Hyundai hasn't dropped an official figure on us yet.
We do know that the i20, in regular guise, is fitted with a 50-litre tank.
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.
How should the success of a city-sized hatch truly be measured? Raw power and out-and-out pace? I don’t think so. There are bigger, more powerful vehicles for that.
Price? Well, at least a little. This segment forms the stepping stone to the performance vehicle world, and so they really can’t be too inaccessible, right?
If you ask me, the biggest - and possible only - criteria a car has to hit in this segment is that it’s fun. Plain and simple. Does it make you want to take the longer, twister way home, emerging at the other end of a winding road with a face-splitting grin and fighting the urge to turn around and do it again in the other direction? Or does it make you want to stick to the freeway?
Well, it’s safe to say that in the i20 N - in prototype form at least - the answer is definitely the former.
Yes, the light hot hatch segment has been in something a power arms race of late - one now won by the GR Yaris - but the i20 N doesn’t really step into that ring. Its 150kW and 275Nm puts it at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs.
But damn if it ain’t fun. The numbers on the page only really tell half the hot hatch story. The rest of it is how it feels, or how big a smile it paints on your face, and I can tell you this car painted a plenty big grin on mine.
One of the things I like about the i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like, in that you don’t need to be traveling at warp speed to feel like you’re having a good time behind the wheel. It means you can unleash it on any twisting road you come across, and have a whale of a time, without risking your entire driver's licence.
There are some cars where you really need to be travelling at pace to feel like you’re having a good time in them, but this isn’t one of them. It feels fun all the time.
It feels really connected to the track, too, like you’re in control of the vehicle, And I think the mark of a hot hatch is one that makes you feel like a better driver, and this does that. It forgives you mistakes, it urges you to push a little bit faster, a little bit further, and all of which results in a pretty good time behind the wheel.
Now a caveat, of course. This is a pre-prod car, and this test also took place on a race rack, so how this thing drives on the streets near your place, and what it's like to live with, is anyone’s guess, but as a taste test, it certainly seems to continue the N legacy of building cars that are simply a ton of fun.
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.
More mysteries here, I'm afraid. Hyundai is yet to confirm full safety specification for the i20 N, but we would expect it to get most of the brand's advanced safety kit.
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.
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.