The Ford Fiesta Sport offers enough mumbo to match its ambitious badge.
Some buyers want a city car with a bit more pizazz, some want a sporty hatch but either can't stretch to the cost of the full hot-hatch experience or are simply after something easier to live with. That's where these two new cars come in – the Ford Fiesta Sport and the Holden Barina RS.
Both the Fiesta Sport and Barina RS are designed to offer a fun drive, lively performance, good levels of equipment and pricing that is more wallet-friendly than the real go-fast city car brigade – even if these two warm-hatches approach their task in very different ways. The Holden is bigger and heavier, looks more aggressively sporting, and has a punchier four-cylinder turbocharged engine. The Ford is lighter, has more subdued styling and gets its propulsion from a tiny three-cylinder engine.
The RS is the flagship model in the Barina range, and is priced from $20,990. We tested the six-speed automatic version, which comes in at $23,190. That places the Barina $665 more expensive than Ford’s offering, which is priced at $22,525 with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox or $20,525 in manual guise, a fair chunk cheaper than the range-topping Fiesta ST hot-hatch.
The Holden Barina RS is longer, wider and taller, and as a result it’s considerably more spacious than the Ford Fiesta Sport inside, with a larger back seat and bigger boot. It rides on 17-inch alloys and features sporty elements such as RS interior trimming.
There are some cheaper elements to the Barina’s cabin, such as the dash-top digital speedometer and plasticky finishes, but the MyLink touchscreen media and audio system is arguably the best infotainment unit in this class, and considerably easier to use than the Ford’s fidgety system. In-car storage is excellent, with a double glovebox and an array of bottle and cup holders, and it has front seat heating.
The Ford rides on smaller, blander-looking 16-inch alloys, and doesn’t look particularly sporty – possibly because of, and maybe despite, its prominent Aston Martin-style chrome grille.
Inside, the Fiesta’s dash design looks dated and there are too many buttons in the age of the touchscreen. However, storage is well sorted, the seats are more comfortable and more supportive than in the Barina, and it feels slightly classier, though not as youthful.
Under the bonnet, the Holden Barina RS is fitted with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, borrowed from the bigger, locally made Cruze. The result is small-car-like engine outputs for a city car – 103kW of power at 4900rpm and 200Nm of torque at 1850rpm, with fuel use rated at 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres.
The 1.4-litre turbo engine can be a little lazy in getting revs up from a standstill, and doesn’t offer a very enticing soundtrack, though it offers enough pep to justify that RS badge, mainly during in-gear acceleration.
The engine offers good flexibility through the rev range but is let down by the six-speed automatic transmission, which insists upon shifting to a higher gear too often, even during hill climbs. It also lacks some intuition when it comes to shifting down a gear under brakes. The driver can take control of gear changes using a flick-style button on the side of the shifter, but it is slightly awkward to operate.
The Fiesta takes a very different tack when it comes to propulsion.
It’s powered by the brand’s tiny 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo EcoBoost engine – first seen in the EcoSport baby SUV – with 92kW at 6000rpm and 170Nm from 1400-4500rpm. That's notably less than its competitor but it wins the battle of fuel use, with a claimed consumption figure of 5.2L/100km.
And it’s a characterful little engine that offers a nice shove of torque from low in the rev range, and a pleasant note as revs rise. We did notice some turbo lag in city driving, but it generally offers a smoother and more progressive power delivery than the Barina.
The Fiesta’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic is a good operator, too. There is little low-speed hesitancy and it offers clever shifts under braking and acceleration, though our car exhibited some clunks under light throttle.
So does the Barina’s 11kW power and 30Nm torque advantage make it more fun to drive? Not as much as you’d perhaps expect when you consider Holden’s kerb weight is 1258 kilograms – beefy compared to the Fiesta Sport’s lithe 1127kg mass.
However, it still drives quite well. The steering is quick and requires little effort for the desired effect, and has nice weighting. It feels well balanced through tight corners and holds its line well with good levels of cornering grip.
What lets the Holden Barina RS down in its drive experience is its clumsy ride – it thumps and fumbles at city speeds, and doesn't offer the same level of composure as the Ford Fiesta Sport on rough roads. The Ford's suspension is firm but compliant, and never feels heavy-footed. In terms of comfort, the Sport's lowered suspension is a decent middle ground between cheaper Fiestas and the unyielding ST.
The Fiesta completes the drive experience victory by cornering with agility – feeling lighter and more nimble through corners than the Barina. Its lighter engine means it feels more eager to chew down on the road through twisty bends, with sharp, progressive steering and a chuckable feel.
It's not perfect, though. We noticed mild steering rack rattle over mid-corner bumps, and its 16-inch wheels with Continental tyres did squeal on occasion (the Holden’s 17-inch Continentals had no such issue).
The Fiesta's brakes also were a downer – it has discs at the front and drums at the back, while the Barina has four-wheel discs that offer better stopping power and last longer when you do put the pepper on.
In terms of ownership, the Barina offers a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty and a three-year, 60,000km capped-price servicing campaign with visits averaging $185 per annum.
The Ford has a seven-year capped price servicing campaign, though the average annual fee for its services (due every 12 months or 15,000km) is $276. Its warranty is three years or 100,000km.
The Holden Barina RS is the best Barina in the company’s city car line-up by quite a stretch, offering a good amount of driver fun along with smart touchscreen connectivity that is certain to give it the showroom edge over the Ford for many buyers.
Yet while the Ford Fiesta Sport isn’t as funky inside as it should be, its smoother ride makes it easier to live with on a daily basis and its steering and handling will put a bigger smile on your face.
Saying that, if you can scrounge just a few thousand dollars more and don't mind a firm ride, you could opt for the properly brilliant Fiesta ST that brings better interior fit and finish, sensational handling, and a cracking 1.6-litre turbo that makes it as quick as its looks suggest it should be.