CAN a Camaro-inspired facelift and some pretty new wheels save the six-year-old Holden Barina from pensioner status?
WHAT IS IT?
A belated facelift for Holden’s ageing Barina – the first proper update since the current TM series launched in October 2011 – focusing on styling, equipment, model rationalisation and variant rebranding.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT?
To see if the MY17 Barina’s attractive new visage and improved multimedia interface are enough to carry its tired underpinnings through to next-generation time. That can’t be too far away given that we’ve just seen images of the next-gen Opel Corsa’s interior and camouflaged exterior, if GM’s rumoured intention to merge the Corsa and Chevrolet Sonic/Holden Barina models into one design is correct.
Ford Fiesta, Honda Jazz, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Peugeot 208, Renault Clio, Skoda Fabia, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Yaris, and Volkswagen Polo
THE WHEELS VERDICT
Still a good-looking car that builds on more than three decades worth of goodwill towards the Barina nameplate, but these MY17 updates are barely enough to mark time. The Barina’s ancient 1.6-litre donk is well below par for fuel efficiency, and there’s an overall lack of refinement that betrays this car’s age. The base $15K LS manual is a torquey, driveable, handsome and good-value runabout, but the $20K LT auto is well beyond the Barina’s comfort zone, despite its snappy new threads.
PLUS: Handsome shape; striking new wheels; impressive multimedia; torquey, easy-to-drive and decent-value LS manual base shitter
MINUS: Wheezy performance with an auto ’box; uncomfortable front seats; plasticky interior; lumpen ride on LT’s 17-inch wheels; air-con struggles in hot weather
THE WHEELS REVIEW
FOR a brand with a long history of short-lived model nameplates, Holden has remained steadfastly attached to Barina. In the case of the current TM series, it has stayed faithfully reliant on a design that has barely changed since its debut in 2011.
Along the way, we’ve seen a huge-booted sedan (now discontinued), a turbocharged RS (also deceased, mainly because no one bought it), an up-spec CDX (now badged LT) and the odd special edition. But until last December, the entry-level Barina CD (now badged LS) looked and drove exactly as it did almost six years earlier.
In an era of rapid change, that’s an unusually long time between makeovers, though this MY17 version (still dubbed TM) scores a handsome Camaro-esque visage and sexy new alloys wheels (16s on LS, 17s on LT), courtesy of GM’s Australian design team (and adopted by global Chevrolet versions). Front LED running lights and standard front fogs work like a fresh sleeve tat on the still-fit Barina’s chiselled body, though new three-deck rear taillights lack the flair of those they replace.
In-cabin updates are less dramatic, centred around conservative new instruments (shared with Spark and Trax) and an impressive new 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, six robust speakers, and vastly superior audio and Bluetooth phone quality, as well as a standard rear-view camera and rear parking sensors.
But aside from the odd extra tweak here and there, it’s situation normal for Barina. That means rather uncomfortable front seats lacking in lumbar support, sticky ‘leatherette’ trim for the up-spec LT, and an average-sized back seat. The fact that Holden’s smaller Spark is better-packaged, offers more comfortable seats and scores GM’s tactile latest-issue steering wheel doesn’t reflect well on Barina’s bigger-is-better status.
The ancient 1.6-litre ‘Generation 3’ four-pot continues, though tied to the LS’s positive-shifting five-speed manual gearbox, it’s an effortlessly torquey unit, if not an economical one. Keep the tacho below 4000rpm and it is respectably refined, too, though the low-geared auto exposes the donk’s last-century vintage via whirring induction noise and high-rev resonance. The auto can also be a ditherer just when you require all its smarts, and the two-pedal-only LT’s funky 17-inch alloys are a step too far for Barina’s urban ride quality.
At base level, priced from just $14,990, the LS manual is an honest jigger with decent driveability, sound country-road dynamics and enough interest to make it appear decent value. But the Barina is a car best served cheap. Moving beyond 17 grand equals diminishing returns from a limited range that’s ripe for retirement.
Model: Holden Barina LT
Engine: 1598cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v
Max power: 85kW @ 6000rpm
Max torque: 155Nm @ 4000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 12.4sec (tested)
On sale: Now