Mazda3 VS Holden Barina
- LT looks cool
- Good headroom
- Decent boot
- Not fun to drive
- Underwhelming engine
- Feeling its age
We all know that X means buried treasure in the world of children’s book pirates, but it’s looking like it could hold similar relevance for what lies under the bonnet of future Mazdas.
We first officially heard about Mazda’s industry-leading Skyactiv-X technology at the brand’s Global Tech Forum in Germany two years ago, but now we’ve ventured back to Germany to drive it in production form ahead of its Australian arrival aboard a new flagship version of the Mazda3 early next year.
No other manufacturer has managed to productionise compression ignition for a petrol engine, and with an underlying intention to make the combustion engine work better for everyday driving, in the face of the electric-focus of all other global brands, this could be the most exciting technological development of my career.
Why invest so much in combustion engines if every other major brand is beginning to treat them like yesterday’s news? While the Japanese government predicts that 52 per cent of new cars sold in 2030 will use some form of electrification in their drivetrain, the same data suggests 90 per cent will still use an internal combustion engine as at least an element of their drivetrain. That’s 90 per cent of the market, more than a decade from now.
|Fuel Type||Regular 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|
Unlike most big technological advancements, this isn’t about extra performance or reinventing the wheel, it’s about Mazda’s bigger picture approach to deliver the best mobility solutions for right now, while still planning for electric and fuel cell vehicles in the future.
That may sound like a line straight out of the Skyactiv-X press release, but Mazda’s realistic approach to our continued dependence on combustion engines is commendable.
My final judgement will have to wait until we know how much more it will cost over a regular Mazda3, but I can say the technology works really well and should really suit Australian conditions.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
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.
Aside from the stunning good looks of the new Mazda3, the only visual distinctions the Skyactiv-X version scores over a regular high-sec model are bigger exhaust tips like those seen on the latest version of the Mazda6, and a Skyactiv-X badge in place of the regular models’ Skyactiv-G.
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..
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 probably the biggest question mark above the Mazda3 Skyactiv-X’s head for now, with all we know being Mazda Australia’s plan to launch it as a new top-spec version, so sit above the existing $36,990 G25 Astina flagship.
How far above will be the clincher, and given it’s not likely to quite match the performance of the G25, it will depend on what value you place on outright driveability and a marginal fuel saving over the base 2.0-litre engine.
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
What’s compression ignition again? It’s basically how a diesel engine works, by using extreme pressure instead of spark plugs to burn fuel. Skyactiv-X still uses spark plugs, but only to kick off the ignition process and act as a safety net for cold starts and other edge cases, while extreme compression makes for much more effective combustion, which means improved efficiency.
This combustion efficiency means the engine can use a much leaner fuel-to-air mixture, and make more power and torque with less fuel and even less wasted fuel out the exhaust. Mazda describes it as delivering diesel-like torque and fuel consumption, with the power, responsiveness and refinement of a petrol. Or in other words, one step away from turning water into wine...
Mazda is calling the process Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI), and the extreme pressures required to make it all happen are created by higher static compression ratio (but less than a typical diesel), much higher fuel pressure and boosted air pressure entering the combustion chamber.
Key to managing all these heightened parameters (and the very technological advancement that makes it all possible) is an ultra sensitive in-cylinder pressure sensor that has been developed specifically for this task.
Delivering the boosted air pressure is a Roots-type supercharger - or what Mazda describes as a high-response air supply - which was chosen over other air pump designs like a turbocharger or the Miller-cycle supercharger previously used in Eunos models because of its instantaneous boost delivery and breadth of efficiency.
Speaking of breadth of efficiency, perhaps the biggest plus for average motorists is that the engine’s efficiency zone has multiplied, meaning the difference between city and highway consumption, leadfoot drivers and my Dad, heavy and empty loads etc will be far less than a typical petrol engine.
This all represents a continuation of core principles we’ve seen from the start of Mazda’s Skyactiv era. That is, to make an existing engine type work better under everyday driving conditions rather than targeting outright performance.
The Skyactiv-X era starts with a 2.0-litre based on the regular Skyactiv-G engine, with the same 1998cc capacity. Other capacities are planned, with the eventual reborn rotary looking increasingly Skyactiv-X along with a straight-six version for a new CX-9 in a couple of years. Smaller versions are unlikely due to the economies of scale involved with such technology in a smaller and therefore cheaper car.
