New features, new auto, and new steering combine to make a better Barina, but not a class leader...
When the all-new Holden Barina launched late last year, it was heavily criticised for its recalcitrant auto, patchy ride quality, inconsistent steering and breathless engine. Holden, understandably, was disappointed. But to its credit, the company has taken those criticisms on board and tweaked the Barina for 2013.
The running changes coincide with the addition of an auto-only $20,490 Holden Barina CDX spec level to sit above the existing $15,990 manual/$17,990 auto Holden Barina CD grade. The new flagship, like the entry-level model, is available in both hatch and sedan body styles.
For $2500, the CDX adds 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, ‘Sportec’ (or man-made leather) trim with heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, four-function trip computer, and rear parking sensors.
The flagship grade also debuts GM’s ‘MyLink’ entertainment system, to be rolled out on VF Commodore, Trax and Malibu next year. The MyLink system, accessed via a seven-inch touchscreen, works like a smartphone, using third-party ‘apps’ to control both music and navigation options. The touchscreen offers high quality graphics and an intuitive interface – no other light car currently offers a seven-inch touchscreen standard.
The ‘Pandora’ application will soon be launched, which steams online music the car’s speakers, using a Bluetooth connection from an internet-equipped phone. Select a song from Pandora’s online playlist, then the system automatically creates a playlist based on the user’s taste. A 40 second advertisement is played after every four songs; the system’s only cost. Pandora will use, at worst, 1.5-2Gb of internet data per month, according to Holden.
Other apps include Stitcher, which offers internet radio stations and podcasts without Pandora’s extra functions, BringGo, which provides satellite navigation functions, and Siri, which as with its use on the Apple iPhones, answers the most random of questions, from the weather to finding a nearby petrol station.
The Holden Barina CDX also utilises a fuel-saving electro-mechanical power steering set-up, where the CD still gets the old hydraulic power assistance unit. Together with a revised six-speed automatic, combined consumption falls from 7.3L/100km to 6.3L/100km.
Coincidentally, if not interestingly, the new 1.6-litre six-speed auto drivetrain is given the same fuel sticker as a 1997 SB Barina Lambada 1.4-litre four-speed auto, so there’s some progress there…
Holden also claims the new steering is backed by suspension tweaked by local engineers, while the excellent Continental PremiumContact tyres provide extra grip.
Our drive in the Holden Barina CDX automatic was limited, but enough to feel the worth of the new electric steering. It’s much more consistent than the old unit, pleasingly light and lacking artifical resistance. On-centre feel is still lacking, creating a nervous dead-patch in the first movements that sharpens as lock is wound on. The system is at its best working through its full rotation, but this still isn’t a steering set-up to match a Volkswagen Polo, let alone a Ford Fiesta or Mazda2.
The ride, on 50-aspect tyres, seems lumpier than on the previous CD, although wind and road noise are well containted, with the new-generation Barina continuing to be one of the quietest cars in its class. Handling is of the composed and grippy, rather than playfully entertaining, variety, however the Barina is at least above-average in this regard, competitive with rivals from Kia and Hyundai if not Volkswagen, Ford and Mazda.
The feeling of body strength is reflected in the Barina’s hefty 1249kg kerb weight – 184kg more than a similarly strong and quiet Suzuki Swift – and reflected again in the performance deficit.
Holden’s 85kW/155Nm 1.6-litre four-cylinder is essentially carried over from the TK generation, which itself dates back to the 2002. It isn’t the smoothest or quietest engine, but its slow-to-rev nature can at least partially be blamed on the mass it needs to push.
Although upgraded, the automatic remains reluctant to hold shorter gears to minimise flaring and ratio hunting. Instead, the gearbox works with light-switch simplicity – if the throttle is pushed, it kicks down, if the right pedal is released, it slurs into the tallest ratio.
There’s little intuition to be found with this gearbox in either auto or manual mode – the buttons on the side of the gearshift lever don’t work nearly as effortlessly as a tipshifter on the gate, or paddles behind the steering wheel.
For showroom appeal, the Holden Barina CDX has plenty. For just $20,490 it is feature packed for the same price as only slightly larger base models in the Corolla class. It is also quieter than many of them – including Lancer and Mazda3. However the Barina also lacks the cabin quality of Swift and Polo, the wonderful dynamics of Fiesta and Mazda2, and the flexibility of a Honda Jazz.
Except for its features and quietness, and despite the upgrades, the Holden Barina remains an average light car.