Equipment, practicality, value: life atop the light car segment is tough. One model long in the battle though, is the Holden Barina.
A badge seen in Australia – affixed to various General Motors products – since 1985, the Holden Barina has been a budget-car staple for 30 years.
Currently in its sixth 'TM' generation – and so far outselling the Ford Fiesta and Kia Rio in 2015 – the second-smallest Holden you can buy (the Barina Spark is 444mm shorter) has been updated for the 2016 model year.
Starting with the entry-level CD at $15,390, the Holden Barina range comprises five-door hatch and four-door sedan body styles, except for the flagship hatch-only Barina RS priced from $21,390.
The car you see pictured here is a Blaze Red mid-spec CDX hatch.
Priced from $20,090, the Barina CDX exclusively pairs a six-speed automatic with a naturally aspirated 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
Running on regular unleaded, the five-door, five-seat CDX claims power and torque of 85kW (at 6000rpm) and 155Nm (at 4000rpm) respectively. Up on the top-selling 1.5-litre Mazda 2 and Toyota Yaris, the Barina can’t better the 1.5-litre Honda Jazz VTi-S ($19,790 auto) for power or the turbocharged 1.2-litre Volkswagen Polo 66TSI Trendline ($19,490) for torque.
The Holden’s claimed 7.0 litres per 100km combined cycle fuel consumption figure is also up on its rivals’, which all hover around 5.0-6.0L/100km.
Standard on the Barina CDX are fog lights, automatic headlights, cruise control, a new-for-2016 reversing camera, rear parking sensors and 17-inch alloy wheels. A six-speaker stereo with Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming is also included, along with a seven-inch central touchscreen with a basic version of Holden's MyLink infotainment system.
Topping things off are faux-leather ‘Sportec’ seats (heated front), a reach and rake adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio, phone and cruise controls, and chrome-accented body-coloured door handles. Keen on a ‘prestige paint’ finish such as Carbon Flash metallic; Boracay Blue; Son of a Gun grey; or Nitrate and you’re looking at an additional $550.
Inside, hard and scratchy black and grey two-tone plastics make up the majority of the cabin, although highlights can be found in chrome door handles, smooth weave-look trim surrounding the central touchscreen and centre stack, and easy to understand and operate rotary climate control dials.
The Barina’s motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster – with its off-centre analogue tachometer and digital speedo – further breaks things up, while storage is neatly covered off with albeit shallow central cup holders and small plastic door pockets, a conventional glove box and a clever ‘top box’ that houses both USB and AUX inputs as well as compartmentalised device shelving.
The heated seats are adequately comfortable and supportive, with drivers also getting a drop-down armrest to enjoy (just like in a Range Rover). The headliner, sun visors, rear-view mirror, and indicator and wiper stalks all feel appropriately budget and only the driver’s power window is gifted auto up/down functionality.
Like the steering wheel, the automatic gear shifter feels quite good in the hand. And while the gearbox does offer a fully manual mode, the driver can only select changes via slightly naff toggle switches mounted to the inside of the gear lever itself (similar to the setup used in the Holden Malibu and identical to that seen on some Ford Focus models).
Crack the hard plastic C-pillar-mounted rear door handle to access the second row and you’re greeted by enough space to seat two adults or three little ones.
Rear-seat features are light on with no air vents, no fold-down centre armrest, no door pockets, no interior light, only one map pocket (behind the passenger seat) and one cup holder (located in the backend of the transmission tunnel).
At 4039mm long – longer than the Jazz, Yaris and Polo – the Barina offers reasonable rear passenger leg and headroom. Foot and toe room, however, is limited by a combination of carpet and looms tucked under the front seats.
The 60:40 split-fold rear seats are easy enough to drop forward using the provided seat-top releases, though, disappointingly, they don’t lie wholly flat and leave a significant load step from the boot floor to the back of the seats – not a deal breaker, but worlds behind the Jazz’s famed ‘Magic Seats’ and less than perfect if you ever plan on sliding in any larger items.
Squeeze the nicely damped rubber boot release pad to pop the slightly tight-feeling tailgate and you get 290 litres of seats-up capacity – up on the 2, Yaris and Polo but shy of the Jazz’s remarkable 350L.
Expandable to a maximum of 653L, the Barina’s boot is simply felt-lined with no luggage or cargo hooks. And while its depth isn’t bad for a car this size, it lacks the false floor – and extra flexibility that provides – found in the likes of the Polo. Under the floor sits a full-size 15-inch steel spare wheel (a no-cost option for buyers).
Weighing a not insignificant 1220kg and rolling on 17-inch 50-profile Continental rubber, the Holden Barina CDX rides on the firmer side. Potholes, divots and cat eyes are all easily felt, however, speed humps (taken at reasonable speeds) are dealt with well. A little road noise is present when on the move, but it’s never overtly intrusive.
Sitting flatter through corners than some others in the class, the Barina CDX turns in well and doesn’t mind being enthusiastically shuffled along. This does, of course, come at the sacrifice of overall around-town comfort.
Steering is consistently light yet responsive enough – teamed with mild feedback – to make for a good city-centric balance. The Barina’s 10.1-metre turning circle is ok but not brilliant and, annoyingly for a city car, its rubberised front chin spoiler makes contact with driveways far too easily.
Lacking the low-end torque and fuel efficiency of a modern turbocharged engine, the Barina’s 1.6-litre does a commendable job for what it is. Happy enough coasting around 2000rpm, the engine picks up reasonably well, with a stronger mid range between 3000-4000rpm.
Most daily driving duties can be taken care of below 4000rpm, but anything beyond 5000rpm simply brings harsher engine noise and noticeable vibration rather than any great performance gain. Over our week of urban, inner-city and highway driving, we averaged 9.7L/100km – frankly too high a figure for a car of this size. (Worth noting the claimed figures for the Jazz, Polo and Yaris are 5.8, 4.8 and 6.3L/100km respectively).
Throttle response is let down by a slightly dim-witted six-speed automatic transmission that’s slow to react to inputs and isn’t averse to getting caught out tackling steeper inclines (up and down). Positively, the left pedal is tied to a natural and progressive brake feel and decent stopping power.
Aftersales is strong too, with a three-year/100,000km warranty and one-year roadside assist. Service intervals are every nine months or 15,000km, with Holden's lifetime capped-price servicing program locking in costs at $229 per service for the first three years or 45,000km and up to a maximum of $3178 (450,000km).
Although shy of many individual standouts overall, the MY16 Holden Barina CDX hatch is a competent package. At this price point, though, it faces seriously stiff competition from its nearest Japanese and German competitors. Some are more rewarding to drive, some more practical and some present a more compelling value equation.
Our tip? Until the end of July, you can drive away in a base-model Barina CD hatch – the range’s best-selling model – from $14,841. You have to be content with cloth seats, no reversing camera or rear parking sensors, no touchscreen and 15- rather than 17-inch alloys, but you get the same engine with the same outputs, as well as cruise control, six airbags, and Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming. Not a bad deal for those on a budget.
The Holden Barina has years of know-how behind it, but, like we said, life at the top of this segment is tough…
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Holden Barina CDX hatch images by Tom Fraser.