Mazda is making two versions of the Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre for now, one with 16.3:1 compression designed for Europe that favours Premium unleaded petrol, and one 15:1 version aimed at the US with their abundance of lower grade unleaded.
Unlike conventional engines, it’s the lower compression version that will deliver the biggest benefits, because Skyactiv-X relies on the usually “bad thing” pinging to do its best.
We’re set to get the Euro-spec one in Australia, which unfortunately means we won’t quite be getting the very best Skyactiv tech again.
The Euro-spec engine puts out 132kW at 6000rpm and 224Nm from just 3000rpm, which on paper sounds about halfway between the existing Skyactiv-G 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre and 139kW/252Nm 2.5-litre petrol engines.
The engine also incorporates a mild hybrid system, but don't be confused by the H-word, there's no electric drive element. It simply means its got a cleaver alternator that only engages when needed and on deceleration to reduce efficiency-sapping drivetrain friction,
Pop the bonnet and you’re confronted by the biggest engine cover you’ve ever seen, but unlike most, this one is equipped with labeled latches that encourage you to have a look underneath. This encouragement continues with a clever little retention hook to hold the cover up against the bonnet while you’re poking around.
Unless you’re a Mazda engineer you’re likely to be baffled by the array of hoses, ducts and wiring, but you might get a kick out of spotting the supercharger.
There’s less to be said for the transmissions though, with versions of the existing six speed manual and torque converter automatics deemed up to the task, with the new engine’s increased efficiency zone negating any increase to the ratio count. The ratios have been adjusted to suit the new output characteristics, and while the ratios are yet to be published, there’s a narrower spread across the six with what feels to be taller first and sixth gears.
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.
All this hooha about fuel savings, and Mazda is yet to confirm an actual figure for Australia. We do know the hatch is rated at 4.5L/100km in manual and 5.3L/100km in auto according to the NEDC, which is historically close to the figures generated by the ADR 81/02 test we go by in Australia.
If it comes close to matching the NEDC figure it will be a win, sitting comfortably under the 6.4L/100km (manual) and 6.2L/100km (auto) figures currently applied to the Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre Mazda3 hatch.
While the Australian-spec Skyactiv-X engine is expected to align with Europe rather than the US, and therefore be tuned to deal with Premium 95 RON unleaded, it’s still unclear if it will accept the cheaper Regular 91 RON unleaded.
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.
What’s probably most amazing about Skyactiv-X is that you can’t really tell there’s anything special going on under the bonnet.
Push the start button and it gets going like any other petrol Mazda, although perhaps quieter.
Move off from rest and there’s no significant difference to the way it feels.
When I drove the prototype version of this drivetrain, there was a slight pinging under light throttle as it transitioned from spark to compression ignition, but I’m pleased to confirm that the extra two years of calibration has tuned this down to the tiniest occasional diesel sound, and it all feels a bit like a smooth diesel that’s more responsive than you expect.
The European-spec Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre’s outputs suggest it should be closer to the existing 2.5-litre in terms of performance, but in reality it feels closer to the 2.0 litre.
My perception is likely to be clouded by the Skyactiv-X’s specific transmission gearing, but it could also be because it’s able to do the same job with less revs and therefore not sound like it’s working so hard.
First gear feels quite tall with either transmission, and we also found the auto and manual were only sitting on 3500rpm in sixth at 160km/h on the Autobahn.
Mazda doesn’t specify performance figures, so it would be handy to put all three alongside each other from a standing start. But then, that’s not what Skyactiv-X is all about, it’s more about performing better under light throttle and incidental bursts of acceleration.
We can’t wait to put it to the test over some hilly terrain and familiar territory when it hits Australia early next year.
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.
The existing Mazda3’s maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating will almost certainly be carried over, and the high level of safety gear fitted to the existing G25 Astina is also likely to be matched.
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.
Service pricing is also yet to be confirmed, but Mazda engine development boss Eiji Nakai assures CarsGuide that the new engine will not need servicing more frequently or cost any more to service than existing Skyactiv-G engines.
So expect the same 12month/10,000km intervals, with five year/50,000km capped servicing plan totalling just under $2000 over that period.
Like all new Mazdas, the recently upgraded five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty will apply to the 3 Skyactiv-X.
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.